From today's baptism (svithe)


At baptismal services in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we traditionally offer brief talks on the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

At a baptism today, I was asked to speak on the latter ordinance.

The typical conceit is that the speaker is speaking solely to the person receiving the ordinance, although --- let's face it --- there are other people in the room. But that explains the occasional 'you.'

These are more notes than the actual talk as I gave it.


Once upon a time in the middle of nowhere, a prophet named Moses was trying to lead a nation to a better land. He had all sorts of problems in the pursuance of this task. One day a couple guys were in the camp prophesying and one of Moses’s friends, alarmed, came to tell him about it. Moses replied:

Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!

The apostle John taught that prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.

Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, holding the testimony of Jesus in their hearts.

Clearly, by entering the waters of baptism and thus witnessing your willingness to follow Jesus Christ, you have a testimony of Jesus. Which, of course, was brought to you by the Holy Ghost.

So the salient question, it seems to me, is how does the Gift of the Holy Ghost differ from the gifts he has already brought you?

Yesterday I was speaking with a pregnant woman in our ward (there are plenty to choose from) and she told me that, according to her baby book, this week her baby’s nerves connected to her baby’s brain and now, for the first time, the baby has a sense of touch. What, she wondered, was her baby’s perception like before that moment? What do babies experience in that warm, close space before they can feel?

Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, said:

“When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase.”

He also said that “Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”

With the Gift of the Holy Ghost, he moves from a visiting truth-teller to our constant companion. And then, as we let him in, the truth becomes such a part of us—so woven into us—that the time before he came is like the time before our nerves had bonded to our brain.

In other words, if you’ll forgive a rather poor word choice, the Holy Ghost and truth can become—boring. Boring only in the sense that he no longer has to wow! us with the revelation that the Book of Mormon is true! or Jesus is our Savior! or God loves us! Because you know—you know—these things are true. And so the Holy Ghost is like touch. When you stop to think about it, very normal, “boring” things are utterly wonderful. Your head upon a pillow, the sun upon your face, your wife’s hair between your fingers. And testimony is the same.

Even when your faith is so bound to you, so bound to your being that you cannot separate your faith from your identity, when you stop to notice it, how wonderful. So take the time as the years pass to recognize your faith as the miracle it is. And give thanks for this gift you have received—that you are about to receive—the gift of the Holy Ghost.

One caveat. Although the Holy Ghost’s presence in our lives can and should be defining, we should still remember to nurture our faith. Harold B. Lee—prophet back in the Seventies—said that testimonies are fragile as a moonbeam and need to be recaptured every day.

We have a choice every moment whether to allow the Spirit to dwell with us or to drive him away.

This is an exciting time. You and the Spirit are about to get better acquainted. You’ll learn more about how he communicates with you. And there is nothing boring about this. There is nothing boring about being close to God. It is the most exciting thing in life. And if something so exciting can be an everyday part of life?

How wonderful.

Growing close to God is a lifelong process. And now you’ll have the Holy Ghost as your partner. As you pray, expect to receive. Because you will receive.

You have the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

last week's svithe


  1. Absolutely lovely: clear and direct.

    Off-svithe: I read "The Widower" on Friday while waiting in a doctor's office. I really enjoyed your exploration of the guilt and loneliness a person in that situation must suffer. You've got transparent style (my highest compliment) and a great sense of pacing.

  2. I agree on the pacing. This whole transparent style thing, though, drives me crazy. Assuming you mean the same thing I do by transparent style, of course.

  3. .

    Hey! I got an idea! Let's define transparency!

  4. I'd be interested to hear what conclusions you come to. I'm not familiar with the term.

  5. To me, transparency means that the author's voice doesn't get in the way of the story. Writing is untransparent when it has lots of little hitches that make you stop and re-read to figure out what the author meant, or when it's full of editorializing and moralizing instead of actual story. Basically, anything the author does that distracts me from the world they've created makes writing untransparent. Conversely, if I feel immersed in a story, I would say it's written in a transparent style.

    Of course, I'm sure other people understand this differently... =)

  6. What Recession Cone said.

    But now I want to hear more about "crazy" from Wm.

  7. My negative reaction to transparency is mainly connected with the work of Orson Scott Card. OSC is a big time advocate of a transparent style. That involves several elements:

    1. The use of third person limited omniscient.
    2. Sentence structure that is fairly simple (without being the minimalist style of, say, Hemingway) and eschews the use of adjectives and generally avoids metaphor, simile, metonymy and other literary devices.
    3. Very little free indirect discourse.
    4. A dampening of the natural polyvocal (heteroglossia) tendencies of the novel -- that is the bringing in of bits and pieces of discourse from a wide variety of other discourses and discourse communities.
    5. Spare description. A focus on action and dialogue. Screenplay-esque.

    The odd thing, in my opinion, is that OSC's best work is where he gives in to his more literary, strong-voiced impulses. The best example of this is the Alvin series. Compare the first 2-3 novels with the rest of them. There are major differences. The latter novels lack the flavor of the earlier ones. In addition, OSC indulges too much (under the cover of transparency) in some of his pet biases against psychology, lawyers, etc. So the ironic is that the Alvin novels that contain the most transparent writing also contain the most getting in the way of the author's voice. The exact opposite of what RC is looking for.

    Now mind you, I'm not allergic to all writer who produce fairly transparent prose. Nor am I a fan of authors who too ornately encrust their prose. But some voice and style and poetry is good.

  8. .

    I hear you William. One of my goals as a writer these days is to unlearn all of the professionalism I've learned. I'm trying to unlearn strict 3p-omni etc. My current book is an exercise in getting in the way. Too soon to say if I'm being successful, but it's a fun change.

    That said, as may now be obvious, my "official" stance is to follow all those rules. I'm just choosing to break them at present.

    It's interesting that sometimes authorial voice can help create the world --- Pratchett and Vonnegut come to mind. We certainly have room for both schools.

  9. Cool. I'm not sure what I ever learned or what I need to unlearn. I'm one of those horrible literary critic writers who relies on osmosis.

  10. Interesting. I don't consider OSC's wildly uneven work transparent at all. His voice, to my taste, is overbearing, and I dearly wish someone would dare to edit his endless philosophizing.

    I do agree that those early Alvin books are some of his best writing. In fact, with OSC, as far as I'm concerned, the earlier, the better.

    But this wasn't supposed to be a rant-bash.

    And I agree about Vonnegut and Pratchett--metafiction like theirs demands a distinctive authorial intrusion.