Sacred artifacts and rituals
I had two unexpected spiritual experiences recently. I want to tell you the stories, but first I must provide a bit of background.
While I am still entirely Mormon, I’m not exactly a literal believer. I’m not going to be one of the people who get up in testimony meeting and tell everybody that they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Church is true (a remarkably vague statement, btw), and grab a tissue and dab away a tear. I don’t know, and I think that somehow this is the point. I doubt things, and I’m fine with that, because what is faith without doubt? Some of my issues go beyond doubts. Church authorities have said various things over various pulpits that I know are not true. I am perhaps a cheap seater, or maybe a new order Mormon. I’m a faithful skeptic, a doubting believer; this is why these spiritual experiences were so unexpected. I wasn’t expecting spiritual experiences in general.
With this background in place, I can tell you the first story. This happened a month or so ago. I had a big decision to make, a corresponding bushel of stress, and a Saturday afternoon to kill. I decided to go to the temple. I changed into my white clothes and wound my way up a spiral staircase and tried to center myself. I sat down in the chapel where some other people were already waiting for the session to start. I reached under the bench in front of me for a Book of Mormon, so I could think about a scripture that had recently been on my mind. I held the spine in my hand and was about to open the book when I suddenly noticed the yellowing of the edges of the pages, where thousands of thumbs had touched. I ran my thumb across the spot, and I was suddenly struck with a great sense of community, of continuity, of multiplicity. Look at how all these people before me have turned these pages, just like I am doing right now – and I was suddenly sure that they had found the comfort, the light, and the knowledge that they had sought, just like I had on so many occasions before. Those people are my people, their ways are my ways, and their book is my book.
The second story happened just today. I came to church as per usual. I sat down in my accustomed spot and sang a pair of commonplace hymns with reasonable gusto. I bowed my head as two of my friends knelt and said familiar words. I looked up and let my mind drift as I watched more of my friends carry the trays of broken bread around the chapel in the typical pattern. I was thinking of nothing in particular when suddenly I realized that I was feeling that feeling in my chest that characterizes for me a spiritual experience. It had stolen up on me unawares, while my mind was completely elsewhere, not thinking about anything religious in particular, and it turned an ordinary moment into something transcendent.
Stories like this are why, despite all my difficulties and doubts and concerns and disagreements, I still find myself in the community of Mormons.