D&C 68:1-5

Although verses 1-5 discuss the topic of priesthood only obliquely, I’m glad that we’ve decided to include them because I think they provide an important clue to the entanglement of priesthood, revelation, and writing that we find in the Doctrine and Covenants at large (something we’ve been discussing lately in the comments on D&C 20:38-67).

In verse 1, the Lord seems to give a kind of historical summary of Orson Hyde’s missionary activity, and it’s delivered in a series of doubles marked by parallel prepositions which culminates in double gerunds, as follows:

“My servant, Orson Hyde, was called
by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel,
by the Spirit of the living God
from people to people,
and from land to land,
in the congregations of the wicked,
in their synagogues,
reasoning with
and expounding all scriptures unto them.”

In verse 2 and 3, the Lord provides “an ensample” for those who, like Orson, have been ordained with the task of preaching the gospel, namely, “that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” And the outcome of this speaking is given in the oft-quoted fourth verse:

“Whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

Scripture plays an interesting role in these verses. First, in v. 1, I’m struck that Orson was tasked with expounding “all scriptures” in particular, not just the scriptures or even scripture. Why “all?” Is there a concern at work that we might privilege certain scriptures over others in our teaching? That’s certainly a very human tendency; we like to construct coherent narratives, stories that make sense to us and support our worldview, and so we’re naturally prone to emphasize the scriptural doctrines and ideas which fit together easily and which we find most personally appealing. But if we were to read this verse as admonishing us to avoid cherry-picking our favorite texts for preaching and instead utilize “all” scripture, its practical application gets pretty hairy, since scripture is, in itself, self-contradictory (the biblical kings are applauded for types of worship the prophets later condemned, the New Testament epistles give contradictory accounts of the roles of women, the Book of Mormon understands the Law of Moses very differently than did the Israelites, etc). With all these contradictions in mind, how is it even possible to expound “all scriptures?” I want to at least play with the idea that these  contradictions are somehow vital to the very nature of scripture, and that the ways it internally resists harmonization is important to the process of reading it. Engagement with scripture, on this model, might be seen as a kind of dialectic in which we find our personal stories and understandings repeatedly challenged.

Second, verse 4 presents scripture as a kind of byproduct of the priesthood endeavor, and here is where we again start to engage with themes of writing and texts connected with the priesthood. In fact, we might be looking at a unique way of defining scripture itself: the byproduct of priesthood work. That’s complicated, however, by its obviously verbal nature (“whatsoever they shall speak … shall be scripture”) and by its additional epithets (“..shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord,” etc). Thus, scripture is presented as primarily verbal, instead of textual; it is something  authoritatively divine that accurately reflects God’s intentions. None of that is to discount the possibility of a written document being produced (these words could be transcribed at some later time, for instance), but it does complicate the theme of specifically textual production.

I’m also struck at how nicely this dovetails, in certain ways, with the themes we’ve been discussing from D&C 20. Notice that this “scripture” is produced out of a very particular kind of situation: “as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” To cinch the connection further, here is the original preface to this revelation, which was removed prior to its publication:

“The mind and will of the Lord, as made known by the voice of the spirit to a conference, held November first, 1831, concerning certain Elders, who requested of the Lord to know his will concerning them, and also certain items, as made known in addition to the Laws and commandments, which have been given to the church, firstly: my servant Orson was called…”

The priesthood office to which this revelation’s primary addressees were ordained was specifically the office of elder, and they are given a “promise” (v. 5) that, in connection with that ordination, they will interact with the Holy Ghost in a particular way. Again, we see elders engaging with the Holy Ghost, and it culminates in a production of something like a text.

If all these parallels are justified, it leaves me with this vital question: what is the relationship between priesthood, scripture, and the Holy Ghost? I’ve been trying out several different answers to this question all week, but I’ll leave you with two of my latest iterations:

Elder: an office of engagement with the Holy Ghost.
Priesthood: the community who conducts a liminal life at the veil (the boundary between heaven and earth), tasked with producing records that chronicle that interaction.

Thoughts?

