384–385: Gaining Spiritual Confidence

All religions point adherents toward gaining knowledge and insights for themselves through their own spiritual dives. Religious cultures, however, often (overtly but more often subtly) put a premium upon group cohesion, following rules and counsel from leaders or elders, staying on the well-worn path, and so forth. These cultures encourage one to rise up to the level of the collective, but then discourage her or him from too much exploring. (There be monsters out there! Stay safe!)

How can we gain the confidence to explore Spirit as fully as our traditions invite us to? How do we overcome the cultural and psychological barriers that sometimes discourage us? What is the experience of direct spiritual experience like? How do we seek it? Must we be at the end of our spiritual ropes before it can enter in? As we experience it, what should we expect? What, exactly, is the “experimenting” section of Alma 32 really saying? Spiritual journeying is hard, but why do so many who have gotten the taste of their own eternal nature and spiritual belonging keep at it, even with all the difficult things one must confront as we move ahead?

This episode features two insightful and powerful spiritual explorers, Billy Phillips and Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, speaking about all of the above and more. What emerges is not exactly a step-by-step guide to finding one’s own spiritual confidence so much as a chance to immerse oneself in a conversation among three people for whom this transition to trusting their own experiences even in the face of occasional discouragement from other Latter-day Saints has been and still is a wonderful and worthy pursuit.

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Link:

Lower Lights Sangha. Learn more about Thomas McConkie’s work, workshops, gatherings, and retreats.

Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Salt Lake City: Mormon Stages, 2015).

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12 comments for “384–385: Gaining Spiritual Confidence

  1. Duck
    April 27, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    For me, I find that the more I practice following the spirit, the easier it becomes to listen to and follow the spirit. Throughout the day, I try and find many opportunities to test my practice of listening to and following the spirit. Some days are better than others, but ultimately, for me, this practice becomes more and more meaningful as I see the results of my practice. I love the Holy Ghost and thank Heavenly Father multiple times a day for him.

    Thank you for all your wonderful insights and thoughts.

  2. Kandee
    April 29, 2017 at 7:58 am

    This is a wonderful conversation! I felt moved and enlightened as I heard the words spoken. My faith and sense of goodness was increased. Thank you. There were many thoughts I loved and found the defining statement “purposeful tension of integrity” in regards to covenants to be super cool. Thank you.

  3. Danny Kofoed
    May 1, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Hey Dan, it was great to listen to the podcast. One comment I thought I’d add based on your discussion on Alma 32. I did a close reading of the BoM this last year, and this chapter (as well as 33 and 34) ended up having one of the most startling reveals. It dovetails what you shared, but takes it in a different direction.

    Because of church conditioning, I had often assumed that “the seed” that I was supposed to plant could be related to finding out if Joseph was a prophet, or if the Book of Mormon was true, or if the Church was true (you mentioned this assumption as well). I assumed that, based on the words of Alma 32, I could pray, or encourage others to pray and test these things out and find out. And that, if these things were “true” it would begin to grow.

    This year, reading the text, I discovered that “The Word” or “Seed” that you’re supposed to plant is NOT any of those things. Alma clearly and specifically states the Seed is that God is Merciful and Mighty to Deliverance. THAT’S the seed that can begin to sprout and grow, THAT’S what’s supposed to become delicious, THAT’S what grows into a tree that yields the fruit of eternal life.

    In context, Alma is speaking to a bunch of people who’ve been believing in a God that is not merciful, that is a respecter of persons, that cares about which day you go to church, how much money you have, whether or not your wear the right clothes, and if you can perform the ritual ceremony.

    And in the context of those most famous words in Alma 32, he’s asking them to believe in a totally different kind of God that isn’t defined by their former idolatry.

    He’s asking them to plant THAT seed, the possibility that God doesn’t care nearly as much about buildings as he does the temple of the body, that he doesn’t care nearly as much about organized formal worship as he does individual transformation, that you can always worship and come unto God no matter where you gather, or what rights you have access to by social status or class. (this will come up even more in Alma 33 and 34)

    Alma is preaching a God who is NO RESPECTER of persons. It is a foreign God to them, and he’s asking them to plant the idea of that God in their hearts.

    He’s also asking them to plant in their hearts the idea that they can eventually obtain perfect knowledge of this God. That the knowledge of God is not restricted to just a few, but that all who humble themselves can indeed Know Him, and be known by Him.

