Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Satan in Mormonism and the Works of Rudolf Steiner

I haven't kept it a secret that I'm a big fan of early-twentieth-century esotericist and mystic Rudolf Steiner. He's a bit "weird," yes: he talks about reincarnation, Atlantis, and previous "planets" that the human race lived on before earth. But seeing as I'm a Mormon, who am I to judge? That's not to say that I literally believe in everything he says; I take a lot of what he says as a symbolic truth more than a literal one. I may get to some specifics later on in this post.

I bring him up today because I just finished a book of Steiner's called Love, Sexuality, and Partnership. It contains all of Steiner's remarks on sexuality, gender, love, and the relationships between the sexes, but what I found most interesting in the book was only obliquely related to those topics. Namely, his discussion of "Lucifer" and "luciferian spirits" struck me as similar to how we Mormons conceive of Satan and the role of evil in the world.

The Mormon take on Satan

Mormons, Satan doesn't have an entirely negative role. He's the embodiment of evil, yes, but as Mormon scripture makes clear, evil is necessary for good's existence. For instance:
"And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet" -D&C 29:39
And this:
"Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other." -2 Nephi 2:16
Satan is kind of a "guarantor" of free will. Without Satan's enticings toward evil, we wouldn't have the contrast necessary to freely choose good. In a way, Satan or Lucifer is therefore what gives us independent being, since if we could onlychoose good, we would only be automatons or "robots" following God without any choice in the matter. By giving us evil, you could say that Satan is what ensures we're individual beings.

Of course, Satan's original plan was to deprive us of free will, so it's ironic that his efforts are now being used against his original intent. However, this doesn't need to involve contradiction. Satan leads us toward evil, and since the root of all evil is selfishness, it makes sense that he's the one who originally gave us an independent, free-choice "self." Since both free will and the possibility for selfishness come from the existence of an independent self, Satan can reasonably be the author of both evil and human agency.

Rudolf Steiner on Lucifer

Rudolf Steiner, on the other hand, said many of these same things. In Steiner's writings, Lucifer is the spiritual being who enabled the human soul to "descend" into the lower spheres of earthly incarnation. This is where the name "Lucifer," meaning "light bringer," becomes relevant--he is effectively the principle that transmutes the astral or "soul" world of love in to the physical world of light (reference Swedenborg's idea that heavenly light is not light as such, but comes from love). In his own words:
"Love and light are the two elements, the two components, which permeate all earthly existence: love as the soul constituent of earthly being, light as the outer material constituent of earthly being. However, for these two elements, which otherwise would exist separately throughout the great course of world existence, to become interwoven, a mediating force is needed that will weave light into love. This is where the luciferic beings come into play....The luciferic beings are at work wherever and whenever our inner soul, which is woven out of love, enters into any kind of relationship with the element of light in any form; and we are, after all, confronted with light in all material existence. When light touches our being in any way whatsoever the luciferic beings appear and the luciferic quality weaves into the element of love.”
Lucifer and his cohort of spirits are the force that connects the physical world of light to the astral world of love. As in the New Age conception that all things are made out of vibrating "energy," everything we experience in the physical world comes from light either "compressed" into opaque matter or rarefied into light proper. The world of light therefore corresponds to Swedenborg's "sensory" level of reality, which is "lower" in the spiritual hierarchy than his heaven, also a world of love. Lucifer is "the great physicalizer;" by tempting Adam and Eve, he brings everything spiritual down a notch into the dense, opaque world of physical "stuff." This nicely corresponds to Mormon doctrine, as you can see above.

But Steiner also writes that Lucifer grants us a level of individuality that would be impossible without evil:
" Through Jehovah, human beings were predestined for a group-soul existence; love was to penetrate into them gradually through blood-relationship. It is through Lucifer that the human being lives as a personality. Originally, therefore, human beings were in a state of union, then of separateness as a consequence of the luciferic principle that promotes selfishness, independence. Together with selfishness, evil came into the world. It had to be so, because without the evil, human beings could not lay hold of the good. When human beings gain victory over themselves, the unfolding of love is possible. Christ brought the impulse for this victory to humans in the clutches of increasing egoism, and thereby the power to conquer evil. The acts of Christ bring together again the human beings who were separated through egoism and selfishness. The words of Christ concerning acts of love are true in the very deepest sense: ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.'"
In this conception, Jehovah gives a oneness without individuality and Lucifer gives individuality but alongside selfishness. A dialectic then starts to become clear: Jehovah's principle of absolute unity and Lucifer's principle of necessary, though selfishness-inducing, independence don't mix well. We need a third, reconciling principle, and that's what Christ's atonement accomplishes. In the Book of Mormon's language, Christ reconciles the demands of justice (the consequences for those who followed their Luciferic independence from others) to the claim of mercy (the reach of divine oneness or love).

