Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Understanding the Body of God: One Place at One Time

My second source for understanding the body of God is the well-known doctrinal statement that God is "in one place at one time". Such a statement is very problematic to anyone who tries to reconcile mystical ideas with Mormon doctrine, mainly because is extremely alienating. If I am only one person among an infinity of people, places and things that exist throughout the universe, why would God ever choose to visit me? Obviously this is not much of a problem in this life, as next to no one here is blessed with a visitation from God's body. However, this is very much a problem when we consider Celestial existence. Consider the following image:

This picture is the quintessence of countless similarly schmaltzy pieces of art that all depict Jesus either hugging a person or exhibiting his love for him/her in another way.  However, these works of art reference a generally understood principle within the church that that we too will have such an intimate encounter with Christ. This idea is all well and good. There are even references to it in scripture (going back for the lost sheep, etc.). However, it seems to blatantly contradict the principle about which this post is concerned. How can a single personage who can only be in one place at one time connect so intimately with so many people? In the spirit of the holidays, this is essentially the same problem that makes the existence of Santa Claus impossible. Just like a single person cannot visit all of the houses in the world in one night, it is unfeasible that a Christ who is in one place at one time could meaningfully connect with every person. Of course, unlike Santa Claus, there is no time limit. But consider the following argument. If it takes about 30 minutes to make a meaningful connection with someone else (an extremely tentative assumption) and if the total population of people who have ever lived is around 100 billion (http://bit.ly/Y7d7E) and if the second coming were to occur tomomrrow, it would take 5.7 million years to get around to everyone. Needless to say, this is a very long time, longer than most people would be willing to wait. I don't know about you, but if I had to wait in line this long, constituting a mere 0.000000001% (an actual calculation) of Christ's attention, I would feel pretty unimportant.  Considering this feeling of insignificance, we must make a choice concerning our approach to God. The first option is to believe both that God is literally in one place at one time and that you will experience very little of him in the life to come. However, there is a second choice. It is to believe that God's being in one place at one time has a non-conventional meaning, and thus that we are able to experience him abundantly in the next life. Being an aspiring mystic, who actually seeks oneness with God, I naturally choose the second option. I expect that anyone who actively seeks to know God will do the same.

Consider the following passage:

"The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; but they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord." (D&C 130: 6-7)

To understand the above quotation, we must first understand that the term "place" has certain connotations. We can only say that someone is in a specific place because of the things that surround him or her. For instance, a person that is surrounded by trees is in a forest, while a person who is surrounded by buildings is in a city. Furthermore, we say that a person is in a specific location (e.g. England) because of its proximity to a given point. If that person is too far away, we say that they are somewhere else. This principle is so powerful that it is actually impossible to determine an entity's location without referencing something else. However, for this location to be at all meaningful the location must reference some things more than others. For instance, if we say that a person is "in the universe" we are no further to determining their exact location than we were before the utterance. So, if we take Joseph Smith at his word when he says that in the presence of God and the angels "[...] all things for their glory are manifest, past, present and future, and are continually before the Lord", and we also accept the principle that we came to in the previous paragraph to be true, then the natural conclusion is that by the normal definition God is not in one place at one time. My reasoning for this is simple. All things are before God. This means that everything that ever existed, exists or will exist is enjoys a presumably equal spatial relationship with him. Therefore, since the scripture makes no distinction  between the various places in the universe that are before God, we cannot meaningfully say that God is in one specific place.

