The following is the Letter From the Editor for the Fall 2017 issue of Exponent II, which has a theme of exploring Spiritual Gifts. To make sure you receive a copy of this issue, please subscribe here by October 22, 2017. The cover art is “Reach” by Heidi Moller Somsen. You can learn more about her and her work here.
One Sunday afternoon when I was ten years old, my parents decided to go to church. My Catholic-only-on-Easter mother assumed that morning Mass was over and my Mormon-as-a-child father vaguely remembered an afternoon session. They showed up at a 4:00 Sacrament Meeting meeting and announced to a small Michigan Branch that our family was interested in knowing more about the Mormon church. The missionaries were at our house that night.
Back then, the first lesson was the “The First Vision.” This is where I got interested.
My parents religious awakening seemed delayed to me. I had been obsessed by stories of faith and rapture for years. I had read several multi-volume children’s Bibles; knew a catalog of Saints by name, miracles, and gruesome deaths; watched the cannon of 1950’s religious movies; and scoured my mother’s Catholic Bible for red tinted Jesus text. I knew about God already.
Joseph’s youth, walking into a grove of trees to pray – much of the setup was familiar to a girl well acquainted with prophetic teen stories. But there was one significant difference that resonated. Joseph asked for his revelation. He invited and expected divine response. This seemed remarkable to me. In most stories I read, the “voices” just came to a person. Wandering in the field, at a grotto, in a dream, in a moonbeam, no one asked to be chosen, it just happened to them. I loved Joseph’s audacious faith.
I was hungry for more stories about Joseph and the early church. After we were baptized, one of the Primary teachers must have noticed my curiosity and took it upon herself to “catch me up” on past primary lessons about the modern-day prophets. I was a rapt student. I went on to devour every early church history book I could find and in my focused 19th century education, concluded that receiving spiritual gifts, seeking revelation, invoking the power of God, and performing communal ritual were the norm and expectation. I grew up in small branches in the Midwest, and suspect my willingness to serve outweighed my fervent though quaint beliefs, so no one corrected me. I walked through the world requesting a miracle in every step. God was everywhere and I felt His power.
Then I found myself at a BYU family home evening, in discussion with a particularly cute boy that I was hoping would ask me out on a date. He pronounced to the group that only priesthood holders could receive revelation. I incredulously reminded him that according to Joseph Smith’s History of the Church this was fundamentally untrue and in fact, I could cite evidence that proved women as sensitive if not more so to gifts such as healing. He rose up in righteous indignation. I was wrong. I was blasphemous. I needed to know my place as a woman. He did not cite references. He did not ask me out.
More significantly I began to realize that my theological understanding, rooted in seeking and celebrating spiritual gifts, was not shared by the rest of my religious community. Until college, I did not consider my gender as a factor in my spirituality. I knew I didn’t have the priesthood, but that did not mean I could not ask or summon or act in revelatory ways. Suddenly I had limited access.
I started listening for how this message of “boys only” impacts how women perceive and talk about their own spiritual gifts. The rebukes can be direct, more pervasive is the silence and unspoken rules around how women are allowed to claim spiritual power. Yet in hallways, at retreats, in homes, women do speak of calling on the Spirit, often in whispers. Softly, apologetic, their admissions are almost conspiratorial, depending on the openness of their immediate community.
This Exponent II Fall 2017 issue will hopeful amplify what is always there but not always acknowledged. What are the patterns of revelatory experience that we feel, express, and that change how we move through the world? Gifts of the spirit are often defined as the specific list from Corinthians: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. But the sense of wonder that comes any time a mortal feels a greater power flow through and beyond them belies categorization. This grace is magnified when the spirit is invited, even commanded, by someone who seems more attuned than most.
We use the word gifted in many contexts. We use it to describe those who are exceptional with language or music or physical speed or relationships. We admire their innate ability, skill, or experience. We are quick to acknowledge any other gift but spiritual. Why does it feel like hubris at best and slightly unhinged at worst to suggest that we are each gifted in ways that demonstrate spiritual power? There are women who can see a clear path amid a dilemma, sister missionaries who learn another language faster than possible, healers who bring comfort and calm amid chaos. Why do we resist speaking up and listing these proud descriptors with our other strengths? How we do reject the passive role of recipient and walk in the woods like the boy Joseph, asking God directly for what is needed?
In this issue women speak of their gifts and the gifts of their sisters in voices strong and bold. Fara Sneddon begins the issue with Power from Heaven, showing how the gradual diminishing of women’s permission to perform spiritual rituals parallels the loss of institutional power. Linda Hoffman Kimball and Rachel Eggleston write about how gifts of prophecy and dreams inform, guide and comfort their day to day lives in The Gift to Dream Dreams and Every Woman a Prophetess. Cherie Pederson writes about the complexity of giving blessings in A Reclaimed Gift, exploring the dual role of comforter and healer. Carin Olavson expands our notion of spiritual gifts by sharing the healing power of music in her life in Hermeneutics and Hemiolas. In All are Called by God, Bryndis Roberts gives her account of a photography session illustrating what could have been and what could be in allowing all women, including women of color, full access to spiritual authority.
Accompanying these essays is artwork and featured articles that continue the conversation of how spiritual gifts bless us with insight and provoke us to action, reaching out as the woman on our cover suggests, to God, to our sisters, to our own power as divine beings.