Guest Post by Louise Hammel. Louise Hammel is a septuagenarian who lives by the sea. She keeps a journal of questions that no one can answer in this life. Still, she wants to know.
When I returned to church activity in the 1990s, I made it a goal to “feast on the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3). One aspect of that was to feast on the words spoken in General Conference since “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38) I bought a journal and sat, ready, in front of my TV to record all I received each broadcast session.
This journal read like transcriptions of conference proceedings. If every copy of the Ensign conference issue on earth disappeared, I would have a record! It also served as a testament of the new faithful me. I used little discernment in my entries. I acted like I was taking a religion class and needed comprehensive notes to prepare for the final exam. If Elder So-and-So said there were 5 steps of whatever principle (aren’t they fond of numbered lists?) I made sure I got them all, as though I would need to know this to get back to Heaven or if quizzed by a Stake President passing by.
My second journal covered a greater span of conference years. I stopped chronicling everything. I continued to watch all sessions in real time, because I wanted to be there if or when a big announcement or revelation was given. I didn’t want to be left behind now that I had found my way back. I still looked forward to conference weekends as a time to focus on the words given by the apostles and prophets. Through the years I captured a fair number of good quotes and a few numbered lists that fostered my spiritual growth and served well for future talks and lessons.
By the time I purchased a third conference journal, my enthusiasm for General Conference had waned. I did look forward to conference Sundays since I could do church at home (a harbinger for my delight having home church the past two years). Fewer talks satisfied my soul. It felt that too many speakers spoke from their heads, not their hearts. Too many discourses were fear-based or a checklist approach to living the gospel. It dawned on me that I had been holding out for direct quotes from the Lord. That was understandable based on the rhetoric I’d heard over the pulpit. I now understood direct statements were not going to come. I realized that the remarks, although inspired, reflected the speaker’s perspective and experiences. And these were almost exclusively male perspectives and experiences. I grew to understand my perspective and experiences were of equal worth for my journey.
Then I was introduced to the tenet “expectations are planned disappointments”. The April 2020 Restoration Bicentennial Conference was my nadir. Oh, how I needed balm for my soul during that horrible spring of pandemic and political upheaval. I found none. I did find myself creating mindless doodles and writing in shout-y caps. I finally began to question the wisdom of investing 8-10 hours in engaged listening for one or two possible insights. I started recording the sessions so I could fast-forward through talks that sedated me. Part of me felt guilty. I had voted to sustain these speakers. Part of me still feared I might miss something critical. Yet the healthy part of me gave permission to focus on what was personally inspiring and let the rest go. What didn’t speak to me might speak to someone else on their stretch of their path.
I don’t know what the next development will be. I may be on my last conference journal, though there are many, many blank pages to fill. I still desire to feast on the words of Christ, spoken or written. I’ve learned to stop looking for quotation marks bracketing them. And I have learned to seek them wherever I can find them.
In 1997, I quit looking to church leaders for spiritual direction, because they don’t seem to have genuine experience of spiritual events. I released them from any authority in my spiritual journey. It is much more deeply satisfying to allow Spirit to flow in my own life without trying to fit some pattern of which they approve (or disapprove). I have a much broader definition of sacred scripture than what was canonized by a committee of Mormon men. I can dip into the Quran, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Bagava GIta, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Remembering Wholeness by Carol Tuttle, and anything by Thich Nat Tran. Of course, The Exponent II is high on the list.
Excellent list, thank you. A good reminder that light is found in many places.
Thank you for this. I agree that it’s exhausting to pore over hours and hours of video for a handful of relevant and inspiring crumbs – especially when those don’t represent our experiences.
Oh wow, I feel this. Thank you for sharing.
Last October, I approached conference in a new way. I prayed that I would hear the messages that would soothe my soul, and that I would be spared from anything hateful or damaging. Then I went about my weekend. Sometimes, I turned conference on and listened to a talk or two. Other times it was off. I didn’t plan ahead to make sure I heard or avoided a certain speaker. For the most part, it worked for me. I trust God far more than I trust anyone speaking from a pulpit, and my experiment reinforced that trust for me.
I like that you created a new approach in partnership with deity and that it resulted in a better experience. I will ponder that.
I had a similar journey in listening to conference – going from hanging on every word to realizing the talks didn’t feed my soul. As you say, there were some nuggets, and even a spiritual experience or two. When I quit listening to conference altogether, what surprised me the most was that I didn’t miss it at all.
In part, I miss the times I liked conference and was spiritually fed. Don’t know if I matured spiritually past them, or if they have devolved, or a combination of both. Since RS/Quorum lessons (and many sacrament meeting talks) are based on conference addresses, it seems we hear them anyway.
I appreciate how deeply you have thought about how or whether to incorporate General Conferences into your spiritual enrichment.