Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Sacredness of One's Own Presence

"Spirituality is the art of transfiguration. We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape. We do not need to operate according to the idea of a predetermined program or plan for our lives. Rather, we need to practice a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives. This attention brings a new awareness of our own human and divine presence."
So writes John O'Donohue in Anam Cara. I have written previously about this book. I'm sure I will write much more. Practically every sentence of this book causes me to pause and appreciate the beauty not only of O'Donohue's prose but also the beauty of the concepts he is describing and articulating.

I read a passage the other day that caused me to stop and contemplate, yet once again, the spiritual framework in which I existed for most of my adult life, i.e., Mormonism. My purpose, when I write about Mormonism, is usually not to criticize but to analyze. In particular, I wish to bring the light of consciousness to how I was impacted and how my thoughts may continue to be influenced by the doctrine and practices of the Mormon Church.

With that note of explanation, I was prompted by the following passage to contemplate the concept of "will":
"It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. The intellect identifies the goal of the program and the will accordingly forces the life into that shape."
To me, this passage has macro and micro applications. My first thought when I read this was how Mormonism (and, to be fair, other strains of Christianity) stresses that one must diligently and constantly work to beat our lives into a shape that they are "supposed" to be. Of course, no matter how disguised, this view takes as its premise that human nature is inherently bad, or at the very least predisposed to bad. This premise affects one's entire outlook, not only upon oneself but upon all other humans. This is the macro application.

The micro application, i.e., as applied to my own life - a realization I had only as I sat down to write this post - concerns my sexual orientation (which of course is much more than a "sexual" orientation; being gay is about a whole lot more than whom one falls in love with and has sex with). I used my will as a hammer to beat my life into what was stated (by Mormonism) to be its proper shape: a heterosexual male. But of course, the "proper shape" of my life was homosexuality. That's who I am.

O'Donohue goes on to comment on the results of this "proper shape-beating": "This way of approaching the sacredness of one's own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wildernesses of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making." 

I knew exactly whereof O'Donohue wrote, both in a macro and micro sense. On a macro level, it seems to be an implicit (and never-stated) goal of Mormonism (as well as other strains of Christianity) to keep oneself outside oneself, i.e., spirituality comes from without, rather than from within. Truth is "out there"; one's sense of self comes from "out there." 

On a micro level, living in the closet is "externalist and violent" in ways of which most straight people are innocently (or not so innocently) ignorant. Living in the closet brings one "falsely outside" oneself because one cannot validate or accept oneself; one spends "years lost in the wilderness of [one's] own mechanical, spiritual programs," perishing in a famine of self-love and acceptance. I wonder how many heterosexual Mormons and other Christians understand or appreciate this fundamental existential dilemma that gay people face at some point on (or throughout) their journey through life ...

O'Donohue proposes an alternative:
"If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your own life."
The first step: trust one's own soul. Trust that it knows - more than anything or anyone else - the geography of one's destiny. I am working - and have been for three years - on building this trust, of finding this rhythm. 


  1. Joseph - do you believe it is possible for one to find the Sacredness of their presence inside the Mormon church?

  2. I think it is possible, but I think one would have to be way outside the normal channels of conventional Mormonism. I know that there are deeply spiritual people in the LDS Church, a quality of spirituality that has nothing to do with the Brethren and Sunday School Mormonism. In my view, these people have largely developed their spirituality on their own. Conventional Mormonism imposes religion from without, rather than encouraging one to develop one's own sense of Sacred Presence by looking inward.