And like that whimsical song of yesteryear, I not only have no bananas, I also have no blog article for this month. I feel, however, that I owe an explanation to my faithful readers, so sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of my wrestle with the Lord.
It is not like I didn’t try to have a blog ready this month. In fact, I had one all lined up and ready to go. It had a nifty title, The Late Great Article of Faith, and dealt specifically with AoF 7, which sets forth all the spiritual gifts in which we as Mormons believe. There’s the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, the interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
My idea was to line them all up one by one, devote a section to each, and demonstrate by compelling evidence that although these gifts were enjoyed in the early days of the LDS Church, they slipped through our fingers somewhere along the way.
I did a lot of research in order to substantiate my argument, culling quotes from the Book of Mormon and Church History, as well as Henry B. Eyring, Boyd K. Packer, Richard G. Scott, and Gordon B. Hinckley.
The thought occurred to me that although I don’t hear a lot about spiritual gifts from Church leadership, the fact is I have experienced a lot of those gifts in my personal life. I thought about those experiences. The gift of tongues? I had received that. Prophecy? I had experienced that, too. Revelation? Yes. Visions? Check. Upon reflection, I was surprised at how many of these gifts I had received over the course of time.
The only gift I could not positively say I had received was the gift of healing. But you have to be careful about that one. Things could always have been worse than they turned out to be! Still, there was no instance I could point to definitively and say that constituted a healing in my own life.
I wondered whether it was at all hypocritical of me to write a column busting the chops of Church leaders for not continuing the legacy of spiritual gifts bequeathed by Joseph Smith when they were so abundant in my own life. And if they were abundant in my own life, might they not be abundant in the lives of Church leaders; only for some reason they weren’t very up front in talking about it?
That was easy enough to take care of. I wrote a paragraph at the beginning of the blog as a caveat saying that the experience of spiritual gifts among the members of the Church was beyond the scope of this paper, which would instead focus on the messages given by Church leaders at General Conference. “There,” I thought. “That should take care of the problem.”
So I had my idea, the format, the research, and everything was ready to go. It would be no holds barred; a real barn burner.
That’s when I ran into a problem.
I couldn’t write it.
But I want to go into a bit more detail about why I couldn’t write it, even though I will grope for words in order to convey the actuality of what happened. Obviously, I could type out the words for my blog, just like I am doing now, but it seemed that I was being prevented, by some force either external or internal, from articulating what I meant in a way that was satisfactory to me. I spent many hours on this project, and came back again and again to my draft, adding language, deleting some, amending other parts. It just wouldn’t work.
And all of this with a deadline looming.
It wasn’t just the inability to complete the project that frustrated me, but an air of discomfort surrounded my efforts that continued to dog me even when I wasn’t actually writing but just thinking about how to work it out in my mind. I suppose this could be chalked up to a classic case of writer’s block. But it wasn’t helped by repeated efforts over weeks to come back to complete the project. This is not the way things usually work for me. For instance, since starting this draft, I have hardly had to stop at all and the words come flowing into my mind and out onto the word processor with little need to go back and revise.
I finally came to the crisis—the point at which I needed to make a decision on what I would do. It is Tuesday, January 21, 2014. I have come down to the office and once more tried to iron out the difficulties I am having with the blog. Once more I am rebuffed. I take a walk in the chill winter air to clear my mind. I walk with a limp because of a pain that has developed in my left hip over the last several weeks. As I limp along, it occurs to me that maybe I am having difficulty in writing this because somebody doesn’t want me to write it. Maybe it’s an internal subconscious intuition. Maybe it’s an outside force. If I had to come up with a scriptural phrase to describe what I have been encountering, it would be a stupor of thought. My own words would be something like an oppressive pall.