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27 Comments

Filed under D&C 68

27 responses to “D&C 68:1-5

  1. Thanks Kim! I only have enough time to write up one response right now:

    I’m wondering how to read the first part of verse 1: “called by his ordination to proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God”

    Was Orson being “called” to a specific missionary assignment, because of (“by”) his ordination to proclaim the gospel? (That would line up nicely with one of our readings of Alma 13:6, that is, priests were “ordained…to teach his commandments unto the children of men.”)

    Or is Orson called to proclaim the gospel, because of (“by”) his ordination to the priesthood?

    Also, is the Spirit involved in calling or in proclaiming? I think the better reading is he proclaims the gospel by the Spirit, but it’s probably because I can’t help but think of D&C 42:12-14 in all of this…

    • jennywebb

      Karen, I think both readings are possible. It might be helpful to frame this in terms of what Orson is ordained to rather than called to?

      1) His ordination to the priesthood calls him to proclaim the everlasting gospel, and said ordination took place or was authorized by the Spirit

      2) He is ordained to proclaim the everlasting gospel, which then permits the Spirit to call him to specific missionary endeavors

      Two really different models, and I’m not sure that either one really surfaces as the “winner.” Could both be operating simultaneously somehow, or would that just make things unintelligible?

      • I can’t tell which one wins, either. (I’m just glad my question made sense! 🙂 ) I’m just curious for now and want to keep it in mind as we study this and other sections/chapters.

        • jennywebb

          Yes, it’s that same question from Alma, and one I think we’ll keep on asking: what is one ordained *to*? To a specific course of action? Or to a specific sociality (e.g., brotherhood, neighborhood, priesthood)?

      • I agree that both readings are possible, though I personally favor the first, that Orson was ordained to the priesthood, which itself “called” him (or came with a responsibility) to preach the gospel. The primary clue driving me toward that interpretation is in v. 2: “this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained to this priesthood.” If Orson’s ordination is meant to be an example to “all those” in v. 2, it stands to reason that their ordinations are roughly parallel. Since the elders in v. 2 were ordained specifically “to this priesthood,” I imagine that’s what is at work behind the “ordination” in v. 1, as well.

        • jennywebb

          Kim, I think that’s really strong evidence for ordination being to the priesthood in this case. I can’t believe I didn’t see that. Focused too tightly on verse 1. Sheesh!

          I’d still like to keep the question of what people are ordained to open as we read, but if we’re keeping a running tally, this one goes to “ordained to the priesthood.”

  2. I like your comments on scripture being something that constantly calls our generalizations into question. I also wonder what it means to expound all scripture in one, something that Jesus does when He visits the Nephites. (I especially love that part of the story, as He expounds, gives them more scripture, and then expounds again, as if to show how that additional light affects the whole story! Interesting, anyway.)

    I have a question on verse 4 that I’d like to have help on. Is it possible, or not possible, to read verse 4 as saying that rather than creating scripture when they teach, scripture will be what comes to mind and the material that they use? I am again drawn to D&C 42:12-14 (which is what I presented on for the D&C 42 conference). D&C 42:12-13 says that, “And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. And…these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.”

    I like the reading that they produce more scripture, because there’s a lot of rich stuff in the idea of a byproduct, and how the verbal becomes written, and also lots of good stuff in D&C 128 about those with the power to write and it becomes a law in heaven and earth. Lots of good stuff. I’m just trying to see if this verse is without question talking about that, or if it’s possible to read this verse otherwise.

    If we did, it would seem that the elders, when moved upon by the Spirit, would either speak of scripture (past) or will/mind/word/voice/power (current, or application of past?).

    In addition, this is interesting: if you look at the original heading for D&C 68, it starts: “The mind & will of the Lord as made known by the voice of the spirit made known to a conference held November first 1831 concerning certain Elders who requested of the Lord to know his will concerning them….” What do you make of that – that the revelation started with saying this is “the mind and will” that came by the Spirit? Interesting loop as we read verse four, which says that those receiving this revelation also have this same power. Plus, this revelation later became scripture, which would go nicely with the things Kim was talking about in her post.

