Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

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Orson
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Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Orson » 10 Oct 2013, 14:25

I wanted to offer my experience on this topic as a point of discussion, if for no other reason than to illustrate one perspective and point of reference on the continuum of spiritual experiences.

From a young age I remember being taught that I could have equal spiritual experiences to any person that has ever lived, if I had enough faith. As a young child I never doubted anything, I felt loved and I knew I was special. I don't remember a specific experience but I do know that by the time of my baptism at 8 years of age I was questioning the difference between my personal emotions and experiencing the spirit. I have a vague impression of feeling comforted and certain that a prayer of mine was being answered, only to see it play out in a way other than what I expected. My take-away from that situation was the comfort that I had assumed to be the spirit must have been my own emotions - and emotions are obviously unreliable.

My earliest memory of being asked "did you feel the spirit?" is on the day of my baptism. A close friend of mine expressed how strongly he felt the spirit and asked me if I felt it. I knew I felt emotion, but I didn't know if it was supposed to mean anything. I knew the tingling down my spine came often to me, when I watched Disney movies and when my mother expressed her love. I wondered if the similar feeling I experienced in church meetings was something special, or if it was the same. To me it felt the same.

As I grew older this question remained with me: what was the difference between feeling the spirit and feeling emotion? I decided I needed to have a more powerful personal manifestation to be able to sort things out. I remembered being taught that I could see an angel or have a miraculous vision if I had enough faith. It happened a lot in the 1830's that we know about, and since then the heavens have not been closed, people just don't talk about those things as much any more. I could have my own unquestionable witness, all I needed was to exercise my faith. I knew I had enough. About the age of 12 to 14 I began to pray, I prayed often, and I knew I needed to be patient.

As my patience transitioned into distraction, I began to wonder if the answers were coming to me but I was failing to recognize them. I wondered if there was some minute difference between my emotions and the spirit that I simply had not learned to differentiate. I did bear my testimony on occasion, I spoke things that I had always believed and I felt good about doing so, but I did not feel a certain witness had been granted. By the time I was preparing for my mission I had been challenged to gain a solid witness that I could lean on in hard times, I searched through everything in me as I tried to solve the puzzle. I ended up assuming that I had already received my witness, I had no reason to doubt. As I recall my bishop must have agreed with this resolve.

From this background it may not surprise anyone that serious challenges to the paradigm I held resulted in its complete collapse. When looking at spiritual experiences that others express I have to wonder if they are experiencing coincidence or embellishing the story, because I have witnessed some embellishment of stories where I was a first-hand witness, and also because I have not had a similar experience for myself.

My question is how do people like me fit into the fabric of the church? I am not worried about myself, I make my own way. I offer this example as an illustration for discussion and for others to reflect on. Unfortunately so many like me simply fall out of the church and there seems to be no good reason for them to stay in. Could the culture somehow become more accommodating, or is it imply the nature of church to attract people of like minds/views and experiences?
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Deepthinker
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Deepthinker » 10 Oct 2013, 16:50

My testimony of the LDS church, the Book of Mormon, etc. was similar to how you gained yours. There was not a particular instance. There were many within the church that would say (and still do) that you don’t need an Earth-shattering revelation or experience to gain a testimony and that many gain their testimony in small pieces over a long period of time. I assumed the same happened for me.

For believing in God, it was different for me. I have had several experiences that have increased my testimony in God and in Christ. One experience I had happened about 10 years ago when our 6 month old daughter was dying. When I was alone while this was happening and after much prayer and soul-searching I looked up to the sky and in my heart asked God sincerely “why?” Immediately after I did this I had an overwhelming feeling of love and peace that I cannot describe. The feeling didn't seem to be coming from within myself. I have only had such feelings at times in life when I've prayed in my heart to God during troubling times.

I've somewhat changed my beliefs from the traditional Mormon and think that there are many paths up the mountain.

The LDS path does work for me. Granted, at least part of that has to do with the deep-rooted family upbringing and the culture which my family and I are very much a part of. Although, having some strong testimony-building experiences of God have definitely helped me to stay.
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by SilentDawning » 10 Oct 2013, 19:20

Orson wrote: My question is how do people like me fit into the fabric of the church?
We quietly sit on our doubts and perceptions to fit in. We create well-prepared excuses for why we don't participate in certain habits of our religion (like callings). People who speak out generally receive some kind of censure if it is openly blatant.
Could the culture somehow become more accommodating, or is it imply the nature of church to attract people of like minds/views and experiences?
I think it's true of any culture to attract like minded people. Each culture has norms that you have to follow. However, the LDS culture could be more accommodating to committed people who start sliding into the early stages of doubt or low commitment..