    But they have to start by believing, as he instructs in vs 22, that he is merciful. (He reemphasizes this in all of Alma 33)

    When I looked at those verses in that context, I realized “The Seed” can’t be about knowing if JS is a prophet or the Book of Mormon is true. The Seed is that God is merciful. Prophets, Institutions, Scripture….those are the manure, the dirt, and the rain. Their value to the process of growing the Seed is completely related to how good of a job they do in showing you this merciful God who is mighty to deliver. They have the capacity to describe the seed accurately, to inform you about it, to nurture a desire to know it….but they can never be the seed.

    The Seed is the correct idea of God, the only idea of God that has the capacity to bear fruit. He’s trying to break them of the Zoramite idea of God – the idea that God is finite (confined to the space of their holy rameumptum and their people), and that he is bound by time (they only worship a certain day of the week)….and Amulek is about to say that God is Infinite (not confined by the space and temples of man….God can be ANYWHERE you are, including when you’re among your flocks, your home, your work, your fields….God is AS PRESENT as you decide to be). And then Amulek is going to say that God is Eternal (not limited by time, can be accessed every day of the week, and every hour of the day.)

    Part of the reason we fail to understand this….is that we always read Alma 32 in isolation, and prooftext the hell out of it. But when you read Alma 33, it begins with the cast out Zoramites expressing confusion about how to worship this God, and how to plant the seed. THIS is when Alma spends all of Alma 33 telling them about RIGHT ideas of God, that he is MERCIFUL, that he is mighty to Deliver. He says specifically, after all of that, THIS IS THE SEED THAT I DESIRE YOU TO PLANT, the only seed that grows to eternal life. And them Amulek backs him up in Alma 34 to further describe why you can trust that He is merciful, and why you can trust that He is mighty to deliver….and why that means that God is Infinite (can be accessed in ANY space and is not confined to the buildings and spacial limitations of man) and Eternal (not confined to our ritualized patterns of weekly worship, but is to be found in ALL times we make ourselves available to Him). When you have the correct idea of God (that God is merciful), it turns out God is as near and present as you desire.

    Having the wrong idea about God (the idea they carried from the Zoramites), would lead you to believe that unless you are “just right” you don’t have a chance of pleasing this God. This is the idea Alma is trying to squash….and I believe he does it effectively.

  4. Matthew
    May 3, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Peace and blessings be with you, Dan & guests!

    Although I am not a Mormon (I am a Muslim), I have found many of your episodes to be very beneficial to help me understand my own faith tradition, and this episode in particular touched me in a special way. Like Mormonism, Islam encourages us to have a direct relationship with God through the scripture while still relying heavily on those who are more learned to help us understand the nuances and meaning of ritual. As was discussed in this week’s episode, this often takes education from a place of growth, where it should be, to a place to rote repetition in order to feel like we accomplished the task before us and can move on to the next. Many of us want to shift that paradigm but feel so overwhelmed about how to do it, even on a personal, micro level. This week’s episode definitely helped me think about some of the tools at my disposal, from my tradition and from yours, that I think will be really beneficial on my spiritual journey

    • David
      May 8, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Matthew,

      As a Mormon, we are deeply honored to have you listening to Mormon Discussion Podcast and we hope we can learn some thing to through your Islamic perspectives. I yearn to learn about other traditions beyond my own. So I’m very glad to have you among us…

      May the world become as one!!

      • David
        May 8, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        Sorry meant to say Mormonmatters.org how silly of me, but I can’t edit my comment above!!

      • Matthew
        May 8, 2017 at 2:10 pm

        Absolutely! Although we may have some very fundamental differences between our faiths, we also have many points of commonality that need to be accentuated. Glad to be here

  5. Kristen
    May 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Danny Kofoed,
    That was such a beautiful comment and it resonates deeply with me. Thank you!

  6. Descent
    May 8, 2017 at 10:39 am

    This was an enjoyable conversation to listen to and yet I felt a voice was missing: that of a woman. Julie de Acavedo Hanks could have been perfect for this since she recently published an empowerment guide for women. I would like to see Dan make a more concerted effort to include a woman on every panel. I heard Thomas attempt to be gender inclusive in his speech but the whole conversation was through the male gaze. A woman’s perspective really was needed, especially given the crippling way Mormon culture undermines women’s authority and spiritual leadership.

