A couple of years ago, while still struggling to hold on to my religion, I was at dinner with 3 BYU friends who'd all left the church. I did not identify myself as such quite yet.
As the topic came around to Mormonism, I mentioned that the thing keeping me hanging in there was feeling the Holy Ghost. I asked the friend that I knew the least in the group what she did to feel the Holy Ghost since she'd stopped attending services.
She immediately pointed out that the thing she missed most about Mormonism was the service to others that seems to be quite constant when you're practicing. And she went on to explain ways she'd filled that void in the last several years.
I realized later on that she never answered the question I actually asked, which was a about the Holy Ghost.
And I felt... stupid.
It was presumptuous of me to assume that she even still believed in a Holy Ghost. So I thought that maybe she was trying not to hurt my feelings by avoiding the concept all together.
Even though I felt stupid, the way she chose to handle the question was actually rather sweet.
The Holy Ghost.
Rather than think of it as a Being, think for a moment of the Holy Ghost as simply a feeling.
While I was actively Mormon, there were real, undeniable feelings of 'burning in the bosom', an immense warmth and love washing over me at certain times. I am choosing to continue to call this the Holy Ghost.
I don't have another term for it.
I read a story recently about a gay man who came back to Mormonism. When he became quite ill, he'd still had enough belief that he'd asked a Mormon priesthood holder for a blessing. This experience drove him to return to the church and abandon living and loving as a gay man. He explained that his reasoning for this was because he'd felt the Holy Ghost when receiving that blessing, and to paraphrase his words, "There is nothing like it."
Why is the Faith that facilitated such sweet, tender, burning feelings of peace and love- unlike anything I've ever felt- so fucked up?
The typical response I would expect to get from this question is "Because the Gospel is true." And thus would ensue the explanation that the Church and the people of the Church are not the same thing.
"The Church is perfect. Not the people." It's nothing less than a Mormon mantra.
But at what point can the 2 no longer be separate- the people and the organization? When people, right and left, are getting hurt? When the approach to teaching and leadership is screwing with people's emotional health? When too many backward opinions are taught by bishop's and other leaders as doctrine?
That is the answer for me.
My new spiritual home, whatever that ends up being, must be free of this fuck-upery and full of that feeling I like to call the Holy Ghost.
I'm sure y'all out there are chock full of suggestions on how I can find this feeling. This delicious, singular feeling of utter Divine Love.
Maybe I could go out into nature and find it there.
Maybe I should volunteer somewhere.
Maybe if I was paying more attention, I'd feel it in my day-to-day dealings with my children- the miracles in my life.
Or, maybe, it's already there. Maybe that 'feeling' has become so much a part of me that it doesn't stun me anymore the way it used to. Maybe it's there... all the time.
And so what if I drink on occasion. So what if I have non-wedded sex with my boyfriend (or did up until August).
Most Mormons would tell me that I simply cannot feel the 'Holy Ghost' if I am doing these things.
How are 'these things' more horrible than the anger I harbored for several years when I was active? How are 'these things' less accommodating to the 'feeling' than the judgement I cast upon others in my True Blue Mormon years? And what about the gossiping I did about members of my ward while I was serving as Primary President?
I was able to feel that amazing feeling from time to time in these periods of my life.
But guess what? There was a time when I fasted for strength one Sunday when Matt was out of town. Sundays were the most difficult days for me to do on my own- getting everyone ready for church, getting myself ready for church, gathering up all of our materials for the meetings. And while I was prayerful all day long and going without food for spiritual purposes, I felt nothing.
And that day became one of those red-letter days in the Book of Ashley's Horrific Parenting Experiences.
Wanna know something else? The pinnacle of my experience as a Mormon woman, my temple sealing (marriage) to a worthy priesthood holder, also denied me that 'feeling'.
So what is the answer? It's not easy. I wouldn't say I haven't felt it since leaving the fold, but it's not the same.
So there you have it. Another raw, god's-honest-truth confession from Ashley.
The journey continues.