part 1: the Holy Ghost

I remember the first time I felt one of my prayers was answered. How old was I? After baptism, but still a pre-teen. I had just learned to really love reading novels, and I picked one up from my parents’ library. It was a Tony Hillerman book, a murder mystery. The first scene–a description of the mangled victim of a murder–scared the shit out of me.

Of course, that’s what the author wanted; it was a thriller, after all. I felt that thrill of horror, and wanted to get rid of it, because it didn’t feel like the Spirit. As I lay in my bed, trying to get rid of that feeling, I remembered what I’d learned in church–I could say a prayer when I was scared and Heavenly Father would help me feel better. So I prayed. I struck a deal with God, in fact. “If you help me feel better right now, I’ll never pick up that book again.”

I wave of comfort flowed over my body. I felt Heavenly Father had answered my prayer. I never picked up that book again, though I was tempted a couple times. It was not the last time I felt the “Spirit.” I felt the Spirit many, many times, almost always in the form of feelings–comfort or discomfort–and occasionally in a “still small voice,” or an image in my mind.

In my upbringing, the Spirit (aka the Holy Ghost) was one of the most important aspects of the gospel, of spirituality, of religion. It was humankind’s connection with the Divine, which Mormons define as Heavenly Father. But it was more. It was also our personal moral compass, our guidance, our conscience. To me, my conscience was the Spirit, the Spirit was my conscience; I didn’t have a moral compass or conscience outside the Spirit. I thought the Spirit was guiding me daily, or could guide me daily, as long as I listened–and stayed worthy of His presence. If you offended the Spirit, by not listening, making poor choices, or not creating an mind and environment conducive to the Spirit’s presence, then you didn’t have the benefit of the Spirit’s guidance. And you would make more bad choices, keeping the Spirit away longer, leading to more bad choices, and then you’re on your spiral staircase to hell.

Mormonism taught me to give the Spirit top authority. He being a direct conduit to God and all. What you learn from books, from people, from logic, should all be trumped by feelings sent by the Spirit.

You can imagine the extent to which this can go. A couple examples from my life:

High school history teacher tells you that Native Americans came from Asia? Archaeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence, and plain old common sense back it up? Well, you’ve prayed about the Book of Mormon, haven’t you? The Spirit told you it’s true, didn’t He? Don’t you think the Spirit would know better than some PhD researchers? So we know Native Americans are from Jerusalem, because we prayed and had a feeling about it.

I didn’t seek physical therapy for a broken ankle because I’d had a priesthood blessing that said I’d be healed completely. The Spirit told him to say it, so I believed it. When the ankle continued to give me trouble, I didn’t doubt the Spirit. The blessing didn’t say when it would be completely healed, I reasoned. Maybe surgery was necessary for complete healing, but God wanted me to figure that out on my own. So I had follow-up surgery, then physical therapy. And the ankle still bothered me, but I still didn’t question the blessing. Maybe Heavenly Father meant for me to go through physical therapy, and I messed up by not going, so He was out of his end of the promise. (The ankle still bothers me every few months; I have since given up on the blessing’s promise.)

The Spirit was so much a part of my life that I didn’t so much feel the Spirit from time to time as I did feel the absence of the Spirit from time to time.

I now believe the Spirit is nothing but a construct, a piece of social imagination and a way of interpreting feelings and conviction. But it took quite a bit of second-guessing, reinterpreting, wondering-if-I-was-crazy, thinking, and reevaluating to get from point A to point B. Oh, and don’t forget the guilt, since denying the Holy Ghost is the worst sin. Ever. Worse than murder. (Hello?)

The process of exorcising the Holy Ghost from my life will come in Part 2.

This is re-post from emerging from the ashes.

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3 Responses

  1. fiery says:

    I had the same kind of experience with the Spirit and a book when I was about 12 years old.

    I had been reading a book about alien adbuctions (“Messengers or Deceivers” I think) written from a kind of LDS perspective. And it made me feel very, very ill. I was terrified. I identified that horrible feeling not as an emotional response to the claims of abduction I was contemplating, but as Satan’s demons tormenting me and taunting me. Worse, I was afraid that by reading about those alien abductions, which included brief anecdotes involving nudity and much worse, I’d invited Satan’s influence into my life. Forever.

    I prayed to my Heavenly Father, almost frozen in fear and shame for reading that book, and promised never to read it again if He’d only comfort me, forgive me.

    The emotions slowly left me and I was able to get to sleep. For years, that perceived manifestation of God’s comfort (slow-acting though it was) was one of the many spiritual experiences I relied on to convince myself I had a testimony.

    And once you have all those spiritual witnesses that build up throughout life, how dare you question, right? Sign-seeking is the sign of an adulterous generation. And we remember what happened in the Book of Mormon to Korihor, who asked for more signs. Alma 30. He was struck dumb, his entire character slandered and used as an example of what the members *shouldn’t* be, and forced to beg for the rest of his life. And then, “…[B]ehold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.”

    At least in my experience, those emotions that got attributed to the Spirit were basically *supposed* to be enough for us. My impression is that because we weren’t allowed to want more verification, those feelings became even more elevated as proof, which of course can be dangerous when taken to the extreme.

  2. Hellmut says:

    It is a courageous thing to share those experiences, FTA. Thanks.

    I guess the Spirit is a nice thing as long as one doesn’t take it too seriously.

    Your post reminds me of Kimberly Ann who had a miscarriage and relied on the Bishop’s promise that she would birth her lost son in the future. Four daughters later, the pursuit of that “blessing” had changed her life.

    For my part, I knew that my mission would ruin my life but I was determined to serve and to do my part. Talk about foolishness.

    Thank heaven, I did not have to go to the MTC. That might have killed me.

  3. fta says:

    Thanks for you comments, fiery and Hellmut. I’m sorry I haven’t much time to respond except to say I appreciate your thoughts.

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