Inspired by D-Train's last post at Unofficial Manifesto (I've really enjoyed UoM's recent renaissance, by the way), I will attempt to explain something that I'm still not quite sure I understand.
I apologize in advance if this sounds too Times & Seasony (you know what I mean).
For a long time I've struggled with the fact that my most profound, happy, and transcendent experiences have all been non-church related. Music, literature, and relationships have been the primary catalysts for these experiences. I can't just come out and say what these things are because there is something extremely personal and proprietary about them. Also, they would sound lame if I tried to explain them.
Even so, I will try to give an example of what I mean. Even though I'm a former English major, music has always affected me more sharply and immediately than books. I remember being a teenager and listening to certain songs that could just cut right through me. Most of them still can. I basically have three categories of music: stuff I don't like, stuff that I enjoy as good music, and finally, music that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It is this third category that I find so important. If I want to connect with something greater than myself, I need only put on some Morrissey or Radiohead. This is when I am happiest.
Music is only one example of these transcendent experiences. It's difficult to explain, but I feel like I am who I am because of these things. Perhaps it's just a part of how we construct our own identity, but I feel like these experiences are the reservoir of the REAL Ned. People can see and interact with Surface Ned, but I am firmly anchored by my secret inner life.
I said that there were no church-related experiences in the reservoir. I think for that reason, I don't feel (and perhaps have never felt) intrinsically Mormon. If you strip me down to my essential personality, there is no Mormon-ness there.
I will go one further. The church experiences I've had have felt almost like a counterfeit of my true happiness. Nothing I've ever felt at church can compare to the rapture I've felt, say, listening to Depeche Mode or reading a great book. I've had spiritual experiences but they seem to fade as soon as they're gone. The warm and fuzzies I've felt in church contexts have occasionally been nice, but they always seem freighted with too much baggage to enjoy. I can remember feeling good at Church, but never truly happy.
What does this tell me? Well, first of all, it tells me that perhaps it is unwise to look for the source of happiness in a place that doesn't provide it to you. The church is a source of great happiness to a seemingly large number of people, which is great. They know what is in their own reservoirs, not me. Secondly and more importantly, there isn't anything wrong with me if I don't experience my happiness on the church's terms. I think that's the hardest lesson to learn. Don't twist yourself into pretzels to please the church, but make sure that whatever the church is providing you is indeed good. Its incompleteness is not the problem. I believe it was wise commenter Ann who said, "It's just church."
The church hasn't touched my inner-self, and perhaps no church ever will. There's no point in beating myself up in guilt over that. If there is a God, he has created us each to experience joy in our own way.