How many times have you heard that phrase, “Do you or did you feel the Spirit that was present here?” or “the Spirit was very strong here” or words to that effect declaring that we should all be feeling the spirit. And maybe you did, or maybe you didn’t. Or what they felt wasn’t exactly what you felt.
One of the most important aspects of learning and growing in the Gospel is the presence of the Holy Ghost as a testator or confirming of truth. At our baptism and confirmation, we are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion, to testify, to guide and to witness to us. We are even told how a manifestation or witness of the Holy Ghost should feel like in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
I always wondered about this verse since the only time I ever felt a burning in the bosom is when I had heartburn. I’ve felt the Spirit in a number of others ways, but never like that. I then had to take that as figurative rather than literal. Simply because I know I’ve received a witness from time to time, just not in that way. I know some have held that up as the only way, but I never have.
My wife recently went to the kickoff of the Seminary year for the teachers in our area. And she shared with me some passages from a new teaching manual entitled “Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.” It appears to be an excellent manual as I have skimmed it but some passages on this topic really struck me.
In the Chapter “Fundamentals of Gospel Teaching and Learning,” we read this:
“It is important to remember that no teacher, no matter how gifted or faithful, can fulfill the functions of the Spirit. Occasionally teachers may try to manufacture a spiritual experience. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: “You cannot force spiritual things. … You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before its time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth” (“Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).
Teachers seeking to teach by the Spirit should not rely primarily on their intellect, teaching expertise, or personality but on the influence of the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 4:34). They should also avoid manipulating emotions or consciously trying to elicit tears as evidence that the Spirit is present. President Howard W. Hunter cautioned: “I think if we are not careful as … teachers working in the classroom every day, we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (“Eternal Investments” [an evening with President Howard W. Hunter, Feb. 10, 1989], 4).”
I found this somewhat remarkable that we should not confuse the Spirit with strong emotions. And as President Hunter states that while the presence of the Spirit can bring on strong emotions, it should not be confused with the Spirit.
It goes on:
“Teachers should be cautious of using phrases such as “The Spirit told me to …” or “The Spirit said I should. …” Intentionally or unintentionally, these phrases can be perceived as self-promoting and can imply an exaggerated level of spirituality and could result in a form of spiritual coercion. It is generally sufficient for teachers to act on promptings from the Spirit without announcing that they are doing so.
Elder Henry B. Eyring offered this counsel: “Giving students experiences with the Spirit is far more important than talking about it. And just know that each person experiences the Spirit a little differently. … I think it is so individual that I would be a little careful in trying to say too much specifically. I think experience with it … might be better than if you keep saying, ‘Do you feel the Spirit?’ I think that can be counterproductive” (“Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder Henry B. Eyring Discussion” [CES satellite training broadcast, Aug. 2003], 8).”
I think that sometimes we want so badly for everyone to feel what we are feeling, these statements are made in an effort to try to coax people into feeling something. Since we all feel the Spirit differently, it is important to ask what people are feeling than to declare what we think they should be feeling. If and only if they relate positive or warm feelings about what is being taught can should we equate that with the Spirit.
So, how do you react to this? I know some have said they have seldom, if ever felt the Spirit and that makes me sad. Yet, I also wonder if they were ever taught to recognize how the Spirit is manifested to them, rather than being told to feel the Spirit, when they never knew what that meant to them, personally.
A witness of the truth is a glorious thing to be nurtured and expected. The Lord promised it to us if we seek it. We need to find out, like most things, what it means to us.