Thursday, November 13, 2014

Asking Questions (Part 1: with the Spirit)

This post is the third in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

Goddess Looking Up by J. Kirk Richards
The summer after my freshman year at BYU, I went back home to Idaho for a month. The month of June. I was sad at the time, but just barely sad, I see in retrospect. It was the beginning of a very long period of worsening sad in my life, a period which I am beginning to believe has been poignantly refining.

I remember sitting at the top of the stairs, with my triple combination opened against the tightly knitted, dingy gray carpet. I had been sitting there scanning the Topical Guide, looking for the entry for Asking. I had this very strong feeling about the word. An impelling feeling. The scripture that I recall finding that day was this one: D&C 46:30.

"He that asketh in the Spirit, asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh."

By August, I still couldn't wrap my head around this verse. I had returned to my library job in Provo, so one afternoon while sitting at the LRC desk I asked my co-worker what he thought about it. Scott was an RM with an angelic singing voice that ran in his family. He said something about how the Spirit can help you know what you should ask for in your prayers.

That struck me as being pretty circular. Since then though, I've had a sizable handful of experiences that have followed that script, so I've figured that circular is okay.

That phrase "He that asketh in the Spirit, asketh according to the will of God" has taken on several meanings since my introduction to it. But lately I've wondered, what if asking in the Spirit is a condition of the heart?

In October of 2009 Richard G. Scott gave an address entitled To Acquire Spiritual Guidance in General Conference. He said a lot of wonderful things. I thought they were particularly wonderful at the time because they ideally (and divinely I believe) coincided with what I had been studying. Here's a quote that stuck out to me so well, that today while writing this (four years later) I searched for "Richard G. Scott grape jalapeno."

"The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeño pepper. Both flavors are present, but one completely overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit." 

This little metaphor about the grape and the jalapeño became a bit of a landmark for me because it required me to start paying more attention to my own emotional state. As I did that, I began to recognize moments of anger, fear, and pride that did in fact seem to counteract my ability to hear the voice of the Spirit.

This seemed especially true in the realm of womanhood. In fact, I think that anger, fear, and pride are the three emotions that most often gush out of me as I ask questions about my gender. I feel anger when I recount the history of oppression that seems to be synonymous with the word woman. I feel fear when I explore the polygamy tradition, when I consider rape, abuse, pornography, genital mutilation. And the combination of these two feelings often adds up to pride. When I feel anger and fear, and I direct it at God, I effectively create a wall of enmity between myself and deity. Sometimes this enmity is loud, blaring, and unmistakably present. But most often it presents itself as little kernels in my heart. Almost imperceptible knots.

And that experience is, I think understandable. Asking, why on earth have you allowed these things to happen to your daughters, God?is in my mind an expected outcome of becoming acquainted with women's history. I recognize that this is not everyone's experience. But it is certainly mine.

And that is where another element of "asketh in the Spirit" comes in. I have found that the best way for me to communicate with the Spirit is to do so after the manner of the Spirit.

"The Holy Ghost teaches by inviting, prompting, encouraging, and inspiring us to act. Christ assured us that we come to the truth when we live doctrine and act accordingly. The Spirit leads guides, and shows us what to do."

-Matthew O. Richardson, Teaching After the Manner of the Spirit

The Spirit never compels, it never demands, never forces, coerces, pouts, or shouts. Likewise, I have found that if my approach to getting answers seems to fall into one of those categories, or if I am using such methods to convince others of the validity of my experiences and questions, I am not in a position to actually receive the answers I seek.

Fittingly enough, it is remembering a question that helps me to keep it all in balance.

"The Son of Man descended below all things. Art thou greater than he?"

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