Spiritual Practices

Spiritual Practices August 16, 2007

What is the goal of our spiritual practices? Is it different from other contemporary or past Christianity communities? What type of human subjects do they produce? How do we navigate the competing ideals that our spiritual practices imitate?

We have a number of spiritual practices in LDS tradition. There are many that argue that these spiritual practices are in fact the most important aspects of Mormonism and that “doctrine” is merely secondary. I take the view that, like ancient philosophy, Mormonism is a “way of life,” wherein the beliefs and practices work together to allow the individual to engage in a series of techniques to embody a certain kind of ethical subject. However, I am not quite sure how to articulate what that subject looks like. Is there a guiding logic to our spiritual practices? Or, are they simply eclectic inheritances? Or, are these practices fundamentally paradoxical, as Givens has noted about Mormon thought. Consider the following set of spiritual practices. Each of these activities are imbued with a sense of spirituality. In each case they are the voluntary taking on of a certain personal discipline:

1. Fasting

2. Personal, Family, and Community Prayer

3. Regular Scripture Study

4. Singing a hymn when one has “tempting” thoughts

5. Journal writing

6. Interviews with leaders

7. Social activities with church members

8. Learning about family history

9. Donating money

10. Giving and receiving blessings

11. Working in Councils and Presidencies

12. Abstaining from certain activities on Sunday

13. Being Obedient to our leaders

14. Listening, Studying, and Memorizing the speeches of a set of authorized speakers.

15. Publicly performing our “testimonies,” or spiritual autobiographies

(It may be useful to consider what is missing from this list: comprehensive confession, meditation to empty one’s mind, meditation on particular topics such as imagining loss or pain in order to be able to confront it more easily, self mortification, vows of silence, prostration, intoxication, glossolalia, etc)

The question that I have about the function of these practices has to do with a certain tension that I see between them. Some of these activities are intensely focused on the self, the inner spiritual life of the individual which is subject to examination, testing, and modification. Others are designed to take the focus off of the self by imposing denial, restraint, and commitment to others. The tension between focusing on the self and denying the self seems to manifest itself in different types of Mormon spirituality. Or, is there a unifying philosophy that I am missing here?

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