Steiner also writes that the "Fall of Man" involved a descent from "world-consciousness" into "self-consciousness." This is what Jung and others call the "participation mystique," where animals and undeveloped people completely project their minds outside of themselves onto their surroundings; Satan extinguished this participation mystique by giving us both self-awareness and selfishness, both consequences of having a separate "self" in the first place. Swedenborg also says this in his Secrets of Heaven: human beings were originally "one" with everything surrounding them, and the fall inherent in leaving the "Garden of Eden" brought us to a spiritual place where a separate "ego" began to develop up and against the world. Separateness--and with it, death--entered our perception at this point, since only a being that perceives the world as separate can really die. Death, after all, is only a withdrawal of a person's innermost being from the outer world, and a person who sees no fundamental barrier between inside and outside or spirit and matter wouldn't really know death at all.

Steiner says quite a bit more about Lucifer when he writes:
As you know, the luciferic spirits have remained stationary at other levels of evolution and bring something foreign into the normal evolutionary process. They are deeply interested in seizing hold of us and preventing us from gaining free will because they themselves have not achieved it. Free will can be gained only on earth, but the luciferic spirits want to have nothing to do with the earth; they want only Old Saturn, Old Sun and Old Moon evolution and nothing beyond this."
"Luciferic spirits" are stuck in their spiritual evolution. They never descended to this physical world, which is a view that Mormons share. Steiner writes that they're stuck in the state of "Old Saturn," "Old Sun" and "Old Moon," which is a particularly weird notion of his. But he writes somewhere that these previous "planets" which human souls inhabited at earlier stages of their spiritual evolution correspond to different spiritual states. That is, "Old Saturn" and "Old Sun" are the human habitation in the "spirit world" before human beings incarnated here, while "Old Moon" is the prior human habitation in the "soul world." When he says that Luciferic spirits are stuck on the Old Moon, he's therefore just saying that they still live in the soul or astral world, which is a notion not at all far removed from Mormon doctrine.

To give a final quotation from Steiner's works, take this passage:
Now Lucifer has the tendency to mix these two worlds [the soul world and the physical world, as above] with each other. In human love, whenever a person loves in the physical sense world for himself with a trace of egoism, it occurs because Lucifer wants to make physical love similar to spiritual love. He can then root it out of the physical sense world and lead it into his own special kingdom. This means that all love that can be called egoistic and is not there for the sake of the beloved but for the sake of the one who loves is exposed to Lucifer’s impulses.
Since he is the guarantor of individuality, Lucifer wants us to become individuals as fully as possible--far more than we should. Instead of our using the physical world to encounter another in his or her own being, he wants us to only love them for our own selfish purposes. Selflessness is anathema to Lucifer; Jehovah's group-soul existence (mentioned above) rubs him entirely the wrong way. Lucifer wants us to see all things as mere means toward our self and our selfishness, and while Steiner says that a degree of self-concern is good for spiritual growth, "love ought to be directed to the self only in order to place it in the service of the world: the rose should adorn itself only to adorn the garden." Love is important; self-consciousness is important. However, love should only be directed at self-consciousness so that it can service the world. The self should be a means, never an end.


I take Steiner as a way that Mormons can fertilize their own faith with new perspective. As I said above, I don't take everything Steiner says at face value. Far from it, actually--he's far too confident in the literal reality of his intuitive experiences for his own good. But I love what I can discern from his intuition "beneath" his words, since I think that stuff is all gold.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Deep Symbolic Reading of Helaman 5

I've known for a while that the Book of Mormon has more secrets buried in it than readers have discovered so far. When I read the Book, it's basically an endless treasure trove of insight, but not just in terms of what I can pull from the Book's teachings or literal story. There is also a lot of undiscovered value in the "nuances" of the Book of Mormon, what isn't directly said by the text but rather slips by almost undetected. The Hebrew poetic forms scholars have found in the Book of Mormon are an example of this insight "hidden in plain sight." I think I may have found another one, and if a Google search is anything to go by, I don't think anyone has had my idea yet.