I find that if they think they've "got you", they can be pretty demanding and judgmental if you don't tow the line. Go stone cold, and they are suddenly very nice and kind. Like for me, when I was struggling, and everyone knew it not one person made an effort to even talk to me. Ask to be released and they treat you with indifference for your service.

But after we left our Ward, and everyone thought we were inactive, we had our SP sitting in our living room being really nice. Based on his comments, he thought we were inactive. To the point I realized we'd achieved full outsider status due to his kindness....

There are also tendencies to sell you out in a heartbeat (turn on you) if you become openly unorthodox.

Yes, we are a church that needs to stop taking their most committed for granted.

Strange, we tend to treat the people we should love the most, the worst. Happens in families too.
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Curt Sunshine » 10 Oct 2013, 19:36

I remembered being taught that I could see an angel or have a miraculous vision if I had enough faith.


I just have to say that I really hate this mentality, since I think it is patently wrong as a prescription. All people simply aren't wired the same way.

I have had a few incredibly powerful spiritual experiences in my life, but, as Laman said to Nephi concerning visions, "The Lord maketh no such thing known unto me." I'm just not wired that way.
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Orson
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Orson » 10 Oct 2013, 20:39

Deepthinker wrote: ...I looked up to the sky and in my heart asked God sincerely “why?” Immediately after I did this I had an overwhelming feeling of love and peace that I cannot describe. The feeling didn't seem to be coming from within myself.
Thanks for your comments. I have heard others explain spiritual experiences in a similar way, that the feeling seemed to come from outside them self. I wish I could relate to that experience, I don't even know how to imagine what that may be like. I have been surprised by emotion, when it came upon me at a time I was not expecting or prepared for it, but I still can't attribute that completely to a source beyond myself.

On the other hand if I shift gears into my present self and my new found comfort in expressing communications with the spirit I recognize the communion of my inner self with something greater in the universe. It's hard to put into words but the difference is I had to first discard everything I heard anyone else say on the subject - and then let God and spirit find their own way into my heart. My expectations were way out of whack with the reality that I experienced.
Ray Degraw wrote:I just have to say that I really hate this mentality, since I think it is patently wrong as a prescription. All people simply aren't wired the same way.
I agree completely, and this has been an interesting exercise trying to recall my thoughts and feelings from a "prior life" of sorts. I realize today that the perspectives shared with me as a child were valued by the people who held them. The problem is the resulting expectations that were set up in my mind did not prove fruitful or compatible with reality as I was to experience it. Today I can look back at all the "whopper" ideas that I was taught: Polygamy is not practiced on the earth in our day but every righteous man in the Celestial Kingdom will have multiple wives (I won't go into the thoughts this produced for me through the teen years), bigfoot could be Cain, many three-Nephite and other miraculous stories, the earth is 6000 years old, the devil can gain power over you if you slip up a little, Biblical racism, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I wonder how messed up I really am, or what residual effects may be hiding under the surface. Maybe that is one reason I wanted to open this discussion.
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by benbritton » 12 Oct 2013, 13:59

I'm also cautious of equating emotion with spiritual experience. I have found that a feeling of inner peace and quiet is consistently associated with sacred experiences. I find that a sudden burst of emotion (the kind that leads to tears) by itself is not a reliable indicator of interaction with the Spirit or God. I know this kind of thing is personal and subjective, but I have observed these patterns consistently in my own experience.

I agree that we are all given different gifts, and our expectations need to be tempered by that fact. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have high aspirations and goals though! I enjoy my spiritual life so much more when I'm aiming high. I think it's also strengthening to hear the sacred, significant experiences of people we really trust.

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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Harmony » 12 Oct 2013, 21:35

Orson said: My earliest memory of being asked "did you feel the spirit?" is on the day of my baptism. A close friend of mine expressed how strongly he felt the spirit and asked me if I felt it. I knew I felt emotion, but I didn't know if it was supposed to mean anything.
I waited for my dad to baptise me (he lived in another state) and was excited for baptism. The overwhelming emotion I had at the actual baptism was relief that I survived it because I was afraid of water at the time and of the actual process. I didn't have any big feelings one way or the other, except I was happy my dad was able to do it. It is hard to tell the difference between emotion and the spirit. And when people tell you how you are "supposed" to feel at certain events it can be disappointing if you don't have the experience they say you should. I did tell my children that if they didn't feel anything big at baptism that was okay and not to worry if they didn't, that everyone has different experiences.
Deepthinker said: Immediately after I did this I had an overwhelming feeling of love and peace that I cannot describe. The feeling didn't seem to be coming from within myself. I have only had such feelings at times in life when I've prayed in my heart to God during troubling times.
I am not someone who has many experiences of the spirit, or maybe I don't recognize them, but I did have one experience like Deepthinker references. Almost like the most obvious warm hug and absolute transference of peace into my body. I would imagine if that is what heaven is like I would do anything to get there. It happened when I was in despair about my mother's cancer diagnosis, and while it happened during prayer, it was really completely out of the blue. There was no denying that experience.