    –Micah’s awake, so that’s all for this morning!

    • jennywebb

      Karen, yes, I think it’s completely possible to read “scripture” here as past scripture being brought to mind in the act of preaching / teaching.

      The model that comes to my mind is Nephi interacting with Isaiah: there’s both extended quotation (scripture brought to mind) as well as new scriptural production via appropriation and recontextualization.

      In fact, the way verse four is constructed through parataxis rather than subordinating conjunctions seems to emphasize the relative equability of each phrase. So, if we were to write the verse out the “long way” we’d have something like this:

      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture,
      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be the will of the Lord,
      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be the mind of the Lord,
      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be the word of the Lord,
      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be the voice of the Lord,
      And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost [shall be the] power of God unto salvation.

      If scripture = will of the Lord = mind of the Lord = word of the Lord = voice of the Lord = power of God unto salvation, then scripture is inherently construed as a remembrance of past (“word”), a listening in the present (“voice”), and an acceptance of or possibility for the future (“will” and “mind”—both volitional, hidden, etc.).

      So maybe this equability here is meant to emphasize precisely the point you make: even in the act of its present production, scripture is always both a recollection of the past and a promise for continuation in the future?

      • Jenny, your comment reminds me of something I didn’t mention in the post: the interaction between v. 1 and v. 4 is fascinating–both mention “scripture” in different ways. v. 1 says that Orson has been teaching from scripture, and in v. 4 this results in the promise that he can produce scriptures.

        So, perhaps, whatever one “expounds” is what one produces. As my husband put it when I was discussing this with him, “If one teaches from church magazines, one is going to produce church magazines. If one teaches from scripture, one is going to produce scripture.”

        • jennywebb

          Kim, I really like this linking of v.1 and v.4! And this reading plays into the argument for both breadth and depth in church publications like magazines really nicely 🙂

          • I like Mike’s comment – I think there’s a lot of truth in that. It reminds me of trying to write in middle school/high school and realizing all of my ideas came from stories I had already read! 🙂

      • Jenny, I *really* like this idea of the past, present, and future being bound up in scripture. As usual, I don’t have anything brilliant to add, except that you really need to write a paper on Temporal Hermeneutics.

  3. jennywebb

    Kim, I’m so glad this is up—what a rich way to continue our conversation! Thank you!

    1. I love the structure you draw out of verse one. The verse has a great rhythm to it, and I think the structure you point out nicely demonstrates how that rhythm is created, and, more importantly, where it leads to: “reasoning and expounding.” I hadn’t noticed it until you pointed it out this way, but while the rest of the verse situates Orson in terms of place/location, this ending contextualizes things in terms of very specific actions. I think we should pay attention to the ways “reasoning” and “expounding” are two sides of the same coin (the coin being the calling of ordination; priesthood enacted perhaps?).

    2. I think your reading of “all scripture” is spot on. Scripture as a site of internal conflicts originating with God (think conflicting commandments in Eden!) that then opens us to an ongoing working out of our own salvation in all its messy, contradictory actuality is something that really resonates with me.

    I’d like to provide another reading of “all” in the spirit of demonstrating how multiple interpretations open rather than close scripture. When you initially asked the question about “all”, as I was thinking about it I was reminded of the ordinance of the sacrament. There the emphasis on the bread and water going to “all” souls and the promises to “always remember” so we can “always” have the Spirit thematically create an atmosphere of inclusiveness. That inclusiveness is modeled in the two-part ordinance itself: to complete the sacrament, one must take both the bread and the water, and consume each serving completely. The point, in my mind, of the sacrament is in some ways to remind us that we have to take “all” of it. All o the sacrament. All of the gospel. All of the scriptures. And inherent in that “all” gesture, is, as Kim points out, a necessary encounter with contradiction. How we react to and work out such contradictions are, I think, a large part of how we grow and mature spiritually.

