Traci Neilsen, BYU physics professor, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. She spoke on the messy elements of revelation and how to navigate its complexity.
Neilsen’s understanding of the messiness of revelation stems from her life as an underwater acoustics researcher. Once, while interacting with colleagues at a national meeting for the Acoustical Society of America, a peer mentioned that her religion’s basis in revelation sounded disorganized.
“Since that conversation,” Neilsen stated, “I have often thought about how it may seem a bit disorganized or a bit messy to have these two sources of revelation or inspiration from God.” Learning to receive both personal revelation and prophetic, church-wide revelation can be complicated.
Using an analogy for how sound travels through the ocean, Neilsen explained that “the messy middle of revelation” can be compared to the phenomena of refraction and reflection in the water, focusing her comparisons on the properties of mud, sand and rock.
“Mud strips away the energy in the sound waves,” Neilsen explained as part of her ocean analogy.
Just as mud dulls a sound, so can various kinds of social, physical, emotional and mental mud stop the voice of the Spirit and the prophet from reaching our hearts.
Whether we gossip, hold grudges, experience chronic illness or struggle with anxiety, Neilsen urged everyone to identify and remove the mud that may be clogging their spiritual ears.
“If you find yourself saying ‘I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am,’ you have abandoned your right to choose something different,” she warned. “You have surrendered to mental mud.”
Neilsen recognized that “the mud from grief, abuse, trauma and serious mental conditions can be so thick that it can completely absorb promptings from the Holy Spirit.” For these types of cases, she encouraged audience members to seek help from loved ones, medical professionals and spiritual leaders so that they can begin to feel the Savior’s love.
While mud strips away, sand aids sound reflection. Neilsen advocated for finding ways to increase the sand in our lives so that we can better hear the Holy Spirit and have it reflected back to us.
Expressing gratitude, learning something new, having positive social interactions and engaging in creative processes are some of the many ways that Neilsen increases the sand in her spiritual environment.
Although life can be busy, Neilsen explained that while experiencing a bout of depression, she once felt a prompting to read or listen to the Book of Mormon in between the busy moments.
“This continual flow of sand,” she recounted, “was sufficient to provide a break in the darkness so that I could then begin to work on the other types of sand I mentioned.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of our spiritual environment is our foundation. “Below the sediment layers in the ocean is the foundation — the bedrock.”
“But neither you nor me can change our mud or sand into rock. Only the Atonement of Jesus Christ can create rock — a sure foundation,” Neilsen stated.
Thankfully, we have a Savior who can remove any mud that may be crushing our spirit and who can help us turn our sand into an unshakeable foundation.
“I truly believe that the power of Christ’s Atonement can change even the most awful circumstances of our lives, the deepest, thickest, most continual types of mud into rock," Neilsen said. "He suffered for our sins to satisfy the demands of justice. He experienced every negative thought, emotion, pain, anxiety, frustration, despair, grief and trauma as part of His Atonement ... As we feel that redeeming love [of Christ], the mud in our lives can be changed to rock.”
As we seek to receive revelation from the Spirit and our inspired Church leaders, Neilsen reassures us that we will be blessed.
“You can feel how much your Father in Heaven loves you and how, through Jesus Christ … [and] His Atonement, all of your mud and your sand can be changed to rock. Christ can be your sure foundation,” she testified.
Steve Smith, executive director of Student Development Services at BYU, will deliver the next devotional address on June 29 at 11:05 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall.
Smith's remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.