Feb 26, 2010

When The Spirit "Speaks," What Does It "Say," And What "Language" Does It Speak?

Mormons are big on feelings. We're supposed to study, fast, and pray in order to get confirmation of the Church being true. Investigators are encouraged to read the Book of Mormon and attend church. People do this and then they may sometimes have a profound spiritual experience, but most often it's based on a feeling. They feel that it's good, that it makes sense, and often that's enough for them to conclude that the Church is true and that it's the only true church.

I certainly don't need to discount or dismiss the "warm and fuzzy" feelings or spiritual experiences that I've heard others describe. I've had them myself. Sometimes I still do. They're just as real as they ever were. But now they just mean something different to me.

As we discussed in a previous thread, the more I studied and observed the different faiths of others, I realized that there was a lot that I couldn't reconcile with the "one true church." I know of some very Mormon-specific spiritual experiences that have occurred in my circle of family and friends, but I also know of some other very faith and denomination-specific spiritual experiences outside of Mormonism. And I can no longer believe that mine are more "true" than theirs.

Recently the missionaries challenged me to read the Book of Mormon. Again. I think they hope that I'll get those feelings and that it will restore my faith in the "one true church." But I tend to take those feelings at face value now. If someone reads the Book of Mormon and gets a good feeling about it, then it means it's a good book with a good message -- divine, even. But if the book is good and even divinely-inspired, does it have to mean that the LDS Church is the only true church on the face of the earth? Does it have to mean that Lehi and Nephi really existed? Does it have to mean that an angel really threatened Joseph Smith with a sword if he didn't marry all those women? Does it have to mean that God really ordered genocide in the Bible? I know that some would see it as a cop-out to say no to all of these things, but maybe it's just unreasonable to say yes.

I think that many fellow Mormons would be hurt or offended by my rejection of some of the things they deem to be literal truths. But maybe we want to invest way too much into our spiritual experiences and feelings -- so much so that they overreach their ability to stand firm in the face of reality and we end up obsessing over their literalness at the expense of focusing on what we're actually supposed to learn from them (i.e. stressing the Book of Mormon as literal and historical, while discussions about its nonviolent message in a very violent world are relatively few).

Maybe our expectations are simply unreasonable.

In a recent Mormon Stories podcast with a woman named Jacque, she talked about Mormonism being her "spiritual language," just like English is her spoken language. As someone who has learned four different languages, this was an analogy that I could really relate to. I've learned through my studies that languages are different. Although one is not really superior to the others, some languages have their strengths. French can be beautiful and poetic, German is very literal and ordered. There are things I can say and express in Norwegian that I simply can't in English. And vice versa. We are missing certain words and expressions in English that are incredibly useful in Norwegian, which I use on a daily basis, that cannot be translated literally into English in a way that will make sense. And vice versa. Isn't religion the same way? We are getting certain things in Mormonism that we simply can't get in other religions. And vice versa. It doesn't make any one religion superior to another, but we cannot practice them all -- just like we can't learn every language. We need to find the one that works for us, use it, but realize that it can be helpful to learn additional "languages" because we may be missing out on certain elements.

So when you hear the spirit, what is it actually saying to you? And what language does it speak?


C.J. said...

Maybe I'm a defective Mormon, but I've never understood why reading the Book of Mormon--or any Scripture--as an exercise is supposed to produce a testimony. Whether the BoM, the Bible, whatever, just reading something is only going to produce a testimony that it's a good book (or not). To me, it's all about putting the ideas into practice: do they produce good results, or not?

As far as this being the one "true" church, my feelings on this issue have evolved somewhat. I've never felt like any single denomination could be the "one true" denomination, but, at the same time, I do think there's more truth in Jesus' example than in other places...I just wish more Christians actually emulated Jesus. Many of the most godly people I know aren't Mormons, and I think it'd be foolish to discount their obvious morality, and spirituality, simply because they self-identify as something else.

