Sunday, April 23, 2006

Guest post: Believing again

Many thanks to Ned for allowing me to post this entry on his blog. I don't have a Mormon blog, and Ned's is really good fit for my status with church stuff.

Church stuff hadn’t been going well since we returned from Katrina Exile. I had been having suicidal thoughts during Sunday meetings. I had a singularly awful experience during a terrible Relief Society lesson about the Proclamation on the Family. A minor kerfuffle in the Disaffected Mormon Underground caused me much more anguish than it warranted. Because both ends of my Mormon experience were equally miserable, I decided that the best solution was to abstain from all things Mormon.

I went on sabbatical from Mormon Stuff. I stopped posting on the DAMU discussion boards, scaled back my reading on the Bloggernacle, and left church immediately after the sacrament was passed. I did not take the sacrament. I went to church only to deliver my little boy, because my husband has morning meetings. I took a trip out of town that caused me to miss two Sundays entirely. I got a more realistic sense of my “place,” and it wasn’t nearly as central as I had imagined. It was a useful and pleasant experiment.

Palm Sunday was my first week “back” at church. I had not planned to stay, but when the bishop announced that a local ward had been dissolved, because the whole parish had been destroyed, it hit me hard. I cried for a few minutes and decided to stay. My husband was there. I wanted to be with my husband.

During the sacrament, while on sabbatical, I have allowed my mind and thoughts to wander where they will. On Palm Sunday, I do not know what I had been thinking, but while the sacrament was being passed, something happened. In my believing days, I would have experienced the “something” as the presence of the Holy Ghost. It was not my typical sitting-in-sacrament-meeting feeling. I felt connected.

I have experienced this feeling of connectedness before. It hasn’t come often. The last time it happened, I decided very consciously not to try and hold on to it, or analyze it. I did the same thing this time: I just experienced it. I noticed my thoughts and ideas without examination. I followed the thoughts where they led.

The thoughts and ideas that crossed my mind this time were unexpected. I watched the young men pass the sacrament. I observed the trays moving down the rows, the Saints taking the sacrament, and remembered what it means to them. Unlike other times I’ve observed this, I did not feel alienated or “other.” I felt like I was one of them.

I thought, “I used to be a part of this. I used to believe this.” And then the thought came to me: “You can believe again, if you want to.”

I didn’t turn away from the thought, or embrace it. I tried it. “Joseph Smith is a prophet.” Yes, that was fine. “The Book of Mormon is a Scripture.” That worked, too.

I didn’t pursue the matter any further. I just continued to notice the experience, to “be,” and waited for the feeling to slip away.

The rest of the meeting was pretty uneventful, (lame, even) except for the final speaker, who said some inspiring things.

I wanted to talk to my husband about this after the meeting, but he got waylaid by a quorum buddy. So, I left, just like I always do after sacrament meeting.

I did not relate this experience to anyone. I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to talk about something, but didn’t follow up.

The following Sunday was Easter. I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. I did have the nagging memory of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s comment in her essay Lusterware, about how the Bible speaks of bits of leaven. I enjoyed the congregational singing very much. Leaven.

I have written that losing my faith was like losing my arm. I’m starting to think this isn’t a good analogy. Apparently, some part of my brain or the Collective Unconscious or God thinks it’s possible for me to grow a new one.

I don’t know if I want to believe. I am a cynic now. It’s like being fat: I don’t like being fat, but it’s hard work to lose weight. So much is expected of believers. Do I want to work that hard? Will I suddenly desire to pay tithing; attend the temple; serve in callings; pay attention to the GAs? I don’t see any of that happening, so what difference will believing make?

On Easter, I talked to my husband about the Palm Sunday experience. I told him that I don’t know how I should proceed. Rather than admonishing me to desire to believe and to pursue faith, he has suggested I just see what happens.

I don’t have any expectations. But I’m interested to see what comes next.


Darren said...

I guess I would say to follow your own sage advice and remember: "It's just church" when things start heading south again.

Téa said...

Thanks Ann, I'm interested to see what comes next too. This idea of spontaneous spiritual regeneration stirs up hope (for myself).