The Book of Mormon as Image-Based

My new perspective on the Book of Mormon is this: it is written in a style distinctly attuned to images. Though the Book of Mormon's English text at times struggles to lucidly get across its meaning, beneath the awkward language there is a great deal of symbolic, imagistic language. And I don't mean just in the places where it's obvious that the Book is using metaphors. The seemingly plain descriptive prose the text uses also evokes images far beyond what it's literally describing. Think of how often the Book of Mormon uses the phrase "in the midst of," for instance--it's not exactly a metaphor, yet it "resonates" with many symbolic meanings. And in my experience, these subtly evocative images in the Book of Mormon come in three main categories: spatial images like "in the midst of" or "descending out of heaven;" bodily images like "stretch forth thy hand" or "gnashing their teeth upon them;" and material images like "filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire" and "humbling oneself to the dust." These categories also often combine, as when the multitudes in 3 Nephi 11 both lower themselves (spatial) and lower themselves to the dust (material). When considered in this scope, the possibilities for interpreting the Book of Mormon's text become endless. With an eye to these barely noticeable images in the Book, one can potentially read the Book of Mormon without focusing entirely on either its historical context or its internal narrative but on the metaphorical themes composing it, its imaginative composition. This would be a textual reading with an eye to the Book of Mormon's depth, looking deeply into the text to see what makes it up, what makes it so naturally powerful. If you read my post on the resurrection, you'll know what I mean when I say that this kind of a reading would reveal the "matter" in the Book's text, what "matters" in it as substantial and significant.

An Image-Based Reading of Helaman 5

I'm going to introduce this kind of textual reading by using it on one of the Book of Mormon's most evocative chapters: Helaman 5. It depicts two Nephite missionaries, Nephi and Lehi, converting fellow prisoners in a Lamanite jail through a kind of miraculous flame. The relevant part of the chapter begins when Lamanite guards go into the prison so that they might "slay" Nephi and Lehi:
And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they [the Lamanite guards] durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as stuanding in the midst of fire and were not burned. And when they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage. For they saw that the Lamanites durst not lay their hands upon them; neither durst they come near unto them, but stood as if they were struck dumb with amazement. (Verses 23 through 25)
The first sentence in this paragraph combines the "spatial" and "material" images from the schema outlined above: Nephi and Lehi, the protagonists of the story and its main concern, are "encircled about as if by fire." While not dwelling on the phrase "as if" (which turns up quite a lot in the Book of Mormon and therefore requires a blog post to itself), the "encircling by fire" combines the spatial image of a circle with the material image of flame. One the one hand, circles evoke feelings of completeness, centeredness, and the incarnation of infinity in finitude (see my post "One Eternal Round" for more on this image), while on the other hand fire conjures associations of, among other things, a transformation of matter, a kind of "purification" that lets some parts of that matter ascend while letting others burn to a crisp. When you combine these two aspects of the image, the circle of flame around Nephi and Lehi becomes seen as a "forceful centering" of those in the prison. The fire uses its transformative power in service of the circle's centeredness on Lehi and Nephi: it turns the attention of everyone there on the two missionaries by making them the sudden objects of everyone's concern. And though this concern occurs at first as a fear of being burned, it's still doing what fire does best--transformation and transmutation, in this case of the prison's balance of power. Here, the guards reverse roles and become prisoners; the flame burned away the prison's old context and left a new one in its place.

Speaking of which, it's interesting that this scene should take place in a prison of all settings. Prisons are naturally enclosed places, often dark and away from where the sun can fully shine in. Moreover, a prison in pre-Columbian America would have been naturally earthy or associated with the images that come with dirt, mud, and dust. Fire would then feel out of place in such a setting, which makes the contrast in this chapter all the more striking. One almost gets the feeling that the fire is burning away the prison itself, as if the whole purpose of this chapter were to present an image of what is "inside" earth becoming freed from it. This is actually a reasonable reading of the text, since the classical imagination saw fire as a way to free the latent air or "spirit" within a matter like wood and get it to ascend as smoke. Wood is the spirit's prison, and so fire has always been the "jail-breaker" that it appears as in Helaman 5.