The reader may protest that I am destroying doctrine. In fact, I am doing no such thing. I am merely claiming that this particular piece of doctrine (that God is in one place at one time) is not true as it is conventionally interpreted. In other words, God being "in one place at one time" is true in a sense. However, what most people fail to realize is that God never leaves this place, and that this place is simultaneously all places at once. This may sound insane, as it seems to suggest that, at least for God, all places are the same place. This is actually not as crazy as it sounds. To show this, I invite you to participate in an experiment. Look at something in your immediate vicinity. It could be a patch of wall, a Christmas tree or even your computer screen. Once you have picked something, contemplate what you are really seeing when you look at said object. After sufficient thought, the natural conclusion is that you are seeing this object through a variety of "lenses", by which I mean any entity through which the light from an object can pass. Among these lenses are the air that permeates the room, the surfaces of your eyes, or your brain. Thinking more will reveal that, simply because of the distance between you and any given object, it is impossible to see anything without some kind of lens. Now, I believe that an object is distorted by any lens through which it is seen. After all, magnifying glasses magnify, eyeglasses sharpen and even air reduces visibility. So, if that is true, then do we experience anything without distortion? I would say that we do. Right here and right now, inside your skulls, can be experienced directly and fully. In fact, I would say that this fullness of that experience actually defines the word "here". This point is crucial, so let me explain my reasoning. space itself is a lens, whose distortion results from perspective (like how a car gets smaller the farther away it drives from the observer). Therefore, if there was no space between you and an object, you would be able to observe it without distortion. In other words, at least for every person that lives on Earth, anything that one views without distortion (which admittedly isn't much) and the word "here" is synonymous.  

But how does this apply to God's being in one place at one time? To answer that question, let me pose another: what would happen if all the lenses through which you saw the world were perfectly transparent and didn't distort at all? I believe you would be able to see the entire universe. This is because the distortion due to space is the only thing that really stops you from seeing far away things.Furthermore, all things would be "here". This is understandably my biggest leap, but I think it is justified. As demonstrated above, at least in any situation we've encountered, "here" can refer to whatever you see without distortion. So, to tie it all back to my original point, this applies to God for the following reasons. God sees the world through a lens (the glass globe). Because he can see everything through the lens, he must do it without distortion. Furthermore, because he sees everything without distortion, everything must be "here" for him. So, because everything is "here" for God, we can justifiably say that the "one place" referred to by the "one place at one time" doctrine can definitely refer to all places at once. 

The previous two paragraphs (concerning lenses and whatnot) open up a philosophical can of worms that I can't explore here.It has implications with, among other things, the nature of the Self and the distinction between individuals. I'll explore that in another post, hopefully to come soon. That's it for my post. Please comment!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Faith, Non-Attachment and Wu Wei

As you can probably tell, I love to make connections. It's sort of my thing. I especially love to make connections between the various religions and philosophies of the world. I have been able to do this relatively successfully, but until last February, there was one big exception. Non-attachment (or Nekkhamma) is one of the highest virtues of the Buddhist religion. Essentially, it means that one should give up all desire, craving or attachment to anything (including God) in order to achieve the highest state of happiness. This principle is quite possibly the most important one in Buddhism, and is therefore very problematic for a person like me. There seems to be no parallel in Christianity or Mormonism.We are taught that we need to cleave to God and that we are supposed to be bound to our families for eternity. So I was at a loss as to what to do. Then, a miracle happened.

Last February, while I was reading my Statistics textbook for homework, I realized something. I understood nearly every principle in the chapter, but only superficially. Or rather, I understood that they worked, but not how or why they worked. I wanted to keep reading, so that I could understand every rule and formula inside and out, front and back. But I didn't have enough time to both do that and my other homework. So, purely out of a desire for efficiency, I at least temporarily refrained from a complete understanding and for a while, I was content with understanding only on a surface level. To my surprise, this did not lead to me falling behind in Stats, but rather to me soaring ahead. Without my desire for a complete and total understanding bogging me down, I was able to progress a great deal in getting my homework done and in doing well on tests. And unexpectedly, the how and the why came naturally later, on its own. In my journal, I originally called it a leap of faith, but I later I realized it was something else as well. I suddenly understood that I was letting go of or detaching myself from the Statistical principles, just as the Buddha himself would have wanted me to.

