The Holy Ghost

Lately I’ve been thinking about a new way of conceptualizing the Holy Ghost.

Mormon tradition holds that the Holy Ghost is a disembodied person. There are myths that come and go about how it doesn’t have a body but that someday will be born and receive a body. And of course, it’s always conceptualized as male. There are people alive who claim to be the Holy Ghost incarnate.

However, some new ideas have been tickling my brain, and it starts with a scenario.

Imagine that you are in a totally dark room. There is no light whatsoever. You’re sitting down. You want to discover what’s in the room. How do you go about doing that? You stumble around, banging in to objects, cursing as you stub your toe against something. You sniff furiously, hoping that maybe you can smell something recognizable. Old leather, perhaps? And above all, you’re waving your arms wildly, smacking them in to things, then blindly tracing edges, feeling textures, and discerning shapes until you begin to form a rough picture of the world around you in your head.

As you blunder about, you find the rough extremes of the room. There are things on the walls, but you can’t tell what they are. They feel like boxes jutting out with sharp corners. You rap it with your knuckles. Glass? Metal, maybe? And as you’re inching your way from one wall to the opposite, there are obstacles in your way. Pedestals of some sort, again with sharp corners. Who puts pedestals in the middle of a room?

This is, of course, grossly inefficient. Obviously, the way to rectify this would be turn on a light, right?

A light turns on, and suddenly you can see! With this light comes the knowledge that you’re in a museum! The shapes were benches and exhibits and stanchions and trash cans and innumerable other things. And now, because you have light, you can understand. You can see that the big rectangle-ish things you felt on the wall were actually beautiful paintings, and as you stop to consider them, you weep at their beauty. Then you turn around and see that a dismembered body lies just over there, and you recoil in horror. You notice details. You see the patterns in the wallpaper, the colors of the stones in the ground, the textures of the paint on the art behind glass. There are an infinite number of things you could never have felt with your hands, but can now see with your eyes.

What does this have to do with the Holy Ghost? The Holy Ghost is the light. It is the photons. It is what brought the knowledge to you. In the words of Nephi, “the Holy Ghost carrieth [the spoken words] unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne 33:1). You receive information by the Holy Ghost. It’s like a spiritual Google Fiber internet connection. If you’re plugged in, you can get truth as fast as you can receive it. (Otherwise you’re limited to the dial-up speeds of the Light of Christ 😉)

When you are “in tune with the Spirit”, you are plugged in to the Source of Truth, and you can learn anything. But most of us fail to make that connection. Or we do, but our preconceived notions of what truth is block us from receiving the actual truth. We put up spiritual “content filters” and by so doing, restrict what we are willing to hear from God.

When we talk about the Holy Ghost, we talk a lot about the “warm fuzzies”, a euphemism for the idea that the Holy Ghost causes “that your bosom shall burn within you” (D&C 9:8). But I’m pretty certain that Nephi did not feel warm fuzzies when he learned he needed to decapitate Laban. Nor did Abraham feel the warm fuzzies as he trudged up Moriah with Isaac in tow.

Here’s a different way of looking at that “bosom burning” that’s happening: that is your body’s way of reacting to what it is learning. For every person, the feeling will be different, and (this is important) the feeling depends on what you are learning.

Going back to the example above, the information that you learned influenced your emotions. When you saw the painting, you were filled with joy and rapture and awe as you contemplated its majesty and subtlety. But when you saw the body, you were disgusted and offended and sickened. In each case, the reaction matches the information.

Here’s a more personal example: our family has decided to make some changes recently in our personal situation. We know that these changes are right for us, and yet they sicken me. I am utterly dismayed and horrified that we have to make these changes. I definitely feel nothing close to “warm fuzzies” as I contemplate them. But the reality is that the changes are the will of God.

  • The truth is that the changes are necessary.
  • The Holy Ghost is how I learned the truth.
  • The disgust is my reaction to it.

And yet, it is of God.

The Holy Ghost is the agent by which we learn truth. It carries words to our hearts, and we (hopefully) let those words sink deep into our soul. But the mechanism by which we learn is a tertiary thing: what matters more are who is trying to teach us and what they are trying to teach us. We should want to always have the Holy Ghost with us. But that is not the goal. The goal is to always be learning, and we want the Holy Ghost because that is how we learn.

