Monday, July 30, 2012

The Celestial Smorgasbord

Imagine that you are at a banquet, where you were told that your favorite meal is being served. Naturally you are very excited, and, when the menu arrives with that favorite delicacy on it, you are eager to order. However, your server never comes back. You wait....and wait....and wait. Eventually, you pull a passing waiter aside to ask him what's up. He seems amused at your confusion, and he says, as if it were obvious: "But sir, the menu is the meal."

Naturally, if that happened, you'd be sorely disappointed: what you thought would be a delectable meal ended up just being a few layers of laminated paper. However, though it seems silly, this scenario (originally envisioned by Alan Watts) is just an example of the many real-life confusions that happen every day. 

For example, my friend recently began giving me drawing lessons by asking me to draw a CTR ring. However, even after my most valiant efforts, my attempt looked like the most hideous of caricatures. As I watched my friend (a skilled artist) successfully attempt the same illustration, I realized something: my drawing was of my conception of the aforementioned ring, and not of the ring itself. I had spent so much time looking at these items that my mind naturally focused on certain parts at the expense of others, merely out of habit, or convenience. What my friend is able to do, and about which she is continuing to teach me, is the ability to see things as they are, as opposed to how her mind describes them.

Moreover, have you ever noticed how your first impressions of a person rarely indicate who they actually are? Or have you perhaps ever wondered why the more you listen to a song, the more it "gets old"? All of of these are manifestations of the above principle. This is because, in each case, there is a discrepancy between something's appearance and its essence, between how it is described and how it tastes.

A more important manifestation of this confusion dominated my life until very recently. For, as this blog indicates, I have always loved to speculate about spiritual matters. Now, there's nothing wrong with spiritual speculation in and of itself (it's great fun), but it does become a problem when you confuse it with actual spiritual experience. That is what happened to me. I would search and comb doctrines of my religion (and others) for spiritual confirmation, expecting somehow that the pieces would fit together and that things would make sense. But they rarely did. You see, I was deluded; I didn't realize that the Gospel isn't intellectual - it is experiential.  I was at the greatest banquet of all, the titular celestial smorgasbord, but I foolishly tried to eat  the menu, and not the delicious fruit laid out before me.

This expresses a principle very similar to a story you've probably all heard. Very early in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi has a dream where an iron rod leads him to a tree, which has a fruit more delicious than any other he had tasted. Now, as later revealed by Nephi, this dream has a very profound interpretation: the rod is the word of God, while the tree, and its fruit, are His love. However, you should notice that they are not the same thing. In my obsession after doctrine and doctrinal theories, I was trying desperately to bite onto the rod, something that only leads to spiritual toothaches, when all the while the delicious fruit of God was only feet away. It is only when I stopped trying to eat the rod, and instead to hold onto it as a guide, that I actually tasted God's love.

However, despite the rod and the tree's existence as two separate entities, it is also unambiguously true that the former leads to the latter. In fact, this is true for every manifestation of the menu-meal dichotomy. You see, appearance leads to essence - you cannot reach to the heart of something without passing through the many layers that surround it; you can't see the light of a distant planet without looking through a lens; you can in no way eat a meal at a restaurant without looking through the available options in a menu.

This has myriad real-life applications. Returning to art, you can't learn to see things as they are without first seeing them as they appear. Furthermore, you cannot know a person well without having first impressions, and you can't understand the meaning of a book without reading the text. But, most importantly, this principle applies to the Gospel as well. For we cannot experience the love of God without first experiencing his word - reading scripture is necessary for feeling the Spirit. What's more, this principle also applies to the problem of God's body, which I have written about very frequently on this blog. You see, God's body is the outward shell of the eternal, living Reality that is the Light of Christ. However, to experience that light, we must first acknowledge (or even partake of, as in the sacrament) God's corporeal existence.

In conclusion, remember this: the world is a wonderful banquet containing the most delicious food that you can imagine. There are soups of color, salads of sound, and delectable meats of emotion. But, to taste of this smorgasbord, we must first peruse the menu. There is no other way.

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