Discerning the Spirit
Perhaps, like me, you have attended a sacrament meeting and heard lackluster talks with retread stories, out of context scriptures and “faith promoting rumors.” Then in the concluding wrap up the bishop comments on how strongly he “felt the Spirit” in the meeting. You, on the other hand, felt only a gray thud. So who’s right? Was the Spirit “there” or wasn’t it?
The frequent guilt inducing chaser is the admonition that if you don’t feel the Spirit in a meeting you didn’t bring it with you, or you were not “in tune” and/or you need to repent.
Perhaps, you have attended M.o.o.F.s (Meetings of other Faiths) where you were profoundly moved by the Spirit reminding you of gospel truths that our F.o.o.F.s (Friends of other Faiths) share. Perhaps you leave that meeting wondering why it’s been so long since you were similarly fed in a Mormon meeting.
I remember some years ago when the youth of our ward reported on a trip to Independence, Missouri. More than one of them said they “didn’t feel the Spirit” in the Community of Christ temple. Why not, I wonder. Doesn’t God bathe the world in the evidence of the Spirit for “those who have eyes to see?” Have we programmed ourselves, our youth, our new members to believe there really is some kind of spiritual litmus test for indicating when the Spirit is present? And that it will ONLY be present in LDS meetings?
As I’ve served in the Relief Society I have had teachers come to me frantically afterward, afraid that they didn’t feel the spirit in the room when they taught. Yet I did. Or at least what I count as feeling it.
I don’t think that “Was the Spirit there?” is a useful question. The Spirit effects us each so personally and what may resonate with one person may fall flat for another for reasons that have little to do with worthiness and everything to do with God’s relationship with that person. And our own anxieties, fatigue, hunger, seratonin level, etc.
On the other hand, I am not an advocate of the watered-down relativism of today’s prevalent creed: “what works for me is as good as what works for you.” I don’t see how any one claiming to be a Christan, not to mention a Mormon Christian, can accept that. Jesus Christ, who presents himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, was not namby-pamby on the issue of that absolute.
Is the Spirit’s presence something that we may not be able to define easily but, to borrow a phrase from an unlikely source, we know it when we see (or in this case feel or experience) it?
How do you distinguish? How do you teach the concept? How have you “felt” it? Where, when? This whole business of discerning the Spirit is mysterious and frustrating and a lifetime’s holy work.