Ultimately, the church is the one true church for me. To paraphrase a section of Matthew, at one point, Jesus basically says that, when it comes to the law, the "true" law is the law that gets you where you need to go--it's about the end result, not the law itself. By those lights, I don't think Jesus would've agreed with this idea of competing denominations. If someone feels closer to God being, say, a Christian Scientist, and that church helps them follow Jesus' example meaningfully, isn't it the "one true church" for him? And, likewise, if someone's a Mormon, but being a Mormon isn't helping them have a good relationship with Jesus, then is it, in fact, the one true church for that person?

dcr said...

i really like your analogy of the mormon religion being like a specific language! i've never thought about it that way but i agree entirely. i was raised catholic and am joined the lds faith some time ago. there are definitely some things about religion that are better (for ME) in "catholic" and things that are better (again, for ME) in "mormon." thanks for pointing this out!


The church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ.
All those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16;
1 Corinthians 12:13).
Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church. The local church is where the members of the universal church can fully apply the “body” principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Of course, it's possible to have a testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon and even believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet and not believe that the LDS is the one and only true church. I mean, that's been my whole life. :D

More seriously, ANOTHERGOSPEL points to another analogy. We may think of denominations (and, by extension, other world religions) as "organs" of the Body of Christ.

God may give testimonies to people to get them into the specific "organs" where they belong, not only for their individual good, but for the welfare of the entire Body. Our roles may be intended to be different, so our testimonies are giben to be different.

Once I conducted a "home teaching" visit on a long-inactive member and discovered that immediately after being baptized into the Community of Christ, he'd prayed about what he should do, and was led into the Methodist ministry. At the time I met him, he'd been a Methodist clergyman for a couple of decades.


Carol said...

The Spirit speaks peace to me. Since I have studied Buddhism during the past two years, I have never experienced greater peace. I believe everyone's journey to God is different. Yes, Mormonism is the "language" I speak, but I find that many of my brothers and sisters who worship differently than I do have a great relationship with the Lord and manifest His love in exemplary and beautiful ways.

I believe we cannot consider ourselves more inspired than others. Many of our brothers and sisters have a full measure of the Spirit and live in peace and harmony with God, with their families, and with their neighbors.

I sincerely believe that God is no respecter of persons, and that He loves each of us infinitely and unconditionally (even though one apostle has told us that God's love is nnot unconditonal.)

Our Buddhist foster daughter emulated God's love in amazing ways. I believe their are many paths to his grace and his love and that Mormonism does not have a monopoly on goodness, virtue, or love.

Kaylanamars said...

Yup, the more and more I study and search and think the more I realize how much truth everyone has.

This reminds me of an experience my parents told me about when they went visited Nauvoo and went on a tour of the Community of Christ's temple. They said the man who was their guide had such a strong testimony about his own faith that he was brought to tears along with my parents. I know that wasn't Satan talking etc. That man had his own truth. And I've seen it before with some of my friends that have left the Church for one reason or another.

As for me...I'm still on that spiritual journey to find my own faith in God...who knows how long that will take. What a wonderful post, FD! Thanks!

Anonymous said...


I'm confused. Did this happen at nauvoo or at Kirtland? The Community of Christ has never had a Temple at Nauvoo.


hmsgofita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaylanamars said...

Sorry Firetag,
I meant Kirtland! Thanks for clearing that up! I just know my parents visited the Church sites out thatta way and told me about their experience.

Anonymous said...

Long time no speak from SimplyMe! As an inactive Mormon and one who sincerely tried to return to the Mormon church last summer I agree with understanding the spirit and its' language. I think that what the spirit says and its' language is experienced in many ways. I am now attending Community of Christ, formerly known as the the Re-organized LDS church. It takes me two hours to get to church and I attend as often as I can. I use those scriptures that include the bible, BOM, and D&C, the New Living Translation bible, Strong's concordance, and I still love using the LDS bible dictionary and topical guide to cross reference all the scriptures that fit in the quad. I feel richly resourced and I feel the same spirit using all the resources at my fingertips the way that I did when I was a missionary studying from the standard works only. Thanks for this post. I enjoy coming back and visiting.

Anonymous said...

Simply Me:

I hope you've found a good place.

Thanks for the testimony. I needed that tonight.


The Faithful Dissident said...

SimplyMe! I was sooo happy to get your comment!! I've been thinking of you and have been meaning to send you a message. I'm so happy to hear that you are finding happiness in the CofC. To me, it's much more important that a person grows and thrives on his/her spiritual path than it is worrying and being angst-ridden about which church is "right." I'm happy for you, I think the CofC is great! :)

Anonymous said...