This led to what I think may have been the most important connection that I have ever made: Faith is letting go. To have faith is to be non-attached. This may seem a shocking conclusion to come to, and perhaps may even seem heretical, but bear with me. A person with faith goes through life free of any concern. They have faith that God will work out everything in the end. Similarly, a person without ties fettering them to the world is free. They can live life to the fullest without worry, pain or sorrow because all of those things ultimately stem from unnecessary clinging. Providing yet another view to look at this idea, the Taoist principle of Wu Wei (as I discovered soon after) is the same concept to a tee. Wu Wei means roughly "going with the flow" and involves natural action, or "trying without trying". A person who practices Wu Wei gives up the futile struggle to change the world by individualistic actions, and like a person with faith or who practices Nekkhamma, can go through life freed from worry and sorrow.

All of these things have yet another thing in common. They all involve giving something up. For the Christian, it is the sure knowledge of any truth, including God. For the Buddhist, it is attachments to the world. For the Taoist, it is a person's ability to feel in control. But inevitably, when you give these things up, something even better comes to you, of its own accord!

In summary, to have faith, practice non-attachment or to live by the principle of Wu-Wei are the same thing. They all consist of looking beyond a here and now that is full of separateness, temporality and mortality to the source of everything that is good. The Christian looks forward, to the time when God will come and renew the Earth. The Buddhist looks inward toward the deathless Self at the heart of all things. The Taoist looks outward, to a world where everything that seems like conflict is actually harmony. But looking forward, backward, inward, outward, up or down all ultimately lead to the same place: the presence of God. These points of view all involve realizing that the physical world of mortality is in fact transparent glass, through which can be seen pure light.

This metaphor may seem to say that we should "look past" the physical world and only focus on the spiritual. This would be world-denying, and is against the tenets of the LDS faith. However, this is not what I mean. On the contrary, to see the light that shines through something is to fully appreciate that something for what it is: an extension of the light's source. The light of God (or Truth) fills everything that it comes into contact with.

On a final tangent, this is why it is perfectly fine for a mystic to believe in a personal God: the light of the undefinable and unspeakable God completely fills the God we can talk to and pray to, such that they are indistinguishable. To speak of one is to speak of the other. In fact, I would say that to not believe in God in this way, and to try to directly experience the ungraspable, incomprehensible God is tantamount to spiritual rape (the sin of the architects and laborers of Babel). Instead, we should realize that, whether in terms of belief or eternal progression, the road toward the infinite is never-ending. The journey is a marvelous, beautiful process: ever-improving and ever-growing. To participate in it is the ultimate act of faith: we will never actually reach the infinite, but if we can see rightly, we will perceive that its light is always shining upon us and filling us to the brim. 

I hope this has been a delightful post for you. It certainly has been a joy writing it.

And if you read it and have something to say, please comment! I am always willing to learn more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Divine Comedy

A few days ago, I came to a very interesting conclusion. When I was getting ready for P.E. in the locker room, there was a really annoying seventh-grader making really annoying seventh-grade jokes. My peers were there with me, and they expressed to me their frustration with him. However, I was hesitant to join them in putting him down, for the following reasons:

  • I remembered being a seventh-grader and having seventh-grade humor. It seemed hilarious at the time, though I realize now that it was stupid. 
  • I realized that just as we considered him immature, there were older people who considered us immature and probably had a more "advanced" level of humor than we did. 
These things combined made me point out to my peers that all humor is ultimately relative: someone always has a more (and less) advanced style of humor than you do. When they heard this, a particularly clever member of the bunch responded (semi-jocularly): "Okay, then what is God's humor like?". This post is my attempt to answer that question.

I've heard people say that God must necessarily have no sense of humor. Not only is humor not "appropriate" for a celestial monarch, but humor depends on a lack of knowledge, and God knows everything. God would therefore know the punchline to every joke before it has been told. I disagree. In my opinion, God sometimes imposes limitations on himself, on purpose. For example, God could ensure Celestial glory for everyone, but he's not going to. If he did, there would be no point: it's the "getting-there" that's the most important. In exactly the same way, God limits his knowledge so that he, like us, can enjoy a good joke. 

