Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bearing Witness

Yesterday, I gave an account of my personal encounter with Christ, an experience I had over two years ago.

At lot of things went through my mind as I prepared to share this publicly. I thought about friends, co-workers and casual acquaintances, many of whom are convinced these kinds of experiences are either fabricated or qualify you for the loony bin. Then there are the potential eyebrows raised at the liberal Protestant seminary where I teach. Will they think I'm unfit to shape the minds of future ministers? I also thought about the growing gaggle of naysayers who are eager to use my blog as a forum for telling me (anonymously or otherwise) that I'm on the path to hell. And I couldn't help wonder how many of my acquaintances at Church think the same but are too polite to say it to my face (though I know of the love many members of my ward have expressed for me, and trust their willingness to try to go this road with me). Still, I couldn't help wonder if sharing something like this would make me a pariah, among faithful, faithless, and in-between, all alike. (Not to mention embarrassing my family.)

It's damned inconvenient.

This experience has been very important to me personally. Remembering and reflecting on it has steadied me and strengthened me in many a dark and painful moment over the past 28 months. It has made a quiet yet powerful difference to me in more situations than I can count and in ways I can't fully describe. I kept it to myself, partly because I was aware of ways in which this experience was for me, and me alone. I could share it, but it would never mean to others what it meant to me personally. So I was quite content to keep it as my private, personal spiritual touchstone.

Yet, there is a sense in which this testimony is larger than I am. There is a sense in which, if there is to be any integrity in my life, I must own this publicly as part and parcel of who I am and what my life is about. And there is a sense in which what others think of me in relation to this must be irrelevant.

There is a way in which, after sharing a testimony like this, nothing is different. The sun still rises the next morning. The kid still needs to be roused for school, the cats fed, the garbage taken out. There's still work to be done and many miles to go before I sleep. And what I knew before I shared this is still what I know after sharing it. The fact of sharing it changes nothing.

And yet, there is a way in which, after sharing a testimony like this, everything is different. Doing so is a concrete act acknowledging God's dominion in my life, acknowledging that some things are bigger and more important than my ego. The act of sharing changes everything.

Spiritual experiences are sacred. I don't share most of the spiritual experiences I have with anyone. This one I had shared only with my parents and my husband, and only because the Spirit prompted me to do so. I wrestled with the appropriateness of sharing this publicly. Even after feeling prompted to do so, I went back to the Lord asking for confirmation. I clicked "publish" only after it was clear to me beyond any shadow of doubt that this was what was required of me. Even then, doing so was an act of faith.

I don't expect anyone to just take my word for what I've written here. Skepticism is welcome, and I'll do my best to answer questions, if anyone has any. (I'm OK with just being politely ignored too!!) But ultimately a testimony of this nature can only be a signpost pointing back to God. If my testimony encourages you in your own spiritual quest, it will have accomplished its purpose, even if your quest takes you somewhere very different. If the Spirit bears witness to you of what I'm saying, then we share something precious, for which I will be very, very grateful. And if what I have to say has offended, all I can say is I wish you well.


Knight of Nothing said...

I had been leaning toward "politely ignore" but I decided that our friendship required and deserved more of me. While I will not pretend to understand the meaning of your experience, I would never, ever condescend to claim that it was fabricated, nor would I question your sanity.

The one thing I will ask is, can you elaborate further upon the need to share what is by your own account a very personal experience? Why now? Why this particular one (as opposed to others that you have experienced)? Was there any trigger in your everyday life? Or was it all an internal dialog that brought you to write about it?

J G-W said...

Thanks, Sam. Actually, I was a bit nervous about your reaction, given some of our conversations. So I'm glad for your forthrightness... Being able to talk about this with you is reassuring.

In answer to your questions:

Why discuss this publicly? First of all, I probably wouldn't have, if I hadn't felt directed (pushed even!) to do so by the Spirit. My sense now of why I would be so pushed is that even though this particular experience had significance to me that was very personal and private, seeing the living Christ has always been part of the public proclamation of the Church. The New Testament (and other ancient texts that never made it into the New Testament) provide numerous "eye-witness" accounts of the post-resurrection Christ, both individual and collective. A unique aspect of Mormonism is the belief that appearances of Christ have not been limited to first century Palestine, and the modern Church has experienced the living Christ as well.

On any given Sunday in any LDS chapel, you will hear people testify that Christ lives -- usually based on the witness of the Spirit. My experience was a little more intense. But telling what you know about the living Christ is part of the public witness of the Church. It is both the foundation of the Church, and one of the primary reasons for its existence. I pretty much knew from the beginning that if I had been given a gift this sacred, it would be my obligation to share it publicly.

So why now, two and a half years later? First of all, this was very difficult for me to talk about. I was very afraid of how Göran would react. I even wrestled with telling my parents, despite knowing that of all people they were likely to be the most understanding.

This was an overwhelming experience. It has taken me some time to process it and put it in perspective. My journal between then and now contains numerous entries in which I attempted in various ways to process and come to terms with it, and figure out what its significance was to me. I still can't say I completely understand everything about it, but I am at least able to talk about it now and set it where it belongs -- as part of the public Christian witness.

Bravone said...

John, I have thought about this post and the last for over a month now. I haven't quite known what to say. I have no reason to doubt you or your experience. I thank you for sharing your witness.

The fruits of the spirit manifest in your life speak to the sincerity and veracity of your experience.

J G-W said...

Bravone - Nothing necessary to say, necessarily. But I am grateful to have been in your thoughts!