To return to the language metaphor, as strange as this sounds, the Spirit often speaks to me through the language of mathematics. There's a certain ability to test ideas of my religion when you try to extrapolate them to cosmic scales. Sometimes they emerge from the test in wierd ways, meaning different things than you thought they would.

The Spirit speaks to my wife through the language of music. Music kept her centered through some really horrid times growing up, and now it can sometimes take her into visionary places of empathy to others, for which I often have little more gift than a Vulcan.


The Faithful Dissident said...

I think that makes sense, Fire Tag. I think perhaps I feel my greatest spiritual connections through nature. Music is also very important to me, even though I couldn't play an instrument to save my life. :) I tend to do my best and clearest thinking while running + listening to music.

Syphax said...

You know, FireTag, your comment reminds me of things I've read by a person who means a lot to me: Imants Baruss, at Western Ontario University. He writes extensively about Franklin Wolff, specifically, how Wolff claimed to have achieved transcendent modes of consciousness through mathematics. He mentioned that the more "describable" or "effable" a thing is, the less it is consistent with reality. Thus mathematics, being a symbolic language that requires no object, is a perfect arena for the brain to orient itself towards the transcendent. Baruss makes the point more eloquently than me here: http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_21_4_baruss.pdf

In any case, the scriptures do mention that God speaks to us "in our own language." I interpret that as, God speaks the language of ME. I speak English, but that's my second language... my first language is one that only I speak. It sounds like a combination of beauty, music, and thoughts. I understood this language long before I understood English. This is the realm in which God speaks to me.

Every now and then one of my atheist friends asks me why I believe in God. I never know what to say in English... I don't know how to speak it in English, and they certainly don't know MY language. My only hope is that we can approximate a middle ground somehow with English! It's not an easy task.

Anonymous said...


Very interesting article, and I may end up adding the site to my science and theology blogroll if there are more items of such interest there.

I think there is adequate evidence that transcendent states of consciousness exist, but I've always wondered about there significance. There is a bunch of cognitive science literature that suggests you can reliably reach such "no-subject-object-distinction" states by turning off certain higher functions of the brain. If that is so, maybe those states are best described as "primitive" rather than "transcendent". Maybe God and/or evolution gave us those higher self-awareness functions for a reason and we're not SUPPOsed to go back there.

Syphax said...

Now that, I can't answer for you. I've also wondered what "transcendent" states of consciousness are actually transcending.

I think that perhaps the most important thing is introspection and self-discovery. We're all supposed to be finding out what sort of beings we actually are, here. But I will admit to you now, I have made a lot of attempts to access some sort of transcendent modes of consciousness and have not succeeded. I like reading the literature but never could do it myself (and I will never use drugs to do so either). Though I've had lots of utilitarian success with self-hypnosis.

Glad you enjoyed the article. It's published by the Society for Scientific Exploration, where you can read all sorts of wacky (and sometimes kind of cool) stuff.

Anonymous said...

That is an interesting question you ask there. I have been thinking, and I think the question misses the point.

Okay, I have experienced things like hearing my dad's voice (my dad thousands of miles away, and he wasn't on the phone, either, ask me if I have my keys, when my companion and I were leaving out missionary apartment, locking us out, leaving the only key to the lock sitting on the kitchen table. The thing that really got to me was that the language was my mother tongue that I had not spoken for quite some time; even my dreams were in English if any language was discernible. But then, my dad didn't speak English...

Then I have received some messages in a way that has left me grasping for a way to explain to someone else. Joseph Smith used and expression, "no man can write it," while speaking of revelation. He did explain some things, but we know for a fact that he might be agonizing about expressions of revelations that were given years before.

"You already know it" were the words that came to my mind. Right now I couldn't say what language it really was; when I think in English I remember the words in English...

The point here is, it is not something that can be explained or explained away to somebody like me, who has personally experienced deeply, in a way that give the notion that I've had a glimpse of Heaven. It's true that no human language (at least the ones I know) can express it fully.


SimplyMe said...

Thx FD and Fire Tag. It's good to be sharing again. Looking forward to more posts!

SimplyMe said...

Just testing...I'm having a hard time leaving my comment.