    That disclaimer aside, I have been pondering one aspect brought up in the podcast relate to contention vs contestation. I appreciate the distinction that contention has the root of tensile or tense in the word. I expected to hear the refrain of “opposition in all things” and “prove all things herewith” since those concepts are what holds “contention is of the devil” in balance. Like Billy said, Mormons need to be more concerned with the truth than the appearance of avoiding conflict. I also felt that a discussion of Jesus’s teachings relating to reconciliation and conflict management were missing from this part of the episode. Jesus offers a tutorial in Matthew 5 for how to resolve conflict with others and the most important teaching in that section is that conflicts are to be addressed in a Zion society not avoided. A necessary part of gaining confidence is the ability to advocate for one’s personal authority so as to establish boundaries for those who would attempt to usurp one’s autonomy in spiritual or community matters. This episode mainly focused on inner spirituality but at that particular of the discussion, the group was then talking about spirituality in community which really has its own set of norms and concerns.

    Also, I appreciated the discussion on suffering and how it’s role seems to be to lead people to seek God. It almost sounded like the group was saying that those who suffer are more privileged and better able to commune with God than those who do not. The implication seemed to be that those with a charmed life will experience spiritual deficiencies. I don’t believe that is necessarily true because one does not have to experience suffering to witness it in the world. True, empathy is often gained through experiencing some sort of suffering and then learning to generalize from that experience, but I really wanted to hear more about empathy and compassion. I believe that children can be taught to identify privilege and how to care for those who are suffering and it’s better to be acquainted with the griefs of others at a young age so it’s not something they are unprepared to face when they are older and expected to just know how to relate. Maybe I sensed that as a 9 year old, when my grandparents offered to take me anywhere in the world to learn and I suggested India. I knew some of the cultural forces present in the country at the time that were causing extreme poverty and I wanted to go to learn its effects and what relief efforts appear to be most effective. The interest never really left me since now my studies in human development has led me to research poverty across the life span and to be involved in advocacy efforts to address poverty. (For the record, they never took me on that trip because they didn’t think it was appropriate to expose a young child to how the other half lives. Good thing I am the parent now.) Anyway, returning that tangent, compassion can be learned not just through suffering and by extension, spiritual connection can be found vicariously. I am reminded of the book Healing Through the Dark Emotions which makes the case that much suffering is caused by knowing of horrible situations and feeling despair and hopelessness. It is not suffering from actually experiencing it but the recognition that people nearer the situation have the power to relieve suffering but refrain from doing so, and the observer experiences a type of secondary trauma. Instead of shutting down in that situation, we can build our confidence and efficacy to provide relief and care. It’s through this process that I believe people have the ability to experience in a small way the power of the atonement and to follow Jesus’s example of experience bowels filled with compassion. We are not called to shy away from the experiences of others but to run to them, be with them and provide comfort. In this way, our own charmed lives do not need to be a barrier to a sanctified life.

  7. Jay Griffith
    May 10, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Lovely conversation about a creative process that hopefully we all go through—and keep going through. Thank you for having it and sharing it as well as the wisdom you’ve all gleaned in the process.

    It is a beautiful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

  8. Cynthia Winward
    May 15, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Oh goodness, what a wonderful group of guests you had on. I’ve been thinking I need to write and ask you to have Billy back on so I was super happy to see him here again. And Thomas is amazing, glad he finally made it to your neck of the woods. 🙂

    I have to say that for me as well my shell was cracked open due to a traumatic event. I found scratching away at the dirt in this dark hole I was in, oh so desperate. I may not have been a cocky kid like you described yourself Dan, but I was a cocky grown woman, so sure of my path and my life. It was this desperation that Thomas spoke of that moved me to explore, to strip myself of every thing I thought was so concrete in my life and be willing to say to God, ‘ok let’s do it your way’.

  9. October 2, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Great couple of episodes — I can’t believe I missed it when it first aired.

    I really appreciated the tension everyone went through in the first part of trying to explain how some people seem to have these sorts of experiences while others do not. I think there’s something to be said that a particular form of suffering can make one conducive to these sorts of openings, but it’s not determinative. In any event, it feels like it’s not a conscious voluntary thing. God apparently chooses whom he will pick.

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