(Relief Society teachers, I highly recommend you getting on Amazon right now and buying some Chieko Okazaki books. I’ve found that she has something smart and insightful to say on nearly every gospel subject. She’s a wonderful resource for additional insight when you are planning your lessons.)
Part I: Introduction:
For me, the theme of spirituality – how to develop it, how to retain it – infused this lesson.
Start off the class with a personal experience/opinion question. (This signals to the class from the beginning that they need to expect to contribute and be involved in the discussion.) What is spirituality to you? What does that mean or look like? (connection to God, deep love for other humans, deep connection to earth and making it better, etc.) Who do you think embodies spirituality, both inside LDS church and beyond and why? (Eliza R. Snow, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama, Emmeline B. Wells, Gandhi, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wangari Maathai (woman who revitalized Kenya by starting a movement which ended up planting 30 million trees in the country), Hildegard von Bingen, etc.
Part II: From the life of Life of Lorenzo Snow:
Spirituality was important to Snow. He converted through reason, but then realized he needed something more — something more personal, more immediate, and more emotional. He needed a manifestation of some sort.
“Recalling his developing testimony, he later said, “I believed they [ the LDS] had the true religion, and I joined the Church. So far my conversion was merely a matter of reason.” …. Although he was content for a time with this understanding, he soon yearned for a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit.” 59.
Eventually Snow did have that manifestation. “The Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt.!” 61
Do you yearn for something more in your spiritual life? Do you yearn for an overwhelming spiritual experience? Is the ideal testimony a balance of both reason and personal experience of God?
Part III: Gaining a testimony is a good starting point
“We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little and obtain a full knowledge of those things which we should more fully understand.” 63.
On the one hand I like this emphasis of incremental change: “get a little nearer,” “advance a little.” That seems doable, within grasp, and realistic. But in same sentence we get a sense of the expansiveness of this progression we need to embark on. We need to “obtain a full knowledge.” Full knowledge is a pretty lofty vision of what we need to get. So I see two approaches here to increasing in spirituality and testimony. What are the advantages/disadvantages of having this focus of incremental change and progress? What are the advantages/disadvantages of having a much more expansive vision of what we will become in Mormon cosmology, the possessors of full knowledge and ultimately gods? Can we inhabit and embrace both focuses at once?
Regarding the idea of incremental change, Relief Society leader Ardeth Kapp said, “Sometimes we feel that we need to do it all – and all at once. But that is not the case. When we give what we have according to our time, according to our energy, according to where we are at tthis moment in our development, then the Lord will take what we have to offer and he will make up the difference.” (Women and the Power Within p. 46.)
Part IV: We can increase our faith and spiritual knowledge
“I feel that the Latter-day Saints are advancing; that they are receiving an education. We are getting up higher and higher. We are advancing to a higher condition and sphere and to a higher plane, and we are receiving such an education that the wisdom of the world with all its attainments and false doctrines and principles, will have no effect upon the Latter-day Saints, for they are rising above the theories and hypothesis of human inventions and soaring in things of truth that raise the mind, exalt the understanding, and establish themselves more and more fully in the true principles of life and glory.” 63
Snow is setting up a contrast between the gospel with its true principles and “the wisdom of the world” with its false doctrines. This is a common rhetorical strategy of dichotomization that many Mormons employ, and I can see why he does it here. It’s effective. But I also find very compelling Brigham Young’s attitude in the following quote, where he insists that Mormonism embraces all truth, wherever it is. He says, “‘Mormonism,’ so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to ‘Mormonism.’ The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. ‘Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.”
Young’s quote tells me that spiritual insight and truth can be found in lots of places, both within and outside the Church. Do you find that to be true in your own experience? Where do you turn, other than scriptures, praying, and Church materials, for spiritual insight, for inspiration, the kind which Snow refers to as raising the mind and exalting the understanding? I would make this question a major focus of the lesson. Consider asking a couple of people beforehand to prepare some remarks answering the question. Also, have your own story of finding insight and truth in a (perhaps) surprising place ready. I would ask the question, tell the women to think about it while you tell your own story or have a couple of women come up, and then turn the conversation over to the class. Possible answers: hiking, camping, gardening, quilting, art, great books, college classes, relationships with others, philosophy, etc.
Part V: If we desire to increase in our faith and spiritual knowledge, we must exert ourselves.