However, when the passage goes on to say that the fire encircling them is actually a pillar, a new spatial image adds itself to the mix: verticality. A pillar of fire is not only a circular flame; it's a circular flame that extends indefinitely upward. The pillar's verticality naturally raises the question: what does the pillar vertically extend to? Tall objects connect the "above" to the "below," as in the case of a ladder, a tower, or even a natural pillar. Interestingly enough, the image of a pillar itself evokes associations with "structural stability," something that contrasts with developments about to occur in the text. But for now, it should suffice to note that the pillar of fire resonates with the symbolism of fire I've extracted so far from the text: the pillar, as what connects the below to the above, actively relates the "height" of spirit to the earthy ground. This image evokes the idea of material transmutation even more: whereas earth is naturally "horizontal," the pillar's verticality--when combined with fire's ascensional nature--further brings out the way fire naturally transforms what it touches. Whereas before those in the prison were bound to a horizontal (a temporal?) point of view, a pillar of fire again forcefully changes their perspective, not just toward the center, but upward as well.

After Nephi and Lehi speak to the prisoners there, the narration continues:
And behold, when they had said these words, the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison did shake as if they were about to tumble to the earth; but behold, they did not fall. And behold, they that were in the prison were Lamanites and Nephites who were dissenters. And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them. And it came to pass that there came a voice as if it were above the cloud of darkness, saying "Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings. (Verses 27 through 29)
Here, the symbolic theme of fire vs. earth continues. Both the walls of the prison and the earth itself shake, giving the reader a sense that the solid stabilities of the prior reality are beginning to falter. Fire is burning away the rigidity of an "earthy" way of being where there is no translucency and no ascension. Earth as "only" earth is naturally dull, languid, and opaque--it is the opposite of spiritual life's goal for ascent and a transparent "seeing through" of idols. So in reality, it is the fire itself that causes the prison to quake; flame robs the building of its stability by letting that stability evaporate as spirit.

The way the fire forcefully refocused the prisoner's attention becomes more apparent here. Whereas before that change of focus was only implicit in the way the fire called attention to Nephi and Lehi, now everything outside the flame becomes dark. Could it be that this "cloud of darkness" just refers to the prison's natural light, now seen as dim only because of the fire's brighter light? It wouldn't be the first time a religious writer had used such an image: Emanuel Swedenborg describes how earthly light (as opposed to heavenly light) looks like thick darkness from the perspective of heaven, since the former is material and the latter is spiritual. Combined with the associations of a prison, I think a similar reading of this text could be fruitful: by the light of the fire, the prisoners see their imprisoned state more clearly than before. Prisons are naturally dark, yes; but they are all the more dark when a bright light like a flame illuminates it from within.

This awesome depiction of Helaman 5 was made by a fellow named Joshua Cotton. Kudos to him!
On that topic, when the chapter speaks of a voice coming as if from "above" the cloud of darkness, it gives more evidence for my reading of the text so far. The voice comes from above; that is, it transcends the "horizontal" limitations of a perspective attuned to imprisonment, earth, and earth's inherent opacity. Moreover, this image strongly corresponds to a similar image in the anonymously written medieval work The Cloud of Unknowing, which discusses another "dark cloud' (which the book is named for) surrounding the believer when deep in prayer. The cloud is actually God's manifest presence as it appears from an earthly perspective, and so the author encourages the reader to progress to the point where they see it as a kind of light. But until that point, the author actually says that God appears "above" the Cloud of Unknowing and invites the reader to pierce through it to Him with a fervent impulse of love" much like the prisoners in Helaman 5 will soon do to great success.

The next few paragraphs repeat the same images multiple times. Specifically, the voice calling them to repentance speaks three times, a number which is neither accidental nor insignificant. The voice also says at one point that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand," which also has important implications. While one might reasonably say that the voice refers to the imminent coming of Christ to the earth, I find it more likely that the "kingdom of heaven is at hand" for the prisoners there at that moment. That is, through the fire's transformation and its subsequent revelation of spirit, those there are coming closer to God. It is a refining fire, as others have noted not a few times.
The story continues by describing a particular prisoner's deeds:
Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them. And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven and were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld. (Verses 35 through 36)
So far, we have read this chapter as concerning the purification of earthly or earthy limitation by fire. Earth is a naturally dark substance, and so when fire illuminates it from within, that darkness becomes apparent in the light of something "brighter." When the text says that the Nephite "saw through" the cloud of darkness to the faces of Nephi and Lehi, we can also read that "seeing through" as connected to the dichotomy between earth and fire. As Gaston Bachelard and James Hillman repeatedly point out in his works, the archetype of "earth" is one that naturally tends toward literalism and idolatry. 