Geoff J said...

Wow. Good stuff Ann. It appears to me that God misses you and is showing it.

Will I suddenly desire to pay tithing; attend the temple; serve in callings; pay attention to the GAs?

Who cares? For now what matters is the rekindling relationship between two real and living persons -- Ann and God. I think you should see about nourishing that relationship for now and not give the other stuff a second thought.

lchan said...

What everyone else said.

Your story reminds me of my own quite a bit. Not going to church just left a void in my life. So, I decided this was my church - true or not. I knew it wasn't a bad place to be and I was just going to go and take what I could that was good. It took time, but I have found myself in a very good place. The spirit touches me and the gospel improves my life. I don't believe it every day, but most days I believe most of it. And for whatever reason, it feels right.

I'm not saying that you'll find your way to the same place I did (or even that you should), but it sounds like you are heading to a good place.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ann, thanks for the post. Your ability to be so open about the profoundly personal is awe-inspiring.

Your comments also inspire a vague and general reverie: I find the various paths that are right for different individuals to be mysterious. Why is it that two people, in seemingly the same situation, end up feeling that quite different routes are right for them? I really have no idea. All I can say is that my life has taught me to try trusting people's personal moral intuitions about their own right place with respect to religion.

Beijing said...

Ann, that is great. I think the answer is to take more frequent sabbaticals from church. :)

annegb said...

thoughtful, profound post, Ann. I sort of had the same feeling about Easter this year. I think it was the thoughtful posts on the blog that made it more meaningful to me.

I think you're the Ann I offended on LSLF, right?

I think that a part of me was afraid of your experience because you are smart and sensitive, and although some on the blog wouldn't accuse me of sensitivity, I thought if it could happen to you, it could happen to me and where would I be, what would I have? Would I lose my friends, my family, if I chose to be inactive.

On the other hand, my faith is okay, but a lot of people bother me. So if I left, it would be because I don't like some people.

EmilyS said...

Thanks for this, Ann. I think that your honesty--with us, yes, but most importantly with yourself--is inspiring. Paradoxical as it may seem to some, taking little sabbaticals from Church from time to time has become necessary for me to maintain my spiritual health. Apart from my physcial health issues, Church meetings often seem to exhaust me, but I, too, am sometimes surprised by a much-needed moment of connectedness, and like you, I try to just experience it rather than wring something more from it than I'm meant to have at the moment.

I agree with Geoff that just continuing to experience and nourish in the here and now is what will ultimately bring the most peace--however that peace manifests itself to you. I wish you the best.

m said...

good for you ann. i hope that you can continue to get something good out of church. for me i really miss the feeling of community, so it's interesting that you've been able to get the feeling back somewhat.

enjoy it while it's enjoyable, and if you're meant to participate in a grander way you'll know.

D-Train said...

What Geoff said. Thanks for posting something so personal and interesting. I wish you the best.

Ann said...

One of the things that is so strange about this is that I don't even know what I think about GOD. Nate's riff on authority over on T&S, despite the lawyerly turn it was taking early this morning, brought to mind one of my chief obstacles to full re-engagement: I lack humility. I am not willing to cede my will to any earthly institution that has not the power to throw me in jail.

How do I reconcile what happened/is happening in terms of faith, with my very intense need to Not Be Fooled Again? And if I'm not going to go into it whole-heartedly, and have to qualify those things I truly accept with my own definitions, then WHAT am I believing? I think if I were to come up with a statement of belief, it wouldn't look much like what a Good LDS is expected to believe.

If my frame of reference for believing is so different from that of a Normal Saint, and if for some strange reason the (brain, higher power, collective unconscious, God) wants me there, then it promises to be an interesting experience. Maybe it won't be that different from where I've been all along.

Beijing said...

"How do I reconcile what happened/is happening in terms of faith, with my very intense need to Not Be Fooled Again? And if I'm not going to go into it whole-heartedly, and have to qualify those things I truly accept with my own definitions, then WHAT am I believing?"

I don't have the answers to these questions, but I would just like to point out that your experience of connectedness happened at a time when you didn't have answers to these questions, either.