While walking, I call a dear and trusted friend in Arizona to talk about the situation. He gives me some insight, and perhaps some reasons that maybe what I was intending on writing wouldn’t be the best thing in the world for me to publish. Some of it has to do with the subject matter being purely critical, without one shred of positivity to it; not even a suggestion as to how to make things better. At bottom, it may have stemmed from the fact I was writing it more like a lawyer arguing a case than a disciple seeking for truth.
As a result of my dawning realization, I make a decision—I will scrap the blog I had intended to write. In spite of the approaching deadline, I trust God to give me something to write in its place. I think of the line from “The Sound of Music” where Julie Andrews says that whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. Or as Cervantes put it, “Destiny, when one door is shut, always leaves another open.” (Don Quixote, Part I, chapter 15)
I think about how what I have been experiencing seems like a wrestling match—a wrestling match with God. I think about how Jacob wrestled with God all night long, and how at the end of the match, God touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and crippled him enough for God to win the bout. (Talk about no holds barred.)
My mind turns to the problem I have with my left hip, which has for several weeks been plaguing me, making me walk with a slight limp. It seems to be something to do with the front tendon. I can’t lift my left knee up in front of me without pain, and I can’t pull my left leg after me when getting into my car without physically using my left hand under the knee to assist.
I don’t know how long this problem with my hip has been going on; I only know it has been weeks. I am not here to tell you that it started right when I planned to write this blog, but saying it was around that time wouldn’t be bending the truth.
I am still taking that walk on Tuesday morning and I think, “Wouldn’t it be funny if God stymied my efforts to write about the absence of spiritual gifts in the modern LDS Church by interposing such a gift on me personally?” God is funny like that. I think he likes irony.
The thought occurs to me that the story would be complete if, what with my having jettisoned the idea to write the original blog, my hip suddenly got better. I say a prayer to that effect as I continue to walk. No miracle. No nothing. I say that’s okay; I get how God usually doesn’t like to be too obvious.
I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders with my decision to not write the blog I had planned, and am just waiting and open to a new idea for something to take its place. Nothing is coming.
I go to bed that night and turn out the light. I use my legs to adjust the blankets around my feet. I hear a loud click in my left hip. It hurts for a moment. I think, “Is that my hip getting worse, or has God decided to heal it after all?” I don’t bother getting up to test the theory.
The next morning I wake up and get out of bed. My hip is better. The one spiritual gift in AoF 7 that I have never experienced is now present and accounted for. In the interests of honesty, the area still aches some, but I think that is mostly residual from the original injury. I walk two miles that night on the treadmill and another two miles the following night. I’m not complaining. (And adding this part two weeks later, it is completely healed.)
And though I scrapped the original blog I had spent so much time and energy on, I find I still have something to take its place—the story of how it came to be that I have no blog for this month.
So yes, we have no bananas.
But maybe I managed to get something better in the process.
(Total time writing–59 minutes)
Interesting Corbin. I enjoy listening to KLove, A Christian Music Channel. As I listen to them relate their experiences…I am left feeling that they probably experience just as much, if not more of the gifts of Christ in their lives, as we do. I am happy about that, it makes me happy. However, we make some pretty heavy claims in the church that just don’t seem to stand up to reality. We claim to be the only authorized church to bestow the Gift of The Holy Ghost. So what? I don’t see that gift making anymore of a difference in the lives of members of God’s One True Church than Faith in Christ is doing for those not of our faith. I could go through the list of miracles shown forth in the scriptures…we disregard them for the most part. Miracles for us are finding $5 in our pants after laundering, a sixth sense warning us not to walk into traffic, and a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ as we hear someone else tell us of THEIR experience finding the $5 and not getting hit by the truck! The church is full of wonderful people, so is the local Lions Club. Neither of them seem to have a real connection with Heaven. Joseph Smith had a connection with Heaven…us, not so much, I think.
Thanks for your comments, Astonished. A few of your points are reminiscent of what I scrapped in the original draft.
There is a HUGE disconnect between the spiritual gifts claimed by first generation Mormons with those claimed by current LDS leadership.
