Feeling the spirit

I work in the Young Women organization, and the President does a really good job of signaling to the girls when she feels the Spirit and inviting them to share what they feel.  I feel like this is a valuable insight to share, because so often we feel unsure of what the Spirit feels like or whether we receive personal revelation.  Of course not everyone feels the spirit at the same time or for the same reason, but I think it is great that she encourages the girls to be mindful and to try to recognize the Holy Ghost when they feel it.  I have noticed, however, that I often do not feel the spirit when she does and I have come to know her so well that I can tell by her body language even if she does not say anything what she is feeling.

At a stake in-service meeting this week I noticed my not-feeling-what-they’re-feeling particularly acutely.  We watched a training film that not only was not touching to me, I found it downright irritating.  I glanced over at my friend and saw tears in her eyes and the tell-tale goosebumps she often feels. Then I felt guilty for not being touched and being judgmental of the video.  What is wrong with me, that everyone is in tears while I am barely able to avoid a snarky remark?

I have come to realize something about myself and how I experience the Holy Ghost.  I think most people feel touched by the Spirit when they are humble and willing to be influenced spiritually, and I am most humbled by having to work on my dissertation.  I feel relentlessly inadequate and desperate for help and answers.  I see very clearly what I do not know, what I do not understand, and how weak I truly am when I sit down to write.

I pray very earnestly for help pretty much every day, and I feel strongly that anything that is good about what I have produced has come by inspiration after prayer.  There are moments when words just come, or an idea presents itself that feels like it cannot have come out of my brain. To me, that is the Holy Ghost answering my prayers and touching me with inspiration.

That is not to say that my work is inspired in the sense that it is the word of God, or innately better than anyone else’s work.  Rather, I feel that my own abilities have been magnified and purified by the Holy Ghost.  My dissertation is better because of the help I get through prayer than it would otherwise have been.  Working toward my PhD has brought me to a knowledge of my own nothingness before God (and my committee, another story entirely…) and taught me to recognize the Holy Ghost in my life.  I also feel the absence of the Spirit very acutely in my bad writing days that are filled with frustration and stupor of thought.

Do you have unconventional experiences with the Holy Ghost? When do you feel the Spirit in your life most intensely?

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8 Responses

  1. Nancy Ross says:

    I’ve had a number of students come out to me in the last six months and most of them are/were LDS. When I hear about their trials and how they are trying to cope with immediate family, extended family, and church leaders, I feel humbled. I get strong impressions of how much God loves these students and how he empathizes with their struggles. One student recently expressed a desired to be able to take her partner and children to a church where they will feel welcome. I hear a desire from her to grow closer to God and to give that to her children. I feel ashamed that we are not more inclusive, that she does not feel welcome in an LDS church. And in those moments, I also feel the Holy Ghost, which isn’t confirming the rightness of keeping gay people out of church, but confirming the rightness of her desire to bring her family to God.

  2. Caroline says:

    I love your thoughts here, Em. I’m one of those people that is often mentally going, “Huh?” when others around me at church mention that the Spirit is especially strong in the room at the moment. Clearly the Spirit doesn’t work like that for me.

    I have decided to interpret certain moments in my life as the Spirit communicating to me. Most powerfully for me was a couple years ago in an ethics class when we were talking about animal ethics. I was filled with the powerful conviction that i had to stop eating meat, that i had to take myself out of the cruel and disgusting factory farming system. i’m not 100% vegetarian yet, but i’m working toward it. i just need to keep in mind that moment of absolute clarity.

  3. Howard says:

    The Spirit will tutor us individually based on our own frame of reference if we allow him to. This puts us on a unique learning path. Parables are layered at varying depths because people are in different places of understanding and ability to hear and learn. The idea that the Spirit speaks consistently to everyone or that his teachings are always consistent with the quad, prophet, brethren or Sunday school is without merit and would not be useful were it that way.

  4. DefyGravity says:

    I rarely feel the spirit in traditional places. Church, especially recently, is upsetting or dull to me. I have never felt the spirit in the temple, no matter how hard I tried. I kept hearing that the temple was such a spiritual place, but every time I went I ended up with a headache or just feeling like I had wasted some time.

    I had a professor tell me once, “I feel the spirit more in a theater than I ever do in church.” That always stuck with me. As someone who works extensively in the arts, I find God there, rather than in a church. I find God in performance, in literature, in theatre, music and film.

    God made us all to function as individuals, with different personalities and interests. It seems strange to assume that we should all feel the spirit in the same places and in the same way. We are different for a reason, and God can speak to us in the way that is best for us. It is sad that we feel we must all find God in the same way when God made us to be different and can speak to us differently.

  5. Rachel says:

    Em, I resonate with the experience you shared, as many of my most “spiritual experiences,” have come while trying to write papers. For me there is usually a period of intense struggle and even desperation, and then something switches. Things are calm. Words come when they weren’t before. I do think I am feeling the spirit in those moments. It is very much as you said, that it is not that it makes my papers better than someone else’s (because that is not necessarily the case at all), but that I am able to see things more clearly, or remember passages that would be useful.

    I sincerely believe that God speaks to each of us in ways that we can personally understand, and so while it is still a little disconcerting to go to a meeting where others are clearly being moved in ways that I am not, I can remember that I feel the spirit too, just differently, or in different circumstances.

    Sometimes I feel it when I read the scriptures, but I feel it just as much when I read a good book like Anna Karenina or the Little Prince. Or when I read a poem. Or ride my bike. Or get enough sleep. Etc., etc.

  6. Deja says:

    I love this. And I love the reminder that the spirit is not necessarily a presence in the physical space, but works instead through individuals, through our hearts and minds and emotions. Quite rightly. Quite beautifully.

  7. April says:

    This post reminds me of two things I learned in the MTC. One is that you should identify the Spirit when you feel it, as it helps others identify it. I used that strategy a lot when I was a missionary but I don’t any more, partially because, like you pointed out, I have realized that when one person announces feeling the Spirit, it doesn’t mean everyone in the room feels the same. Also, I am more suspicious of my feelings now than I was then, so I am more inclined to think, maybe I am feeling the Spirit or maybe those are just my own thoughts and feelings.

    The other was that the Spirit testifies of truth. We discussed that a lot in welfare training, where we learned to teach people things like water purification “with the Spirit” because the Spirit testifies of truth, and drinking clean water to maintain health is a true principle.

  8. Heather Sather says:

    Em, I appreciate your post. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit is such a private and individual thing, not subject to surroundings but to situation. I most recently felt the spirit at my grandson’s baseball game last evening, when I was overwhelmed with the courage and grace both he and his sister were showing in their own, separate, difficult circumstances. I felt such a strong manifestation that I was seeing courage in action, and that my grandchildren were growing strong in the spirit and will become beacons in troubled times. I was humbled and filled with joy. The strongest manifestation of the Holy Spirit that I have felt in years occurred at the (ceremonial and not yet legal) marriage of my daughter and her partner. They were so full of joy, despite some LDS family members who could be described as surly at best, and born again Christian siblings that were highly conflicted about same-sex marriage. I had been praying that the occasion would be peaceful, and that those who were unhappy and/or ambivalent could feel some portion of the couple’s joy. As I was giving a toast, words that I had not written came out of my mouth: This marriage is good; this marriage is right. May God, however you envision God to be, pour blessings out upon your union.” These words were a blessing that was given to me to pass on to my daughters. All were blessed.

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