Monday, September 15, 2008

like a fire burning II

I went to a Quaker meeting yesterday. I visited once before, last year, and I had forgotten how strongly I felt the spirit there. It’s actually been quite a while since I have felt the spirit; months and months, and in the back of my mind I was beginning to wonder, to worry. So to feel it again so strongly, yesterday, among that quite group of oldish whitish hippyish folks was an overwhelming relief.

I stepped on the path of questioning a few years ago with the utmost trepidation and fear, well versed in the church’s language: take heed lest ye be deceived, don’t be led astray. And so I determined to follow closely the promptings of the spirit to take each questioning step with prayer (allowing myself to question The Church, but never that spiritual guidance). Removal of the garments, first alcoholic drink, experiments that to a true believing member must seem like an attempt to mutilate and destroy spiritual sensitivity, but I went about it with a keen sense of listening to the spirit. Does that make sense? An intentional pushing, a deliberate testing of boundaries. A controlled scientific experiment even (closely looking at cause and effect). And during that time of experimentation, I did feel the spirit sometimes so strongly, a comforting validation of my being “okay” (Good with God? On the path? Something like that.)

And so this long stretch of numbness has caused me some concern in the back of my mind, the lingering language of the church, warnings of the traps and snares of the devil, being gently led to destruction, and I have wondered. (“Am I deceived? Damned?”) But that is only in the back of my mind, a quiet audio-feed with my mother's voice. I am just surprised at how much I have changed in these past few months; I went from being a mystic to a skeptic. I’ve lost (almost) all belief in anything supernatural and feel much more inclined to look at things with a rational eye than a spiritual eye. Mostly, I am just questioning everything now. Including the feelings I have previously felt, including spiritual guidance.

So yesterday, sitting in that simple room, sitting in silence… to once again feel that tangible clear feeling inside my ribcage and running up and down my veins. Well, it was relieving. But it has also brought up all sorts of questions about this thing I call “The Spirit”. I was a missionary (and after that, and MTC teacher) whose major focus was ‘helping people feel and recognize the spirit’ (and then getting them to understand that the spirit was telling them to join the church).
Now I sometimes wonder if it isn’t chemical euphoria, perhaps a by-product of my mildly manic depressive tendencies.
I really like JohnR’s post about the subject, a skeptic’s yearning for “those sublime moments in which we feel a deep awe and a sense of connection to humanity and the universe.” I like the sound of that much better than the effect of a frenzied mind.

Anyways, just some thoughts.
rainy forest.jpg


adam said...

I have had many similar thoughts about "feeling the spirit" actually. "Now I sometimes wonder if it isn’t chemical euphoria" - I used to reject this idea, but then a Catholic friend of mine told me he believes feeling the Holy Spirit IS an emotion, which surprised me a little... I guess I'm open to any explanation.

Minnie said...

G, Thanks for continuing to share your experiences with this journey you are on. Yesterday I went alone to church with my three children and my sister's two young children. That's five kids, three age four and under. Talk about a "frenzied" mind. I spent the entire time out in the foyer. When I came home feeling completely wiped out, I thought, "what kind of a loving God would put mother's through this kind of church experience that's so difficult for young children." Reading of the quiet meditation you experienced at the Quaker meeting yesterday sounds like bliss. I wish there was more time for "quiet" meditation" in the LDS services.

Bored in Vernal said...

...chemical euphoria...
...frenzied mind...

but I hope it's not--

G said...

adam- yes, thankyou! I have a collection of quotes from general authorities where they draw the fine line between emotion and feeling the spirit (and warning of associating a strong emotional response with feeling the spirit)
but now I'm open to suggestions too.

minnie- well your welcome! yes, the quaker meeting is peaceful (the kids are in another room, brought in towards the end so they can participate in the 'sharing' if they so choose). I do love that quite meditation is talked about quite a bit in LDS doctrine/lessons/etc... but the reality of the sunday meetings is usually busy busy buys rush rush rush... and if there happens to be a lull in testimony meeting there is the feeling that it needs to be 'filled'.

biv- yes. me too.

Lessie said...

I'm so glad you've found a little peace, G. I know this has been a painful journey for you. I think I did a post on a similar subject one time, but I don't remember when. Anyway, I'm relieved for you.

Elizabeth-W said...

