I am deeply invested in writing, thinking, and talking about spirituality. Occasionally I am met with questions about the worth of such endeavors (whether that’s from friends that have left Mormonism, people concerned about the economic viability of my career path, or just those that find spirituality and humanities-esque things unworthy of that sort of attention). This sort of debate has been happening for centuries, so I have no pretension of providing a definitive answer to it, but believe it’s worthwhile to set out my reasons for being a regular participant in these debates and discussions.
The biggest reason is likely that I believe. I feel that there’s something more, some sort of transcendence breaking through into this immanent world that we’re a part of. I sense it. I’ve had experiences that seem to be most easily explained through a belief in something else beyond ourselves. This isn’t an easy or a simple belief—it lives alongside doubts and questions and concerns, but it still lives. I want to believe. I want there to be something more—some sense of magic and wonder and delight and enchantment that I find in spirituality and Mormonism. That hope, that desire, that belief feels important to me. I believe and have been told that I have a gift for writing and so feel compelled to write to make my beliefs take flesh in word (in a muddled appropriation of John). I write to sort through my beliefs, to make them known to myself and others. The act of writing helps me know what it is that I believe or hope to believe or want to believe or don’t. So I write. Often uncertain about what I will say until it has been said, but I return over and over to words, hoping that somehow they’ll shine a light on a few steps in front of me in this glass darkly through which I see.
My belief is colored with enough agnosticism that I can see how this may be unconvincing or unsatisfying to those that don’t have the sense or feeling or longing for the transcendent, the spiritual, the divine that I do (or have felt only coldness or darkness or emptiness as they’ve sought it). Even if I die and cease to exist, the particles of my body dissolving into the air, morphing into something else, spirituality and religion and belief matter. Because the stories we tell ourselves matter. We make sense of the world through stories. We must use stories and narratives to find meaning. Even if you reject all religions and hold onto science (I’m skeptical of the dichotomy between religion and science for many reasons, but as it’s the one commonly referenced, I’ll use it here), you need stories to understand and incorporate what science tells you. Facts are empty and useless without a story. We all depend on stories for meaning. So, I think stories that are used by many people are worth engaging with.
When I say, “story” I don’t mean that pejoratively, nor even necessarily as a designation of the fictive nature of the story. I simply mean information presented in a narrative form. Practically my entire life is spent engaging in reading, watching, finding and then analyzing stories (Mormonism, literature, film, etc.). The stories that religion and spirituality tell us are used as the foundations of our moral views in many cases and I think morality matters. Maybe a couple examples will help. Mormonism believes that we are all children of Heavenly Parents, of God. That as children of God, we all are granted with divine potential, that is, the ability to grow and mature into being Gods and Goddesses of our own (this belief has been downplayed in recent years and is open to some interpretation, but my Mormonism is rooted in it, so let’s roll with it). For me, this story gives me pause when wanting to argue with or belittle those around me. They are DIVINE in embryo. There’s glory in them that I may never fully see. They are deeply worthy of my respect and love. Obviously, this particular story is not the only way to arrive at that behavior. Loads of people do. Loads of stories take you there. But I think, stories matter. Representation matters. How we see ourselves fitting into the universe is important and colors how we interact with people and things around us. So, spirituality, as the arguably the most important stories that we all tell ourselves, seems worthy of engagement to me.
When it all comes down to it, Mormonism is my spiritual home. It is where I first learned about God, where I was introduced to the divine, to the sacred, when I first heard these stories (mingled with a number of other worldview-shaping stories in film and literature—Star Wars and Harry Potter being two of the most popular examples). Perhaps this is best articulated by a quote that I encountered in Rachel Held Evans’ incredibly moving and insightful book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church that she found in Lauren Winner’s memoir Still:
“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
Mormonism will always be in my blood. It’s also literally in my DNA (as much as a belief and a story can be passed on in DNA) going back generations. I’m inclined to wrestle (intellectually anyway, definitely don’t have the physical build for wrestling) and if I’m going to wrestle, it’s here, in Mormonism, with this story. That’s a promise I can keep. My beliefs have gone through a pretty radical transformation since I was small, but still feel deeply, impossibly Mormon.
Could all of this be fake, fairy tales told to be the opium of the masses? Sure, it’s possible. But all of us believe in countless things we can’t see or explain or understand, but help us make sense of the world and that seems important. This is how I do that. It’s messy and complicated and hurts me and others, but it’s where I belong—engaged in the wrestle with my faith, a faith that matters deeply to me and is worthy of thought and examination.