It makes no difference for this analysis whether one accepts anything as “true.” Just the claims are monumentally different.
And you are right about the Holy Ghost–the LDS Church has pretty much watered down the effective operational capacity of the third member of the Godhead to either confirming the truth of what Priesthood leaders tell us, or acting as a sort of Spidey-sense to warn us of imminent danger.
I sort of think the Holy Ghost has a lot more to say to us than just that.
And don’t even get me started on what Heavenly Mother wants to tell us!
I think you experienced even more gifts of the spirit than you knew. In addition to the ones you listed, you also experienced “stupor of thought.” I recognize it because of my own vast experience with it. What Christ was to walking on water, I am to stupor of thought.
Plus, I think you just identified yet a new gift of the spirit which has heretofore been unmentioned in the scriptures but deserves its own category–the gift of procrastination. What I love about this newly discovered gift of the spirit is I can explain whole swaths of my life based upon my particular affinity for this gift as well. Thank you, thank you.
Haggoth (one of the most spiritually gifted saints in the kingdom if limited to the two aforementioned gifts).
Let not the head say to the feet, “I have no use for you.”
Pray tell, what is your experience with the gift of tongues? Was it learning a foreign language with exceeding rapidity? That’s all I ever hear of the gift of tongues in present-day LDS circles. I would be very interested in hearing from an LDS person who has had a different (i.e. more traditional) manifestation of that gift.
Thanks for asking Benjamin.
But my experiences with the Spirit are too sacred to share publicly.
Okay. Here goes. I went to Japan on my mission and had a difficult time learning the language. I worked and worked and worked and it came very slowly to me. I had no divine assistance; no special help at all. I had heard all the stories but figured they just didn’t apply to me.
I had been on my mission for about a year, and by dint of my own effort had managed to develop some facility with the Japanese language . . . at least when talking on gospel related subjects.
I was in Koriyama. It was the summer of 1980. I was out trachting with my companion. He mentioned something about the gift of tongues and how it has been known to help missionaries in dire straits.
I had a strong reaction. I told him that may be true, but that I had received absolutely no help from God in learning Japanese; that I had worked very hard to get where I was, and that no gift of tongues had been extended in my direction.
Even as I said it, I thought maybe it wasn’t such a smart thing.
From that very point on, my ability to speak Japanese dropped to about a first grade level. I just could not find the words anymore; words I was perfectly familiar with until my ill advised declaration.
I stumbled and stuttered my way through conversations and missionary discussions for about a week until I finally figured somebody might be sending me a message.
So having been sufficiently humbled, I apologized (pretty profusely) one night in prayer, and found my facility returned.
After that, I decided not to speak so cavalierly about the gift of tongues.
My gift of tongues experience also happened on my mission. I had only been in the country a few months and was still pretty bad at the language. One night, a member asked me to give her 12 year old son a blessing. He had pretty severe pneumonia (which was pretty serious considering this was a very poor family living in refugee housing in the middle of the winter). The moment I put my hands on his head, the language flowed like I was a native. I said things I had never said before in that language. The boy’s mother took him to a hospital a few days later and the doctors were blown away because his pneumonia was completely gone.
In all fairness to you statement, Benjamin, that was still not a “traditional” manifestation of the gift of tongues/interpretation of tongues (in the sense experienced often by members of the church in JS days, of which there is a dearth of in modern times).However, it was still a powerful spiritual experience that I think was still in that same ballpark.
Thanks for sharing that wonderful experience, Andrew. Though perhaps not the “tongue of angels” referenced in the Book of Mormon, it was likely a more useful manifestation of the gift of tongues, as Joseph Smith would later suggest.
Yours are the kind of spiritual experiences I wish we could hear in General Conference. And I don’t mean the relating of somebody else’s spiritual manifestation, but a personal account of something that happened to the speaker.
We seem to have strayed from that.