    3. Regarding Kim’s thoughts on the scripture as essentially verbal at root, I’m reminded of the importance we place on producing and sharing verbal testimonies. I like the idea that scriptural production on some level is made universally available on a regular basis, and I really like the idea of fast and testimony meeting being a site where scripture is witnessed, both in the bearing and in the receiving of said testimonies.

    (I’m still thinking about the complex relationship between the verbal and the written modes of scripture that Kim brings up; I’d like to come back to this after things have cohered a bit for me.)

    4. Re: the role of the Holy Ghost. First off, wow! I’ve read this section time and again, but it has become infinitely richer due to our recent conversations on the relationship between the Spirit and priesthood, so thank you guys!

    Kim says ” in connection with that ordination, they will interact with the Holy Ghost in a particular way.”

    I think it’s worth thinking about the particular relationship described here in verse 3: “they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

    That phrase “moved upon” suggests a *very* particular interaction, as Kim points out. Can we unpack this phrase a bit more? There is a kind of double emphasis on the elder as a kind of open, receptive vessel:

    A) “moved” indicates that the elder was moved, and that the motion implicitly originates with another actor. If the elder was initiating the action, he would “move” or “moves” or “did move”, no?

    B) “upon” indicates that the elder receives the action of moving, again from an outside, originating source. When things “move over” or “move upon” other things, the implication is that an action from the initiator washes over the receiver in a certain productive way. (Think Genesis 1:2 ” And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”) Another action from the receiver may result (here, for example, the verbal testimony of sharing the gospel), but that additional action is only possible if and when the receiver opens herself to being “moved upon”—i.e., one must seek, listen, receive the Spirit in order to be “moved upon.”

    In short, I think that a specific type of humility and openness are necessary characteristics associated with the priesthood here, at least when said priesthood is involved with scripture.

    • I love it all, but I want to engage with your #4 in particular. I’m really glad you brought out this careful reading.

      This kind of receptive passivity is something that’s resonated deeply with me ever since Adam’s paper from the Alma 32 seminar. He points out that the task of the would-be believer is surprisingly passive: one must “give place that a seed may be planted” (Alma 32:28) rather than plant the seed oneself. I think that’s the same kind of openness that we see here in D&C 68, so I’m glad you brought it out. I’m all the more struck by the connection in light of the fact that Alma’s seed is “the word”–themes of textuality and scripture yet again.

      I also want to think more about the connection between elders being “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” and Genesis 1, where “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). Perhaps the idea of creating scripture is more loaded than I’d first realized.

      • I don’t have much to add except a “wow” myself!

      • jennywebb

        Kim, I’ve been thinking and reading about the connection between creation and scripture, and I really do think there’s a lot there. One question that’s surfaced for me is what happens if we reverse the comparison: that is, instead of comparing the production of scripture to the act of creation, what if the point of the connection instead is to compare the act of creation to the production of scripture? I really like the idea of looking at God not as the creator (who gives scripture in a manner that echoes the creation) but rather as the giver of scripture (who either creates in the manner of revelation, or perhaps more closely, who gave the revelation of the creation story in order to point us back towards Him as the giver of revelatory scripture).

  4. (I’m coming to comment in spurts so I hope I’m not reproducing anything)

    I really like the thoughts you’ve both shared about “all” scripture. Jenny I hadn’t noticed how the idea of “all” and “all-ways” was so important in the sacrament — thank you for pointing that out and its implications for the gospel and covenants.

    I’m going to add my own interpretation of “all” here, as we think of early missionaries expounding all scripture to gathered congregations. I think we ought to take into account that the Book of Mormon (and the restoration generally) made it possible to radically reinterpret biblical passages that had acquired traditional interpretations after hundreds of years of study and commentary. Perhaps part of the job of an early missionary (and the same is true for missionaries today) was to show how the Book of Mormon called for a rethinking of past scripture, and to show how the Bible and the Book of Mormon could be expounded together so that they made a coherent picture of God’s dealings on earth. I also like the point Kim made that we will have contradictory messages that push us beyond our comfortable readings. But I suppose I see that purpose working at a more verse-by-verse or story-by-story level. At a more broad level, I think it was (and is) important to see how the Book of Mormon and the D&C change the way we understand what God has been doing in history, and to make that picture clear takes a lot of reasoning and expounding.