I have had other just as desperate times in my life when I was in need of that feeling, and have never had it again.

I think it would be very helpful if it were expressed in church more that we may never have experiences like that or like other's express. There are many things people have experienced that I never have and probably never will. I think that that experience was more of a testament to there being a God, and not so much a testament of "the church is true" type of experience for me.

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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by DarkJedi » 13 Oct 2013, 07:25

This is a tough subject for me. My testimony was indeed based on what I thought were spiritual experiences. I'm not going to say they weren't spiritual experiences because I believe they were. My crisis of faith also came from such a spiritual experience, though. The "last" spiritual experience that led to my crisis was just as strong, warm, and peaceful as all the others - my first discussion and the JS story, baptism, temple marriage, and so forth. I was and am so confused - since the feelings were exactly the same, I don't know what to believe and I don't think I can trust my feelings anymore (sorry Obi Wan). Either God set me up for a great and lasting disappointment in my life (and why would a loving god do that?) or Satan is a much better imitator than anyone gives him credit for (doubtful), or I simply misinterpreted what the experience was and it was purely emotional (also doubtful). There is no answer, and this is why I have been inactive - although it's not that simple. Like you, Orson, everything collapsed based on this great dilemma. I have gone through periods of near atheism, agnosticism, and deism (where I pretty much am now). I sincerely hope that no one else ever has to endure such a dilemma - it has not made me a better person, it has not made me a better father or husband, and it has not made my daughter and sons better people (because of the rights of passage and other experiences they should have shared with me that they were unable to share with me). Other testimonies (like BoM) did not com to me as spiritual experiences but were more of a calm reassurance - also an emotion I now question.

So how do we fit in? Since I don't go to church I don't know. I am encouraged by Pres. Uchtdorf, but not enough so that I am attending church today to hear my son give his mission farewell address. The culture could be more accommodating, IMO, and yes, I do think it is a haven for the likeminded.
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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by benbritton » 14 Oct 2013, 09:45

Darkjedi, I don't want to pretend to interpret your experience without really hearing it, however your comment about Satan really stuck out to me. I've learned from personal experience that Satan can counterfeit spiritual experiences in very convincing ways. Jesus Christ said that even the "elect" can be deceived. D&C 128 referenced a story where Michael has to pay Joseph a visit to intervene and stop an attempted deception by Satan. Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery and the entire Whitmer family where deceived by Hiram Page's revelation (and Oliver Cowdery was next in line to the prophet, had seen angels, served as scribe for the majority of the book of mormon, etc.). These are just a few examples off the top of my head. Satan can interact with us, and he often deceives people through both subtle and powerful displays and interactions.

I've applied the advice given in section 50 of D&C, and I pray about my spiritual experiences to confirm that they are indeed of God and not of my own or even Satan's creation. There have been times when God has clearly shown me that Satan was trying deceived me. Generally, I find that Heavenly Father responds with a more powerful response or multiple responses and also helps me understand the danger of where Satan's deception was leading, which in my experience clears up any confusion as to which message is coming from where.

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Re: Spiritual experiences as a foundation for testimony

Post by Roy » 14 Oct 2013, 10:35

I think spiritual experiences (burning in the bosom, tingling, feelings of peace, calm, and love, sometimes vivid dreams or even visions) are important elements in decision making but are not especially good at determining the future or unknowns. Spiritual experiences to me are a form of connecting with divinity within. These experiences may just fulfill a temporary need (like you really needed a "pick-me-up" during a depressive episode) or may have led you to what was right for you at the time but now no longer is. I'm not about to interpret the spiritual promtings for others. I do know multiple people that have concluded contradictory things from their spiritual experiences. In order for me to respect these individuals convictions and experiences as genuine - I must assume that their spiritual experience applies to them and their view of the world. Anything that helps them process the peeks and valleys of life is good and true and helpful for them...even if it conflicts with what helps me to process my own experiences. :mrgreen:

I believe that my experiences come from God (I don't know this but I don't see any harm in it). I believe that He is OK with me drawing incorrect conclusions from these experiences. It doesn't seem that I am expected to know all the right answers in order to be successful in my mortal experience. I therefore aim for the net good/functional illusions in my life.
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