That answers how God can have a sense of humor. But it still doesn't answer my friend's question: what type of jokes does he tell? I thought about it for a while and then came up with another question that I hoped would lead me to the answer: what makes some jokes funnier than others? I decided that it is how unexpected the punchline is. The worst jokes you can see coming. The best jokes are unexpected. They have their punchlines hidden deep below the surface so that when they finally emerge, it happens in a way that you could have never anticipated. Because of this, the best jokes are those whose punchlines are thoroughly obscured and seem to have no point, like meta-jokes, surreal humor or even Seinfeld.

Now, getting back to God, it is only a natural to say that, just as my humor is more advanced than that seventh-grader, God's humor is infinitely more advanced than mine. And if we accept my proposition in the previous paragraph as true, then it naturally follows that God's jokes have the most obscure punchlines of all. To me, this means that God's jokes are so well-crafted that the punchline must be virtually invisible, so that when we get it, it is the funniest thing we have ever heard. I pondered on this for a while, and then came to a startling conclusion: since God's humor must be so well-designed that the point of a joke has to be hidden to all, what better to fit the bill of the ultimate joke than the universe itself? To put it simply: we are a part of the funniest joke ever told

To me it makes perfect sense. God's joke is infinitely subtle. Though it may seem to have no point at times and may even become boring or long-winded, ultimately we realize that those failings were intentional, and actually serve to enhance its humor: the ultimate meta-joke. Its punchline is so well-preserved that until the joke is finished and the punchline is revealed (a.k.a. Christ's second coming to the Earth and its subsequent renewal), only a select few can predict its outcome. The Buddha was one of them. So was Laozi. In fact, that's what having a mystical experience is: seeing the outcome of a joke and realizing the punchline before it happens. This is why many people who have true spiritual experience are so light-hearted. They see the world for what it really is: hilarity, hidden by a sheathing of seriousness.

Some people may say that this is a morbid and even offensive way to look at the universe. How can something like the Holocaust be part of a giant joke? It necessarily trivializes everyone who suffers in the world. May I offer a counterpoint? I don't see viewing the universe as a comedy as trivializing at all. I merely see it as another way of saying that the suffering is for "but a small moment". If we endure it well, we shall see that there is a much greater and more wonderful reality behind all of it. And what better way to look at that wonderful reality than as humor? 

If it helps at all, the movie Life is Beautiful is a very powerful example of how something can be both filled with suffering and be humorous at the same time. It beautifully combines the two, showing that humor and happiness can exist side by side with pain and sorrow, and will in fact eventually triumph over it. I'm sure that there are many more examples, but I trust you get the point.

To reinforce my point, I will also argue from authority. Here are two quotes by two great authors/philosophers:

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

"[The angels sounded] like the laughter of the universe"
-Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy) 

Now, I need to point out that this is only a lens through which to see the nature of God. I am not precisely defining God's reason for creating the world. I am just providing a new way to look at it. I do not mean to exclude other ways of looking at God. I just wanted to share with you a view that I enjoy.
And so I say goodbye for now, hoping that we all someday will get the joke!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


While watching General Conference, I noticed how often they said the word "Amen". In case you didn't know, Amen is the word that Jews, Muslims and Christians use after a prayer or sermon. It is a word of affirmation, dating back from the earliest texts of Judaism. It literally means "So be it", or "truly", with the connotation of "truth" itself. In addition, Jesus Christ himself is referred to as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation" in Revelation.