I no longer believe that the Holy Ghost is a person. I think it’s a thing. It’s spiritual light. Just as we see in this world by physical light, we see in the next by spiritual light.

Come, let us open our eyes and behold the glory of God.

The Third Person

I’ve been studying the Book of Ether recently, and I came across a verse again that has always bothered me:

“I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” (Ether 3:8)

This verse bothered me because I couldn’t figure out why it was in the third person. The Brother of Jared is having this theophany, so why doesn’t he use “you” or “thou”? Why is it “he”? As I studied these verses more, I found the answer, and it is very subtle and faith-affirming.

Let’s consider this experience from the point of view of the Brother of Jared.

In the first verse, he hikes up the mountain carrying his sixteen small stones. He is alone. When he gets to the appointed place, he begins to pray, calling upon the Lord to favor his petition. He is still alone, and he prays until the end of verse five.

In verse six, the Brother of Jared finishes his prayer, and he is still alone. This is when he starts to feel something pressing on the stones he holds, and by the sixteenth stone, he sees a finger.

When he sees the finger, he falls down in shock, afraid that he has seen something he shouldn’t have seen, and perhaps wondering how he could stand to see a finger so glorious and not be consumed by fire. The finger, presumably, has disappeared.

In the midst of this confusion and shock, the Brother of Jared (who is still alone) hears a voice: “Arise! Why hast thou fallen?”

The Brother of Jared has no idea who is talking. From his point of view, he saw a finger and is now hearing a voice. He assumes the finger belongs to the Lord, because that’s the person to whom he’s been praying. But the voice? He has no context for knowing the owner of the voice, and responds ambiguously, using the third person:

I saw the finger of the Lord…

After this, the voice identifies itself:

I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger.

The voice identifies itself as belonging to the same person who owns the finger, namely the Lord. At this point, with proof as to the identify of the person with whom he has been speaking, the Brother of Jared can appropriately switch to the second person:

Lord, show thyself unto me.

To me, this subtlety is exquisite. We as readers of course know the identity of the voice; Moroni is very explicit throughout the whole sequence that the owner of the finger is the same person who owns the voice. That extra detail he includes is actually the source of the confusion; had he left it out, this question would never have arisen.

I read this, and I think: could an uneducated farm boy have caught that detail, if he were making this up?


Tonight, an interesting thought came to me: If Christ were to show up on my doorstep and spend the afternoon with me, what would we talk about? He’d want to sit, listen, and hear about what I’ve been doing recently that excites me. What would I tell Him? Would I be able to look through my life and find a topic about which I could talk endlessly, forgetting that I sat in the presence of God, and expound on the intricacies of the topic? What topic, as I describe it, would fill me with joy and exuberance to be talking about it?

As I pondered this and expressed this idea to my spouse, I found an answer. And as I considered it, my soul was filled with light as I thought of how excited I get when I talk about this subject, and how I revel in its complexities and delight in the challenges it presents.

And I felt God smiling down on me, and knew that He would love to sit and hear me out. And I know it would be foolish, for there is nothing I know that He does not; He’s the one who probably inspired me with these ideas in the first place. But He loves to hear us prattle on about how we take joy in filling the measure of our creation.

Do you know what you’d talk about? And if you do know, is that what you spend your time doing?

The Coming of Elijah

 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming. (Joseph Smith–History 1:38-39)

Has Elijah revealed the Priesthood to you? Has he come to you? Has he planted in your heart the promises made to the fathers? Has your heart turned to your fathers?

If not, then this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled.

Elijah was an elias; he was a messenger sent to prepare the way for those who would follow. You need your own elias. Someone must come to you and plant in your heart the promises made to the fathers. Someone must prepare the way for you. And after this happens, it will be up to you to let this tiny seed find purchase in the soil of your heart. It will be up to you to nourish this tender hope until it becomes in you a mighty tree of everlasting life.

Seek the promises made to the fathers, and after you have found them, seek the fathers. Let your heart turn to them, so that you can learn of them and be partakers of the same glory to which they have ascended. Such is our purpose.

Seeking the company of angels

If you want to associate with angels, you must go to where they are by doing what they are doing. If you do what they do, then they will seek you out, for you will be like them and be one of them, and they will desire to associate with you. They will come to you if you go to them. 