Earth wants to block the divine light from coming through, and so it takes effort for one to "see through" earth's elemental opacity toward the inward reality it would conceal. Here, the Nephite imprisoned until now in earth makes that effort requisite to look past earth's opacity toward what lies within it. And the fire he finds there--which is both "round" and "vertical"--thus at once offers refinement, wholeness, and transcendence. Likening this procession of images to real life, we could read it as the way a person living their life suddenly sees it as a prison, only to see something bigger, brighter, and more complete beyond (and yet within) it. This "something" is what the Spirit brings: fire's purification, circularity's completeness, and verticality's connection to "the above."

As the story continues, the Nephite cries to the other prisoners so that they can also look to Nephi and Lehi in the midst of the flames. They ask why Nephi and Lehi appear to be talking to someone else, and the Nephite (now named Aminadab) says that "They do converse with the angels of God." Then comes the climax of the chapter:
And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him, "What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? 
And Aminadab said unto them, "You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. 
And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed. And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea, every soul, by a pillar of fire. And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, kthey were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not; neither did it take hold upon the walls of thre prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
The cloud of darkness "overshadows" them: it acts as a "shadow over" them, veiling them from whatever dwells above. This cloud acts as a visible representation of the opacity proper to earth and its literalism; it's an obstacle to "seeing through" the world to heaven, its light, and its fire. So when Aminadab says that they must repent to disperse the fire, he's effectively saying that one must turn toward the fire in the midst of earth (or rather, the Spirit in the midst of matter and everyday life) in order to break free from imprisonment in earth's literalism and idolatry. More practically, this means that you have to turn toward the manifestations of God in your life (appearing in it like a pillar of fire) to stop feeling like that life is a prison.

And they do this to incredible results. They "cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth," or rather, they cry out to the God whose fiery reality made their earthy reality seem lesser by comparison. And when they do this, they "cast their eyes about" (i.e. in all directions or even "everywhere"), and all they can see is the pillar of fire. The prison--while still there--is no longer a prison per se. The prison's limitation and finitude instead have the fire's inward infinity inside it. Or in other words, the fire has burned away finitude's opposition to infinity--because the fire "opens up" to heaven with its verticality, the finitude of whatever "prison" one may be in (a job, a family, a relationship, or even a body) reveals itself as just a "container" for an inward limitlessness.

Moreover, since "every soul" is encircled about by a pillar of fire, we can assume that the aforementioned purification, centeredness/completeness, and verticality proper to that pillar have become applicable to everyone in that situation. Where before they were stained with dirt, now they are clean; where they had been de-centered and incomplete, now they are complete and whole in themselves; and where they had been before been exclusively "horizontal," now they are also "vertical." And while this revelation might strike some as frightening or even painful, the fire "did harm them not," meaning that their openness to the flame let its effects come upon them without the pain that comes from resisting it.

Finally, "the joy which is unspeakable and full of glory" suggests that they have entered a reality where words and speech no longer apply. This is nothing unfamiliar to mystical religion: Swedenborg talked about how much wisdom he learned in the higher heavens simply could not descend with him back to the world; Rudolf Steiner similarly speaks of the knowledge of higher worlds as incompatible with earthly memory; and Ludwig Wittgenstein writes in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that "Whereof one cannot speak [what he says lies "beyond the world"], thereof one must be silent." Aminadab, Nephi, and Lehi have reached a state that words (as least words of earthly speech) can't capture. The words themselves are prisons, ones that can't explain everything within them. Words may describe the fire (as they do in the chapter) but those words will always be inadequate; they're "bigger on the inside."