Have you read Jonathan Haidt's Happiness Hypothesis?
I think, if I'm getting the right book, he talks about the neurobiology of spiritual experiences.
Either way, it's a fantastic book by an agnostic (or maybe he's an atheist, I can't recall).
I thought of you Saturday night. On our local cable access channel there was a thing on Bhai's. :)

G said...

thank you lessie, yes I do feel much better now. if you find it, I'd love a link to your post (love reading other's experiences. so very helpful)

Oh thankyou, elizabeth-w... I love a good reading suggestion! that one looks interesting!

G said...

oh goodie! my library has a copy!

Lessie said...

Hmmm, not sure how helpful my post will be . . . but here
it is anyway.

G said...

ah yes... I remember that one now. thanks, lessie, for the link, it was good to re-read it in this context.

JohnR said...

Thanks for the link!

I still feel guilty for cramming my friends' and investigators' initial forays into spirituality into my tiny HOFRS mold. I think that as painful as the transition from certainty to doubt is, it's marvelously world-expanding. My experience with the language of faith in Mormonism is that it can be expansive to a point; then it is used to corral and clip spirituality to keep it within well-defined boundaries. Like you said, we're all "well versed in the church’s language: take heed lest ye be deceived, don’t be led astray."

I'm somewhat hesitant to say this, but now that I've been outside of the Church for a couple of years, it's amazing to me just how small the typical Mormon view of the world is in comparison to how the limitless the universe seems to me now.

chandelle said...

I'm not sure why, but my reader is not transmitting your new posts. I just came over to see if you are not writing anymore and you have all these posts. Wonder what's up?


"I went about it with a keen sense of listening to the spirit. Does that make sense?"

Yes! I felt (and continue to feel) exactly the same way.

Sigh. I wish you were here or I were there so we could go to a Quaker meeting together. :(

G said...

oh chandelle, I do too! that would be wonderful!

go twist mfranti's arm, get her to go with you.

flygirl said...

Beautifully written. I have felt very similar lately. I've become such a skeptic, I don't quite know how to think differently anymore, but like John's quote, I still have that desire at times to have that feeling. I have yet to figure out what it is anymore or how to get it back. Let me know if you figure it out. :)

I do feel that my world has expanded tremendously as well and I am very grateful for that. I would like, however, to be able to appreciate and keep a little of what I had before, though I don't know how to feel it anymore.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Quakers. I've been wanting to try them out as well, and now I do even more.

Mike said...

I honestly know that the LDS Church is the true church. G I hope you should know this but when you disobey the commandments (like drink coffee, alcohol, or go against the church) the spirit won't be there as much. I know being LDS is hard, it is. But just think of how much blessings are being poured out to those who keep the faith. I enjoy reading your blog and recently I have noticed by your post that you are stressed with being lds. If I were you I would repent, and strive to be more faithful, don't experiment with the worldly things that Satan wants you to experiment with. Think about how the church has blessed you, your husband, your child, and you. I think it is cool you are going to other churches. That is what Joseph Smith did. I hope you don't take offense to my comment, I seriously know that this Gospel is true! I hope you take some of my suggestions into heart and act on them!

G said...

Hi mike thanks for your comment. It doesn't offend me. I appreciate your input. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

the things you mentioned, I do think about them, though less frequently now than I used to. Especially when I first began to question it was easy to make all sorts of correlations between the various challenges that would crop up, and my "disobedience".

my experience has led me to no longer believe there is direct correlation between obedience to the laws of The Church and blessings, feeling the spirit, etc.

yet while saying that, I will also add that I do believe that the standards and community of the church can (and do) bring blessings and provide a route to spiritual experience. And in all my searching and experimenting, I do not deny that it may just lead me back into the church. I really can't predict one way or the other, but it is a possibility.

JohnR said...

Since my moral authority is probably comparable to Mike's (or to anyone else's for that matter) I wanted to state that I know with certainty that you are not sinning! If anything, by choosing to live a life more authentic to your inner core, you are choosing integrity over the easier path of keeping up appearances, of external conformity. If there is a benevolent god, surely she would have no problem with you choosing to pursue the truth.

The irony is that every religious founder was a heretic, sinner and iconoclast in their own day, but they heeded their own call (and many paid with their lives). In following your conscience and turning your back on the forces of religious conformity in your life, you are demonstrating that you have more in common with Buddha, Ann Lee, Mohammed, Jesus--perhaps even Joseph Smith.

Well, gotta run--I have some helpless old people to punch, Republican votes to cast, and coffee to drink. :P