There's a text in the so-called Gnostic Gospel of Philip that I think provides a useful analogy. Here, the intimate relationship between the believer and the Holy Spirit is described as a kind of marriage, the bond of that relationship being described as "spiritual love":
Spiritual love is wine and fragrance. All those who anoint themselves with it take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still remain in their bad odor.This analogy is helpful to me, because it clearly distinguishes between the feelings that accompany the presence of the Spirit (the "fragrance") and the anointing of the Spirit (the "ointment" of "wine") which is the source of the feelings. This text also draws attention to the confusion often experienced by those who do not recognize the source of the Spirit's fragrance. All they know is that when those who have been anointed are gone, they can't "smell" it any more. The only aroma that remains is "their bad odor."
Members of the Church frequently describe the feelings of peace and joy they experience in the Spirit's presence. But those feelings are not the Spirit. I have experienced a range of very different feelings in the presence of the Spirit. When the Spirit spoke to me in August 2005 prompting me to begin the questioning that eventually led me back to the Church, I felt anger and dismay. But, yes, I also experienced the Spirit as a peaceful, comforting, beautiful presence. The complexity of feelings I experienced helped me to realize that the presence of the Spirit could evoke different feelings, depending on what the Spirit is telling you, and depending on how you relate to what the Spirit is telling you.
My feelings were complex, because on the one hand, I felt like in order to follow the prompting of the Spirit, it would require me to completely re-evaluate my life and completely change course. And that was very upsetting. But at the same time, the Spirit was there just saying, "It's OK. You can do it. Things will work out. Just trust and everything will be OK, and you will be happy beyond your ability to currently imagine." I received from the Spirit a foretaste of the peace that I would experience if I followed the path the Spirit was prompting me to follow. And so, yes, it was simultaneously very peaceful and comforting. The presence of the Spirit left me feeling so incredibly joyful too. I felt so incredibly happy, and realized that I always wanted to be in the Spirit's presence and always experience this profound, pure happiness.
I could not deny the reality of this experience, though believe me, I tried. There was part of me that was working very hard to dismiss the Spirit as "just a feeling." But in the deepest part of my soul, I couldn't deny the reality of it. I knew that if I did deny it, I would lose something so profound I would literally regret it for all eternity.
Boskers described how throughout his life in the Church, he never really had any extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit, never anything more than just a "this feels right" kind of feeling. This is not unusual; I think this is very typical of many, if not most, members of the Church. Though I had a number of extraordinary spiritual experiences growing up and serving my mission, most of the time my experience of the Spirit's presence was of this more mundane order, the "this feels right" kind of feelings. I never fully appreciated the nature of the Spirit until, having been away from it for so long I suddenly experienced its presence again in a gathering of Latter-day Saints. This is why the "wine and fragrance" analogy from the Gospel of Philip struck me so profoundly when I first read it a few years back.
I would say that during the periods of my life where the Spirit was absent, I didn't think of myself as an unhappy person, nor did I think of my life as devoid of meaning. I did my best to find happiness and meaning, and succeeded to varying degrees. I had many friends and good family relationships, and I had my husband. I was not lonely. But looking back I see clearly now how I was what I would now describe as "lonely" or "alone" in spirit.
Existential philosophers often describe the condition of man as a state of profound loneliness or aloneness. No matter how many friends or family you surround yourself with, human communication is imperfect, and we can never completely overcome the aloneness that is an existential consequence of the fact that we are separate individuals. I was alone in that sense. And experiencing the presence of the Spirit as I do now, I am no longer alone, and I know that I never again could be truly alone unless I willfully drove the Spirit out of my life. That I could never do. Now I know far too much ever to do that again.
I can look back now and say that I was happy, but true happiness eluded me. I found meaning, but true meaning eluded me. I was not lonely, and yet I was profoundly lonely. And I can say that the existentialists were right, but only partially. True communion with God and with others is possible. It is not only possible, but it is the end and purpose of our entire existence. It is the "joy" for which we were created, of which the scriptures say we are, that we might have it. But that true happiness, meaning and communion are possible only in the Spirit. Men and women in and of themselves, without the Spirit, are exactly what the existentialists describe us to be: lonely in our nature.
I presently am blessed in many ways, but the blessing that is most profound, without which all the other blessings would mean nothing to me, is the blessing of having the Spirit in my life again. I can feel its presence now very powerfully as I write this. But if there is a physical place where I can say that the Spirit's presence is most powerful, I would say it is every dedicated chapel and temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I can't go into the temple, but I love being on those grounds. I can go into my local ward meeting house, and I do as often as I can because I love being in the presence of others anointed in that fragrance of the Spirit, and because the channels of communication between me and the Spirit there are always clear and pure. The people of the Church are imperfect, sometimes painfully so. They can be ignorant. They can make mistakes. They can and have done and said things that have hurt me deeply. But the Latter-day Saints have the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is my testimony not only of the Gospel but the Church.
I have been to many other churches, and I have nothing bad to say about any of them. They are good, loving people. Many of them are far better people than many Latter-day Saints. In terms of their attitudes toward gay people and gay rights issues, some churches are far ahead of the LDS Church. The Spirit is at work with those people and in those churches, of this I have not the least doubt. But all I can say is I know where I feel the Spirit most powerfully and consistently, and it is at the LDS Church.
I know that the Latter-day Saints will come to understand and see homophobia for what it is. The Spirit will be their greatest asset in overcoming their own homophobia and in coming to fully embrace and love their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters because the Spirit -- and only the Spirit -- permits the kind of perfect communion between a gay brother or lesbian sister and his or her straight brothers and sisters. In that true and perfect communion we will all -- gay and straight -- find our purpose and happiness.
In the meantime, homophobia, like any other worldly, sinful attitude, will block that communion and be an impediment to the Spirit. Homophobia can be a form of pride (the pride of feeling you're somehow superior because you're attracted to the opposite sex, or the pity you feel for those who somehow aren't "like you"). It can be a form of hate (projecting all your anxieties about sexuality and sin on gay and lesbian people, blaming them for the downfall of civilizations and seeing them as "destroying the family"). The Spirit winks at our ignorance. But we can't hold on to those kinds of attitudes indefinitely and still keep the Spirit.
The possibility for perfect communion and understanding as regards this issue hangs -- for better or for worse -- on those Saints who are gay or lesbian. The opportunities and blessings, if we can find the courage and the patience to give love instead of hate, are incredible. We can be the light in the darkness.
But that is not just hard but impossible to do on our own. We need the Spirit in our lives. At some point -- as soon as we are ready! -- we need to make that fearless inventory of our lives, and push aside whatever obstacles are keeping us from the Spirit. And we need to ask for the Spirit, and then wait for it. If we do that, if we get grounded in the Spirit, we will know what we need to do, and we will find a spring of living water in our souls, flowing up and giving us all the love and patience and light that we need in order to do it.