    For example, when Christ visits the Nephites he reads to them from Isaiah and then “expounded all the scriptures unto them which they had received” (3 Nephi 23:6). Then he says, “Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not.” This is when they realize they forgot to include the fulfillment of a prophecy from Samuel. After they write that in their scripture, then Jesus again “expounded all the scriptures in one, which they had written” (3 Nephi 23:14). Then Christ gives them some of Malachi’s words, and afterwords “he expounded them unto the multitude; and he did expound all things unto them, both great and small” (3 Nephi 26:1). The pattern there at least (though not necessarily always) is that to expound is to add something to the cannon and then show how it all works together. Something like making cookies and adding the ingredients one at a time, but stirring in between so it becomes a smooth, consistent mixture. 🙂

    I like our other readings of “all” as well (especially on a personal level), but I think pattern fits well with the situation of the early elders. (The readings aren’t mutual exclusive, of course; for an elder to expound all scripture probably meant they themselves had to overcome their own traditional readings, or wrestle with scriptural contradictions.) I’m mostly thinking about how this would appear from the standpoint of the congregation.

    • Agreed. And nicely said!

    • jennywebb

      Karen, that’s really helpful, thank you!

      I think that looking at “expounding” in these terms produces a solid connection between the priesthood via the role of the elder and scriptural texts.

      The elder is to expound.

      Expound = share all scripture, re-produce all scripture (à la Nephi in 2 Ne 26-27), explain all scripture, comment upon all scripture, liken all scripture, etc., all with an eye towards linking, tying, uniting, weaving, etc.

      In other words, to be an elder is to be someone who works with scripture on all levels: vocally (both listening and speaking) and textually (reading and writing). And all this (priesthood) work with scripture is done in order to enact sealing (hence the linking impulse underlying “expounding”).

      I think that’s what I want to argue for: that the connection between priesthood and scripture lies in oral and written acts of sealing.

  5. I noticed today that D&C 68:13 marks a break (“And now, concerning the items in addition to the covenants and commandments, they are these—”). It sounds like everything before that point was contained within the directions in the “covenants and commandments,” and after verse 13 was not. Is this saying that what we’ve been discussing regarding scripture and the Holy Ghost is implied in D&C 20? Does “covenants and commandments” mean more than D&C 20? At the least, it seems that 1-12 are “old” and 13 marks a transition to “new.” Perhaps 1-12 are “expounding” on the old?

    • I read it slightly differently, Karen. I agree that v. 13 introduces a section that adds to and clarifies D&C 20, but I see no implication that v. 1-12 touch on D&C 20 at all. It’s possible to add the “new” (regulations and practical clarifications) without discussing the “old,” I think.

    • jennywebb

      I think I’m with Kim on this one; I think it’s even possible to just read “covenants and commandments” here as referring back to verses 1-12 (where the elders are given specific commandments to preach, and where the promises in v. 9-12 are understood in covenantal terms).

  6. I think I’m finally ready to engage with the scripture-as-verbal points you’ve both raised. (And sorry, this is going to be slightly jumbled as I work through my thoughts.) I think there’s some truth to the idea that we verbally, in the moment, create scripture, inasmuch as scripture means a heavenly message, something the Spirit communicated to us and we communicate to a congregation. What is the difference between speaking by the Spirit and scripture, or is there? If we are thinking about scripture as the will/mind/word/voice/power, then I don’t think the difference is clear. Is there a difference between scripture and canonized scripture? The first comes in an instant, and the latter is written and, sealed, perhaps?

    I think I was getting tripped up on D&C 128:9 – I had been using it, somewhere in the back of my mind, as the pattern for creation of scripture, but looking at it again I don’t think that’s a fair pattern. I think something else is going on in D&C 128 besides scripture. (“Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah.”) It’s a written record of spiritual dealings, yes, but not of revelation given by the Spirit. Not of words. Not of communication to congregations. D&C 128 is talking about sealing up actions and changing laws in heaven and earth. So I whereas I had some connotation that scripture had to be written to be effected as scripture, I don’t think that’s a fair reading of D&C 128:9.

