[Languages of the Spirit] Messiness is Next to Godliness

Last week we learned how everything is made of spirit; that it is the substance of creation. This is critical to different spiritual languages because there are so many different manifestations of spirit. In fact, if the Book of Abraham is to be believed, everything we see is a manifestation of spirit, and they each have their own kind of language. Faith fits into this in a very particular way.

We are creators. That’s what this whole life thing is about: the creation of creators. Being a creator is written into our DNA, and we are always creating, even without realizing it. God is trying to help us to be a certain kind of creator—not meaning we are clones creating exactly the same things in exactly the same ways, but that we are all creating in our own unique ways yet with a harmony of purpose. Critically, what we create is dictated by our faith. We create what we have hope and trust in because that is where our efforts and energies and thoughtfulness go. Faith is the perspective through which our understanding is arrived at and our decisions are made.

Faith is not just a thing we have or don’t depending on whether or not we believe. Everyone has faith. You can’t not have faith. Instead of being a spiritual thing you do or don’t have that makes it so you can or can’t hear the spirit, I would say faith, rather, is our interpreter of the spirit. It is the lens through which we see, understand, and engage with everything (which is all spirit), and so it is vitally important to spiritual experience.

But here’s the deal. I don’t think faith is a clean, linear process of easily traceable belief and progression. I don’t think faith is about putting together a perfectly fitting puzzle and we just need to get all the pieces to see how it all fits. I think it is a garden where it is not important that everything fits with each other; rather what is important is how they affect each other. Faith is the lens through which we understand and work with what is in the world around us towards that affect.

It is easy to understand why the puzzle imagery is so enticing; it is like a warm blanket. It requires no real discomfort or effort from us other than collecting information like puzzle pieces and moving them around till they fit. And if we don’t have it all now, that’s ok. Someday we will and then it will all make sense. It feels so good when everything fits. There is no mess and no risk and there is a point at which it is done. A garden, however, is a mess. It is in constant development. It requires knowledge and sweat and trial and error. You get one part done and then realize that it is being changed and effected by other parts that you hadn’t even realized had any connection to each other. And it’s never really done.

The spirit isn’t a picture of perfect, unmoving parts which only shows one perspective and must be treated with care or all the little pieces will shatter. The spirit is the substance of creation. Faith is how we interpret knowledge, experience, revelation, success, failure, doctrine, relationships, education… everything (you know, spirit) and use that knowledge to create. It is a deeply personal language; and yet it is meant to take us outside of ourselves, to connect us to the rest of creation—to bind us to our eternal family so that we can work together in the work of creation.

And creation requires audacity and risk.

The parable of the stewards is a wonderful demonstration of this. A master gives a huge amount of money to three servants with the understanding that they are to use it to generate profit. Two of them successfully do so, but it is the third that the parable is concerned with. The third steward knows that if he loses the money he’s been entrusted with there will be reprisals. But he has a problem; there is no way to generate profit without risking loss. Some of that money will have to be spent in order to generate more, and there is never an absolute guarantee of outcome. So he has to make a choice: Risk the money in order to try and make more, or guarantee it against loss by not using it at all. He goes for the second option, and we know how that goes down.

The steward was unwilling to take risks. He was paralyzed by the threat of mess and loss which are natural parts of growth. He wanted certainty. But the master did not want his servants to help him protect what he already had, he was trusting them to use their knowledge and agency to help him create something more.

We are a people who value certainty. This is hardly surprising since almost all people value certainty. Certainty is a sign you’ve made it! You know! Certainty is a virtue that is arrived at by lots of hard work and righteousness! God, for example, is certain. God has to be certain because God is all-powerful and all-knowing. The spirit is from God, so the spirit must be a spirit of certainty. When we experience the spirit it is to make us certain in that thing, just like God is certain. Right!? Right??

There have been numerous studies done in recent years about certainty and how it effects growth. Interestingly, what most of these studies have found is that the more certain a person is the less able they are to change. Think about this for a moment. Certainty prevents us from growing. This matters when it comes to faith. Faith is the understanding that motivates and shapes what we create, and creation is change and growth. Maybe that’s why faith is not knowing. Faith is not having certainty. In fact, Alma says faith is a process of endless experimentation during which our understanding grows but you never do arrive at perfect certainty because every time you think you’ve got it all figured out you have to go back to the drawing board and start it all again with new questions.

We tend to hate the idea of ambiguity. We see it with distrust. Spiritual ambiguity especially is anathema. After all, the spirit is a comforter, right? Shouldn’t it comfort? Isn’t that one of the most important ways that we can identify it? Ambiguity, uncertainty, these things are most definitely not comfortable. But maybe for spirit to speak and grow there has to be mess and uncertainty. Maybe some of the most important comforts the spirit can give us is in helping us to become comfortable with discomfort. In helping us to recognize that complacency isn’t the same thing as faith, and struggle isn’t the same thing as faithlessness. Maybe faith is what pushes us into the ring to wrestle with God. Maybe faith is the discomfort that drives us to question and experiment after question and experiment because that is how the spirit is growing and speaking in us.

Faith is not about certainty. It is about creation and connection and discovery. It is about how we understand and see and interpret spiritual things and consequently how we nurture and experience spirit and growth and creation. It is about stretching beyond our natural capacity into a greater fullness of which we are part. We are going to be terrible at all of it long before we will master it. But it is the most beautiful kind of mess.

[Next week: Could Doubt Actually be a Language of the Spirit? (Spoiler, Yes)]

6 comments for “[Languages of the Spirit] Messiness is Next to Godliness

  1. Thank you for this series and this post, Mary. I’ve not thought of uncertainty being a thing of the Holy Spirit before, but it is something that I have largely embraced. For me, it was drilled in with my scientific training as the idea that you cannot really prove anything, only that you can present an idea and show that it’s not been disproved, so it is a plausible explanation until proved otherwise. It’s made me more comfortable with not knowing answers to everything and being more open to being proved wrong, which has been helpful in my religious life as well as my career. I like the idea that it is something that the Spirit is helping me with rather than it just being a secular ideology that I’ve made part of my worldview.

  2. Faith is like a garden…

    Every time I germinate new seeds I fight doubt and worry–did I prep the soil right? Enough quartz? Enough cow manure? Waxing moon that looks like an egg? Uncertainty dominates.

    We bring the light of the heavens to bear down upon the earth when we properly coordinate sun, moon, stars (constellations) to the stewardship of Creation and Her rhythms. We breathe consciousness and life into inanimate clay, incarnating spirit into matter: microbial life and earthworms work to multiply as laborers making yeasty bread of the mud in the field for fruit. No fruit expresses consciousness like the grapes of vineyards that produce wine. The finest wine in the world tastes and smells like the dirt (terroir) of its origin. It is distinct, unique, unmistakable, differentiated, a brand of geographic essence. In the aroma of fine wine, what is discerned is not matter, but spirit. When an agricultural product smells and tastes like the place of its origin, it is evidence that spirit, essence, consciousness, is captured–like a photograph of the intersection of heavenly light and earthly matter. We place seeds and He plants Life.

    Amen to uncertainty.

  3. Is the parable of the stewards the same as the parable of the talents or am I missing a parable somewhere?

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