About ten days ago (17 May 2018), there was a faked apology for the Church’s racism that was leaked and presented as real. Most of the response thus far has focused rightly so on the racial components of what happened (this is worth watching and this worth reading for more qualified voices on that). I wanted to focus on something I haven’t really seen much discussion on that I think is important and worth engaging with—what do we do with spiritual experiences that are linked with fictions?
I saw quotes from the apology floating around twitter with several friends noting how they got tears in their eyes reading it, having some of the strongest spiritual experiences they’d had in months or years. I went searching for the entire press release and eventually found it, anxiously and rapidly reading through. Shocked, moved, emotional reading this clear, direct, powerful admission of fault and plan for moving forward. It’s perhaps the strongest spiritual response I’ve ever had to a pronouncement from the Prophet (though it wasn’t actually, but I thought it was at the time). I shed a few tears, rushed in and woke up Cece, so we could watch the press conference in a few minutes. Though almost immediately I tweeted something and then others noted that the apology was a fake.
The experience I had reading this fake apology, this hoax, was powerful and spiritual. So what does that mean? I see a few options:
- It was a spiritual witness of the goodness of the words.
- It was a spiritual witness of something else.
- It wasn’t the spirit at all.
Now, let’s delve into these and what the implications of them are more fully.
Option One: It was a spiritual witness of the goodness of the words.
Perhaps what I did feel was the Spirit, witnessing that the words I read would do great good and bring peace & goodness if they were to be spoken. If this is true, it means that God can work through fiction and even through texts and things that have been produced with murky intentions. A spiritual witness does not necessarily mean that something is factually, historically true—it could be a sign of other, different truths. So, the powerful spiritual feeling I felt reading this hoax may not have been God trying to convey to me that indeed, President Nelson, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, wrote and said these words, but rather that these words embodied some deeper, divine truth. I don’t think my experience with them would have been as profound had I not believed initially that they were coming from the leadership of the Church, but I don’t know. I’m sympathetic to this option because I frequently feel the Spirit in connection with fictional things. I feel moved by stories and narratives, by books and films, by songs and tv. I feel the witness of something powerful and divine about these things. Often that’s something I can’t quite articulate, but something that I feel. (Which I often find somewhat frustrating as someone who prides himself on his ability to articulate his thoughts and feelings, but hey, what can you do?)
Option Two: It was a spiritual witness of something else.
Related to some of the thoughts I expressed in detailing Option One, but it’s quite possible that the Spirit was indeed felt by me and others as we read and that that feeling was misinterpreted in some way. I did not experience any words or clear messages as I was reading, but felt a sense of peace and goodness. That could mean all sorts of things. I’m a believer in spiritual experiences, but also enough of a humble literary critic to recognize that interpretation is everything and if I’m interpreting feelings, well, there’s all sorts of possibilities there for what they could mean and what was trying to be conveyed. So, I am open to that world of possibility.
Option Three: It wasn’t the spirit at all.
The third option is compelling for some reasons, but also troubling. That what I felt and attributed to the Spirit was actually just pure emotion or something else. Now, I don’t need what I felt reading this hoax to be the Spirit, but if it’s not, then I need to re-evaluate my way of determining if something is the Spirit or not. And that is a long hard road (that I am always on to some extent to be honest). It’s compelling in this instance because it removes the difficulty of having a spiritual experience tied to something that was calculated for different reasons and does not have the spiritual pedigree usually associated with spiritual experiences.
So what does all this mean? At the least that spiritual experiences are far more complicated than we like to talk about them. That spiritual experiences are not necessarily signs of historical or factual truth, but a sign of something else, something larger. That we’re probably pretty terrible at interpreting them and that there’s loads of ambiguity involved in the feelings we associate with them. I think there’s lots to think about in relation to spiritual experiences and what sorts of truths they convey or how we could alternatively interpret them.
I don’t think this means that we have to toss out spiritual experiences or that they are useless. I think trying to understand what spiritual experiences can mean or what they can tell us is useful.