The chapter finishes with the following passage:
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying, "Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well-Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world. 
And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them. And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
In this last bit, many entities come "vertically" to the prison: the Holy Spirit, "marvelous words," "a pleasant voice," and angels from heaven. I think it's appropriate to read the pillar of fire--which has an intrinsically vertical component--as a kind of bridge between earth and heaven. The Spirit, angels, voice, and words all come across that bridge, able to go between heaven and the finitude of "earth" using it. Likewise, I think the fire in our hearts or the "burning in the bosom" is this same kind of bridge: it allows revelation, peace, and divine assistance to come down from heaven. Moreover, this can happen even if we are in the "prison" of our life's finitude, since the fire doesn't ever tear it down.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Dream about Joseph Smith, Swedenborg, and Fallout 4

If you read the post on my dream about the Book of Mormon and a wedding from last September, you'll know that when I accidentally fall asleep on the couch in my family's living room, I'll often have very vivid dreams. So guess what? I fell asleep there again, and I had another vivid, enlightening dream, this time involving Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and the recently released video game Fallout 4.

It looks like these kinds of "dream posts" might become a regular feature on my blog. So let me clarify some things on how I'll go about them: first, don't expect any too intimate personal details about my life. If you can figure them out from the dream itself, good for you, but I won't put them into the interpretation. After all, James Hillman said that dreams are necessarily polyvalent or mean multiple things, so I'll only "extract" the parts having to do with the world at large. Second, know that I'm not really "interpreting" the dream, per se. It's more like I'm letting the dream interpret life, so that it teaches us what's important about life and lets us think of it in new ways. And finally, like the last post, I'll edit out the names of anyone you might know from real life whose image pops up in the dream. It might be embarrassing for them otherwise, after all.

So without further ado, here's the dream:
I'm in a dark, under-construction place like the theater when it was getting new seats. We're in groups of people putting on skits, each one supposed to demonstrate to the others what we've learned. Eventually it comes time for our group to perform next, but I realize that--even though we've made a vague outline--we're not ready. So we decide to go to Diamond City [the main settlement in Fallout 4], where we'll go on the radio station and broadcast our skit, which is now a song, to the whole Wasteland. When we get there, the host has already started playing our song, and he says that we're called "The Eagles," a name which he says is offensive, but he doesn't really care. But it's just dead air. When we get there, we tell him to stop so we can actually perform the song. He delays a bit, when I realize that the dead air was actually music to which we could improvise lyrics. So I pen them down quickly and tell everyone to harmonize with me. It works. Going away from the radio station and Diamond City, our group goes up a hill toward a mountain, hoping to go beyond the Wasteland entirely. But a woman stops us, saying that "you can't travel in time!" She lassoes the rest of the group, but I press onward nonetheless. She tries to catch up with me, but I startle her by observing that she's the late Billy Mays' daughter. She grudgingly follows me up the mountain, poking fun at the fact that I can't ascend as easily as I would like. But she lends her "Endurance" to me (another Fallout 4 reference), so that our scores combine together. Near the top, I almost can't make it and consider turning back. But then the woman tells me to take the Swedenborg book I'd been holding in my left hand and put it in my backpack, so I can use both hands for climbing. I do that, and before we know it, we're at the final stop before the last ascent. The place is green and nicely paved, with a clear blue sky very different fromt the Wasteland below. It's called "Swedenborg's Landing." There's a church on this landing which I go into, where I read a book on the altar which talks about a sculpture somewhere in Utah that depicts Joseph Smith reaching through a veil to Swedenborg. It says that Joseph Smith and Swedenborg were both efforts by the "heaven" side of the veil to reach the "femme fatale" that is the earth itself. The book also gives a map of North America about 10,000 years ago, when humans were just starting to flow in. There was a lot more water there, then, and I realize that those humans must have been Swedenborg's "Earliest Church."
This dream paints a picture of the human condition in the world: we are in the darkness of earthly matter, almost as if we were underground, away from the light of heaven. It's like the Wasteland of Fallout 4--the world has fallen away from what it once was, and all that's left is a dusty, dirty husk. We're all in a theater: a place where we as fallen beings try to re-enact higher principles that we learn here like actors. In that way we're enacting Swedenborg's "Doctrine of Correspondences:" since the universe is a "theater representative of the spiritual world," we need to act out the right roles. But we've messed up, missed the boat, squandered our time, as I think many of us have.This is sin: acting out the wrong roles or forgetting that this lower existence, this "wasteland" is a play at all, the definition of idolatry (not seeing the role in the actor but only seeing the actor).