That should be comforting. You can have that intense need to not be fooled again, and you can have halfheartedness and deep-seated confusion about what exactly you believe, AND you can have spiritual experiences of connectedness that relate to belief. All at the same time.

I would think that should take some of the pressure off, that pressure to know exactly what to believe and do and become. Apparently this experience is showing you that you're pretty close to God right where you are. So if I were you, I would stay put. :)

Wendy said...

This was my face after reading your essay: :-O (LOL)

Your voice on the Bloggernacle has most mirrored my own in the year that I've been reading. I can't say I think I'll ever go back to believing, but if the door has opened for you, I suppose I should "never say never".

So much is expected of believers. Do I want to work that hard?

I think it's much easier to believe! It's exhausting going against my heritage, my family, my neighbors, my culture. So much of my day is spent trying to "fit in", yet remaining true to my authentic, non-believing self. I muse all the time about putting back on the garments and the dress and sitting in church for a few hours each Sunday--in ways my life would be much easier--but I can't get back into that mindframe, I can't even pretend.

manaen said...

Thank you for your honesty in sharing these comments. I was surprised to realize why your experience felt familiar. The unforced being and experiencing that you describe is one of the things I miss about sitting in the Celestial Room of the temple -- just observing thoughts, feelings, and impressions flow through me in a spiritually-tuned environment without the progression of events or lesson objectives of other LDS experiences, including the presentation preceding this quiet time to listen and to observe. Thanks for reminding me.

Rosalynde said...

Ann, you may not believe this, and it may even distress you, but I strongly identify with your voice and experiences as you write about them in the bloggernacle; not that I've experienced similar feelings, but that, somehow, I could. Reading this post brought me into communication with the Spirit. Thank you.

annegb said...

Me, too, Rosalynde.

What you said, Ann, do I want to work that hard? I can say, no I don't, but then again, I'm hoping to rest for eternity.

Stephen said...

Well, I'm not sure I can say much on faith that will connect for you, but I've got some things on losing weight.

It took time, but I have found myself in a very good place. The spirit touches me and the gospel improves my life. I don't believe it every day, but most days I believe most of it. And for whatever reason, it feels right.

Even the comments on this thread are very moving.

Ann said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann said...

I had thought my husband's advice - "Just see what happens" - was pretty unusual for a believer. Apparently not!

I really appreciate the positive comments and encouragement.

Rosalynde, far from being distressed by your comment, it gives me hope for improved communication and understanding among Saints of all types - even us unSaintly ones.

annegb, DID you offend me on LDSLF? I dunno. If so, I'm so over it, and I was probably being hypersensitive. I think you're the bomb.

beijing, thank you for that wonderful insight.

Anonymous said...

Well Ann,

whether it brings you to "full activity" or not, the idea of pursuing greater humility seems like a good one to me.

Personally, I think it's the preeminent virtue. Mainly because it leaves you receptive to the inspiration that you need in life.

Seth R.

Ann said...

Seth, humility before what? The Higher Power I can't identify? Old Guys in Salt Lake City? Any man who wants to wax Melchizidek on me?

To what am I submitting? If I'm going to surrender my Self (again), lose my identity (again), contort myself into a shape that does not fit me in any way (again), it's NOT going to be on a whim, or because it's good for me in some vague and squishy way.

Before I can humble myself, I need to accept that I'm in the presence of something greater than my own soul.

Hellmut said...

Just satisfy your own comfort level, Ann. As long as nobody gets hurt that cannot be wrong.

Paul advised us to only take the good and to leave the bad behind.

That requires skepticism, not humility. Otherwise, one cannot make the distinction between good and bad.

Randy said...

My advice would be to try to experience church without attachment to any of the things you don't like about it. You don't necessarily have to believe in Gordon B. Hinckley, Joseph Smith, or even in God, necessarily, to sit in a pew and soak in whatever good is there for you. It's not my thing, but I'm always in favor of whatever works. As for humility, ego-detachment is a great virtue, but, IMHO, we've all got the truth within ourselves.