For instance, President Eyring recently gave a talk in General Conference where he related a personal experience of serendipitously happening upon a newspaper article that was helpful to him in preparing an address at a university.
I think that is of some interest.
But where President Eyring jumped the shark, in my opinion, was in declaring his experience was “a miracle like the Red Sea parting.”–President Eyring, “A Witness,” October 2011 General Conference.
I find your experience trying to write your first article to be very interesting,considering that I have felt guided (speaking as someone who is not sure how much she actually believes in guiding) to focus on encouraging people, especially women, to share the gifts they possess, to break the taboo, and to lose the fear (it says in the scriptures that we should desire these things. Desiring them is not the same as craving power), often in place of the pure criticism you were speaking of. Not that I believe the criticism is untruthful, or undeserved. It is simply unproductive. Do I want to vent my anger, look intelligent, and get pats on the back from people who already agree with me? Or do I want to make things better? To make things better, in this case it is best to put the criticism aside and just show people the awesome. Personally, I have experienced both dreams and visions that, even with my newer, more logical and critical point of view, I have to acknowledge as amazing and helpful to me personally. I have felt especially hesitant to talk about this as a woman, because in spite of scriptures to the contrary, many people treat visions, prophecy, healing, etc, as something that should be a priesthood duty for men only. It isn’t. We women have got to reach out and take what is readily available to us, and share our experiences so that the taboo is broken.
Sometimes there is so much tension in the Church, I feel it about to fissure all around me. (Terryl Givens wrote a book about this a while ago; I think it was called “People of Paradox” in which he detailed four different tensions in the LDS Church.)
This particular tension to which I refer has to do with the declaration that we have living prophets, seers and revelators (not just one but FIFTEEN!) leading the Lord’s Church; the proclamation of New Testament spiritual gifts being enjoyed in the Church today in Article of Faith 7; and revelation flowing from heaven in a direct and continuous course since the days of Joseph Smith.
I don’t think I’m overstating the Church’s position here.
The tension comes from squaring these publicly proclaimed beliefs of the LDS Church with the actuality of what is going on around us. I have tried, believe me, but I don’t see any prophecy, any visionary “seeing,” or any revelations coming from those who are sustained to those offices.
On top of this, I see little indication that Church leaders are experiencing New Testament spiritual gifts, or if they are, they sure are keeping them close to their vest. (Kind of like the prophecy, visions, and revelations.)
Sometimes they tease that they are actually receiving huge visions and revelations, but won’t share them because they are “too sacred.” (Hence my little joke in a post above.)
All I know is I doubt any of them have seen something bigger than the Father and the Son, and Joseph Smith wasn’t too reticent about sharing that information publicly.
I am heartened by your experiences with the Spirit, and joining them with mine and those of others, I feel the Holy Ghost is alive and well at least among some of the laity of the Church; but only to those who are open to receiving them, and often outside authorized Priesthood channels.
And when it comes to the ordinances that are supposed to convey such encounters with the Spirit (baptism, confirmation, blessings, etc.), you are right that those have been codified, systematized and restricted exclusively to those who hold the necessary Priesthood.
The problem I see is that those who restrict the ordinances and spiritual experiences in such a way aren’t frequently experiencing them themselves, even by their own prescribed methods.
They seem to say it has to be done in a very specific way, and it can only be done by somebody with a very specific Priesthood (read: “man”), and having locked God in a box, we find Him not too responsive with the blessings of the Spirit in return.
But God must remain in the box, and that is a box no woman may touch. Don’t forget what happened with Pandora. And Uzzah.
I don’t like to mention this, but I am reminded of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, that they shut up the kingdom of heaven against people, “for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Mt. 23:13)
In this regard, as in so many others, things seem to be upside down.
“The time is out of joint, O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right.”
P.S. I think my next blog post will be titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Goddess.”
I really enjoyed this, Corbin.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read it, Jonathan, and for the kind words!