The "Diamond City" we go to is what one Fallout 4 character calls "the great green jewel of the Commonwealth." It's a refuge of life and of growth in the middle of the earth's wasteland, vividly green despite the drab colors everywhere else, a lot like the enclaves of human love and spirit in a fallen world. And when we go to a radio station hoping that someone will hear our song, it's like prayer: going to a sacred place in my heart (green, according to the chakra color scheme, a color which some medieval thinkers associated with the Holy Spirit), where I can send a message directly above the commotion of this world to God. And while in that central, green broadcasting place, even though we don't know any songs, we astonishingly realize that we have music given to us already. This music is the subtle life behind everything (what some might call "energy" and is doctrinally "The Light of Christ"), and the improvised lyrics correspond to the way a person can adapt his or her actions, words, and thoughts to fit the spirit of the situation. Because this works well in the dream, maybe improvisation is the best way to follow the Spirit.

Afterwards, when we try to go up toward the highest place in the area, we're hoping that we can commune with what lies there: God, heaven, the light, or perhaps even that music. But there is a woman there who tries to stop us, who tells us that we'd be breaking the laws of time by going up there. She is a personification of the rigidity of earth-life itself--the earth as a woman (as the earth is often seen), but a strict, embittered one. When she lassoes us old-west style, she's acting out the archetypal "Devouring Mother," the variety of the mother/earth principle that wants to absorb all development back into herself. But, of course, I escape her snare. I tell her that she's Billy Mays' daughter, meaning that she's very practical, efficient, and cheap, like his products (that is, not concerned with higher things). She--as the earth--is now exclusively focused on solutions and efficiency: time, in other words. She resents timelessness, and she wants to stop all of us from getting to the timeless.

This isn't how she naturally is, though. She's fallen: she's the daughter of Zion, but she hasn't yet arisen from the dust (the dust of the Wasteland). She's still stuck in literalism, bound by "the collective gaze of our idolatry." So I lead her out, despite her resentment. She follows me up the mountain, both of us coming closer and closer to God. She can do the ascent if she wanted to; she's capable enough, but she just doesn't want to go there. In other words, the earth can ascend to its purified state, but it's stuck in its ways; we have to help lead her out. She goes with me because she wants to capture me, but she becomes fonder of me as we go. When she lends me some of her "endurance," the earth is giving me some of her "soul" and lets both of us ascend as one, each bringing the other up to God. And eventually (symbolized by putting the book in my backpack) we have to give up pursuing knowledge and instead bear that knowledge, using our hands to climb instead of researching how to climb.

Swedenborg's Landing" is the place where Swedenborg "landed," where he met with heaven, where heaven met with him, and where he meets anyone who wants to follow his visionary example. The statue I read about there depicts Joseph Smith reaching through the veil to Swedenborg, almost as if he wanted to bring the two sides of the veil together. Swedenborg was excellent at "seeing through" the spiritual world: he taught about the hidden meaning of the Bible, what was beyond its veil. But this isn't very practical, and the incredibly small numbers of Swedenborg's modern followers testify to Swedenborg's lack of practical appeal. When Joseph Smith said, in real life, that "Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished," it strikes me as possible that he was talking about dense and esoteric Swedenborg is. So in this dream, Joseph is reaching to that hidden meaning across the veil while standing firmly in this world, bringing the hidden meaning down and incarnating it in terms that everyday people can understand. He's doing what Swedenborg could not do: reconciling the actual, concrete earth to the hidden meanings of things beyond the veil, as if through synthesis (like when I shared my "endurance" with the earth-woman). This manifests in the way he didn't distinguish between the symbolic (heavenly) and the literal (earthly), but treated the literal as symbolic and vice versa, infusing each with the other's value.

The bit about the earth being a "femme fatale" is a particularly clever move by the dream. It's talking about the woman whom I brought up and who brought me up, the feminine being who's focused on fatality and fatalism: the limits of time, space, and causation. I bring her out of that, and in that way I re-enact Swedenborg and Joseph Smith's purpose according to the dream. They're supposed to bring the earth out from hiding in its fatalistic imprisonment to the freedom of high places. This would redeem the Wasteland: it would renew the earth and bring the physical up to meet the spiritual.