    So in that case, I think I can finally engage more with this discussion of scripture as verbal. I think the differences we might think from here would be:

    1) What is the difference between scripture and canonized scripture? (And is writing necessary for the later?)

    2) What is the difference between scripture and will/mind/word/voice/power? (or rather, is there a difference between scripture and will, and mind, and word, and voice, and power?) Is scripture listed here as one among many things that the Spirit might communicate through and elder, or, does the rest of the list serve as an explanation of what scripture is?

    Reading Jenny’s reworking of the scripture, it almost feels like there’s a sense of building or growing momentum in the verse. First we start with scripture (whether as a recollection of past scripture, or scripture in some productive sense), and we progress all the way to “power of God unto salvation.” That’s quite the claim: that what they will do will have the power of God unto salvation!

    Notice too that four of the six things in this list are followed by “of the Lord” and two are not:

    And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost
    shall be scripture,
    shall be the will of the Lord,
    shall be the mind of the Lord,
    shall be the word of the Lord,
    shall be the voice of the Lord,
    and the power of God unto salvation.

    But, I don’t know what I’m pointing out about this yet exactly. 🙂 I’ll keep thinking…

    • jennywebb

      Karen, excellent questions. I’m running out of time today, so I’m not sure how far I’ll get in addressing them, but I really like where you’re pushing us.

      Re: 1) I’m wondering if the ability to be shared has any significance here? As in, if scripture can be shared
      • thematically—if it’s open to multiple applications for multiple individuals in multiple temporal/spatial situations
      and
      • practically—if it’s able to be reproduced in some form in order to facilitate accurate sharing
      then it is able to be (but is not necessarily) canonized. In this case, writing would be one of the most effective means of practically sharing something throughout history.

      Re: 2) I’m in favor of the second reading, where scripture and the items on the list are fundamentally interchangeable. I know I had a reason for this preference originally, but I can’t remember it right now …

      But I think you’re right to point out that this is “quite the claim”, and I think that’s the point—it’s a startling point to make, that words and actions performed on earth hold potency in heaven, but isn’t that precisely what the power of God unto salvation is? By this I mean, isn’t that the description of an ordinance (such as baptism) effected by the priesthood? Part of why I think baptisms are so spiritually potent is because they are, in a very real sense, the power of God unto salvation laid bare.

      Finally, the absence of the phrase “of the Lord” is definitely striking here, although I’m still thinking about what to say about it. But I’m glad you pointed it out in your careful work—thanks!

      • Re #1 – I wonder too if that’s why certain things get canonized. It makes sense, and I like it. But, Joe has done a lot of work on the D&C and how revelations were made more universal through editing language. (You could look at his posts on D&C 25 for an example.) So I don’t know – perhaps it’s still more complicated than I want to admit! 🙂

        Re “quite the claim” – I think I could read this in several ways. Baptism, like you said, is certainly the power of God unto salvation, certainly done by the priesthood, and even is certainly part of the spoken work of the priesthood! Your description of ordinances being where the “power of God unto salvation laid bare” sounds a lot like D&C 84:20: “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” In both your wording and in D&C 84, it seems like the power of God is already there, but the ordinances allow us to see that.

        Another reading (I’m not rooting for one or the other yet) is that when we start with scripture (past) and apply it through listening to what the Spirit is telling us about the will of the Lord for this people (present), or the mind of the Lord (present), or the word of the Lord (present message?), or simply the voice of the Lord (very much “present,” temporal), then what results is the power of God unto salvation (present or future). Even if the power is effected in the present, the word “unto” has a sort of forward-moving feel to it; there is an end-goal of salvation here. So perhaps when we teach as moved upon by the Spirit, we are applying all that is in the past, through the prism or filter of the present will of the Lord, so that the Spirit also works on the listener to the goal of saving some soul?

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