And what do angels do? They are ministers and messengers. They visit those who are weary, worn, suffering, mourning, and desiring comfort. They teach, warn, and watch over mankind, bearing record of humanity’s righteousness and wickedness. 

Do these things and you will be an angel, and angels will seek you out. 

Broken Hearts

What does it mean to have a “broken heart”?

It means exactly that – you’ve had your heart broken. You’ve put your trust in something that ought not be trusted. You’ve believed something you should not have believed. You’ve followed something you should not have followed. And because you did these things, you came to the inevitable conclusion: your trust, your hope, your following, your belief, and your love were all betrayed. The thing that you wanted cannot happen, and your heart has been broken because of it.

And because your heart is broken, you may feel two ways:

  1. You are bitter. You are angry. You have been betrayed! And you seek to tear down the thing which betrayed you. But feeling this is folly, because you are allowing yourself to be acted upon. You see yourself as the victim.
  2. You are sorrowful, because you are not the victim: you are the perpetrator. You have no one to blame but yourself for your unbelief. And in the depths of your despair, you cry out and ask to be shown the better way, because your spirit is contrite.

I hope it’s the latter.

Questions and the Sermon on the Mount

This year our Sunday School is studying the New Testament, and last week the lesson covered Matthew 5.

As we started getting in to the lesson, I was saddened by how we blew through all of the verses. We read them, we made the standard comments, and we moved on. There was no depth to the discussion. There was no searching. And, as such, there was no learning.

I pulled up the verses on my seerstone and started reading them. And instead of trying to see what they meant, I started asking myself questions. I tried to think of all the questions I could, and I wrote them down.

In 40 minutes of asking questions and thinking about them, I barely made it 5 verses in to the chapter, but it was wonderful! I pondered ideas I had never heard before, and asked things I had never questioned.

  1. “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him”
    • Why are these multitudes following him?
    • He goes up in to the mountain. He’s about to participate in a temple experience.
    • Would that be a general thing? Or would the audience be more selective?
    • Not everyone is prepared to receive the patterns of the universe from the mouth of God.
    • Only his disciples came to him: not the multitude.
    • And the Luke account points out that he’s speaking to his disciples, and not the multitude (Luke 6:20).
    • The disciples didn’t come up until “he was set”. How did they know?
    • Why wouldn’t they have just walked up with Him?
  2. “And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,”
    • Them = the disciples
    • This is a small crowd!
    • Why do we always picture this hillside covered with people? It sounds like it wasn’t more than a dozen or two.
  3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
    • What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
    • Is there such a thing as “rich in spirit”?
    • What is the kingdom of heaven?
    • How is it possible to possess it?
    • This is in the present tense (“theirs is”). All the others are in the future tense (“they shall”).
    • Is this significant?
    • Why the difference?
  4. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
    • What sort of comfort is this talking about?
    • What kind of comforters does Jesus teach about?
    • How does mourning qualify us for those comforters?
    • Does it?
    • Is this talking about the first and second comforters?
    • Or is he just talking about helping you feel better?
    • What kind of mourning is this?
    • Is this the mourning of “I’m sad this happened” or “I’m sad my friend died”, or what?
    • Is this related to the mourning mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-3?
    • Does this mourning/comforting pair contradict what Alma taught at the Waters of Mormon about mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who need comfort?
    • How do we know when those who mourn need comfort vs collaborative mourning?
    • Is mourning related to godly sorrow?
  5. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
    • What is meekness?
    • Receiving an inheritance implies that someone has died or has moved on. Who owns the Earth now? Where are they going?
    • How can multiple people inherit the same thing?
    • What sort of inheritance is this?
    • Is this talking about the planet we live on?
    • Does “earth” mean anything else? (Dirt? Generally habitable places/planets?)
    • Why are all of these verses in the 3rd person? Do the disciples not qualify for any of this?

If one person can think up these questions and be edified by asking them, why do we skim over these verses? Why do we believe that we have learned all there is to learn? We believe the Atonement was infinite (2 Nephi 9:7), so doesn’t that imply that what we can learn about it is also infinite? Why are we content with the same superficial pap that we’ve been spoon-feeding ourselves for generations?

Here’s an interesting challenge: imagine that you have been asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. Write one, but don’t write a single declarative sentence. Do nothing but ask questions. What questions would you ask?