“Every [wo]man has got to learn to stand upon [her] own knowledge; [s]he cannot depend upon [her] neighbor; every [wo]man must be independent; [s]he must depend upon [her] God for [her]self entirely.” 64.
This resonates well with Mormon conceptions of self reliance. I think we can all see the benefits of standing upon your own knowledge, and not leaning on others’ knowledge. I do wonder, though, if there is a place in our community for those who, for whatever reason, don’t stand upon their own knowledge, who don’t have their own strong convictions about xyz. I think of the gifts of the spirit in D&C 46:13-14. ” To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. 14. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they might also have eternal life if they continue faithful.” So faith and testimony might not always look exactly the same for everyone. As a community, do you think we can or should be at peace with this reality, that there will always be in our community people in various places and forms of testimony? How do we love each other despite these differences? I think the New Testament body of Christ idea is really important here. We all have a place in the body of Christ, and when one of us hurts, all of us hurt. For the body to function we need to care for all its parts.
“It is impossible to advance in the principles of truth, to increase in heavenly knowledge, [unless] we exercise our reasoning faculties and exert ourselves in a proper manner. “ 65
What are ways you have found to advance in principles of truth? We mentioned a few areas of spiritual insight above, but how do we logistically carve out time to do these things, to stay motivated to do them? How do you stay centered and focused in advancing and in exerting yourself?
Part VI: As we dig deep into the things of God and remain faithful, our religion becomes a part of our being
“Our religion should be incorporated within ourselves, a part of our being that cannot be laid off.”
Do you find yourself compartmentalizing religion? I.e., religion is something you do on Sunday, something you do at night when you say prayers, etc. Or have you found a way to let religion infuse every part of your day and life? How can we do that? In watching the PBS show God in America, I was struck by a Native American’s description of the pervasiveness of religion in his worldview. He said, “Our world around us is our religion. Our way of life is our religion. The way we behave toward one another is our religion. The moment we wake up to when we go to bed, even when we asleep, that’s our religion.” I thought that expansive notion of religion and spirituality was inspiring and beautiful. For him, God is in every aspect of life.
Part VII: Conclusion
Relief Society leader Chieko Okazaki discussed the importance of recognizing that spirituality is crucial, but that it is also individual. She wrote:
“What builds your spirituality may be different from what builds someone else’s.”( Lighten Up! 193)
She goes on to say (warning: long quote), “Maybe you’ve received a lot of “should” and “oughts” about your spiritual life. Do any of these sound familiar?
‘You should read the scriptures at the same time every day.’
‘You should go to the temple once a month.’
‘You should always wait quietly for an answer after you’ve prayed.’
‘You should always accept every calling in the Church.’
Well, I have another “should” for you. Here it is. Are you ready?
You should do what works for you.
It’s okay to consult your own needs and wants. Growth comes when we feel ourselves drawn in certain directions, when we feel unsatisfied needs in ourselves and reach out to meet those needs in righteous ways. …
Here are some questions to replace those ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts.’
‘What do I want out of my attendance at church? Am I getting it?’
‘If I could have any calling in the ward, what would it be?’
‘What kinds of experiences with the scriptures have brought me the most joy in the past, or been most satisfying to me? Is there a way to have those experiences more regularly?’
‘What kind of prayer life do I have?… Do I consciously invite the holy Ghost to ‘come along’ in my daily activities?’
Spirituality is individual. Find things that work for you as you develop spiritual strength. Our heavenly Father has not just one mansion, but ‘many mansions.’ I don’t think he expects us all to find spiritual strength in exactly the same ways. “ (Lighten Up! 193-194)
She also says:
“Sometimes people confuse spirituality with solemnity. It’s been my experience that one of the inevitable effects of true spirituality is light-heartedness, a generosity in happiness.” (204, Lighten Up!)
Conclude by bearing testimony that we all have the ability to advance spirituality, we all have the ability discover profound insights which will enhance our lives, make us joyful, bring us closer to God, and help us love one another more. This spirituality might be different for different people, and we are strengthened as a people for having that kind of diversity within the fold. We hope that this lesson has inspired you all to seek after those spiritual insights available to us through the gospel and in the world.
If You Could Hie to Kolob 284 — nicely captures the idea of advancement and progression, but suggest to the class that you change the word “race” in verse 3 to “grace.”
O My Father 292 — written by Snow’s sister Eliza R. Nicely covers ideas of truth, reason, and testimony.
Please share with us your ideas for this lesson!