Now, before I make a connection, I want all of you to know that the following is pure speculation. It could be completely wrong and not based in truth at all. But here it is nonetheless:

The Sanskrit word Aum or Om holds much the same connotation.  It literally means "yes", "it is" or "will be". It has the additional connotation of being a symbol for totality, wholeness and the divine. It is used as an object of concentration when meditating, allowing a person to focus their thoughts on its sounds so that their thoughts to subside. Its constituent sounds, A, U and M, are symbols for the three members of the Hindu trinity: A for Brahma, U for Vishnu and M for Mahadev (another name for Shiva). Incidentally, the A sound is formed in the back of the throat, U in the middle of the mouth, and M on the lips. In each case it symbolizes quite the idea of totality quite well, either in the context of divinity or of vocalization. As if to seal the deal, AUM is recited at the end of prayers.

I don't think I have to say any more to show you the immense similarity between the two words. They both symbolize the eternal, the whole and the truth. As if that weren't enough, they both indicate an acceptance and a peace with what is [Which gives me the idea that perhaps meditation is prayer without words. But I could be wrong, and it's beside the point]. But the connection isn't just limited to these two. Similar-sounding words indicating totality, wholeness, finality, etc. can be found all over the world: Amun (the Egyptian "god of gods"), words beginning with omni- (omniscience, omnivorous, omnipresence, etc.), omega (the last letter of the Greek alphabet).

As to how these similar-sounding words popped up all over the world, I have no idea. Perhaps, although unlikely, they spread from a single center to all of these places. Perhaps it is built into the human consciousness as an archetype (as Jung would tell us). Or perhaps, a little more orthodoxly, it is revelation given from God to all people. 

Anyway, hope you have enjoyed this! Take it with a grain of salt.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Being Mothers of God

Here's a short and sweet post for you. And no, it is not the one I said I was working on in my announcement. That one's still in the works.

Meister Eckhart was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic from the 13th and 14th centuries. His views were quite unorthodox (much like mine), and he was subsequently brought up on charges of heresy against the [Catholic] church by the local Franciscan-led inquisition and was tried before Pope John XXII. He published his famous Defense as a challenge to his accused crimes. However, he died before his verdict was received. However, today he is considered "a good and orthodox theologian" by the Catholic Church.

Anyway, there is a quote of his that I really like. It is as follows:

"We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born."

I had my own understanding of what this means, but it was enhanced by something I heard today in my English class.

We are reading Ceremony, a book by Leslie Marmon Silko about a Native-American man trying to retain his cultural identity in a white world. In an introductory poem, it says the following:

"He [it is not stated who] rubbed his belly./I keep them here (he said)/Here, put your hand on it/See, it is moving./ There is life here/for the people. And in the belly of this story the rituals and the ceremony are still growing."

When he read this, my teacher made a connection. He pointed out the obvious, that it was talking about pregnancy, or at least some form of it. But, interestingly enough, it is a man who is pregnant. To explain this, my teacher pointed out that many religions (Mormonism in particular) emphasize a very physical, spiritual sensation in the belly. In Mormonism, it is called the burning of the bosom. So perhaps that is what Ms. Silko meant,

But I made an even bigger connection. To me, this meant that when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, we are figuratively becoming pregnant with God. We are filled to the brim with God's goodness, love and light. At least to me, this means that God is born in you. It also means that everything that is good about God (his love, his light and his happiness) grows out of you and spreads into the world like grass, improving and permeating everything that you come into contact with.

Right here, I could make a connection with the idea of the hierarchy of Gods, but I trust that you can see the connection for yourselves. Plus, it is late, and I am tired. Here's hoping that you learned something when reading this post. I certainly did while writing it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Things to Come

Hello all!

If any of you are fervent readers of my blog (which I doubt you are), you've probably been disappointed with my lack of posting over the last two years. But I have good news! I'm working on a post that will be uploaded shortly. Hopefully it will go well.

And there is yet more good news! After that, I intend to publish much shorter posts, mostly centering on a single thought I had that day. Hopefully that should lead to more frequent posting.

And I have even more good news! I changed the title of the blog (but not the URL, unfortunately) to Journals of a Mormon Mystics, as opposed to Diaries. I realized that the latter seems way too effeminate.

Anyway, love to you all! You should expect a lot more from this blog in the future.