The last bit of the dream talks about something else in that book: North America as it was first populated. This implicitly references the Book of Mormon, and I knew at the time that it was also talking about Swedenborg's "Earliest Church," whom he says are the paradisiacal first state of humans in history, whom I identify with pre-historic hunter-gatherers (like those who crossed the Bering Strait into North America). So what I gather from this dream is that, like Joseph Smith's synthesis, it brings together the symbolic meaning of the "Lehites" (Nephites and Lamanites) in the Book of Mormon with that of the Earliest Church: they are both what "comes out" from God, what descends from what would later be called Swedenborg's Landing to the promised land, which would become a Wasteland.

In sum, it's our job to redeem that Wasteland, to help the woman personifying it rise up toward God, to "arise from the dust" and meet her husband at Swedenborg's landing, where heaven meets earth and they become one. And this is already underway, if my dream means anything.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Testimony in Light of the Church's Policy Change

Yesterday, the news came that--according to new Church policy--children of those in a same-sex relationship will no longer be considered eligible for a name and a blessing or to be baptized. Many are incensed. Still more are deeply saddened. I have seen people on social media and in my own family begin to question things they had always held to be true. It's devastating to me, personally: not because I'm losing my testimony but because I'm seeing so many people I know and love begin to lose theirs. So I feel like it's my duty to give my perspective if only to strengthen those trees of faith breaking under the stress of doubt's wind.

I'm not going to give a clever way that the Church leaders are right in all of this, despite everything that appears contrary to that. It might be the case that this is a huge misunderstanding and that, somehow, we've all gotten scared of nothing. But I personally doubt that will happen in any big way. No, in this post I'm acknowledging that, yes, the Church has done something morally wrong in the objective sense of the phrase. It's a tragedy that will alienate members from their families and tear families apart. But of course, this wouldn't be the first time that the leaders of the Church have done something immoral. Didn't Joseph Smith have many secret wives, with some of whom we now definitively know he had actual intercourse? Didn't the Church declare as doctrine for over a hundred years that black people were ineligible for the priesthood? And it wasn't just "culture" or "cultural practices"--it was doctrine in the same way that most teachings today are doctrine.

Church leaders and prophets are imperfect. This is an increasingly common refrain among members trying to reconcile their image of prophets with stark realities. But have you ever considered that a prophet or prophets could do something blatantly, morally wrong? This happens, as much as we don't like to think about it. But this doesn't mean that they're not inspired, and it doesn't mean that God isn't using them for His own purposes. Adam S. Miller eloquently says on this point that:
“While it is scary to think that God works through weak, partial, and limited mortals like us, the only thing scarier would be thinking that he doesn’t.”
God works with sinners--who else does he have? Murderers like Moses, persecutors of the church like Paul and Alma the Younger, thieves, and prostitutes are all tools in God's hands. The Church may be on the wrong moral foot here (and again, I may be proven wrong), but God knows this and is working more largely and deeply than we can see at the moment.

For God and His work isn't the Church. As far as I can tell (and drawing on thinkers like Terryl and Fiona Givens), He has delegated the leaders of the Church authority to do and teach what they think is best at the moment. This doesn't mean that Thomas S. Monson has a white phone in his office where Christ can ring him up and tell him this and that to teach. Instead, the leaders do what they think is best through the medium of their own limitations. And mistakes will be made in this process--as they have again and again in the past. Does this mean that God isn't at the head of His church, that God's and His servant's voice isn't one and the same? Not quite. Like a parent letting his child fall over as that child is learning to ride a bike, God effectively says: "whatever you decide, I'll honor." It isn't that God changes His mind--we do, and God goes with it based on His trust in the leaders of the Church.

And God has his eye on the far future here. I'm confident that--somehow--God will take this stumble and transmute it into goodness and love like He always does. An intuition I have is that it will purify the faith of those who really desire to have faith, getting them to the point where they no longer idolatrously worship leaders and instead worship God for God's sake. Or perhaps not, but I have hope (in the scriptural sense) that everything will work out toward the end of the gathering of Israel and the coming of Christ to the earth.

But the questions on many of your minds might be: "since the church's policies don't make sense, why should I desire to have a testimony and believe in its teachings? What's so special about the Church in the first place?" Let me tell you. In the Church, I have seen miracles. The trials of faith I've gone through--in which the Church's policies gave me repeated self-hatred and remorse--have been transmuted to my good; I wouldn't be the same person I am today without them, and without them I most likely wouldn't be nearly as happy as I am today. In taking the sacrament, I've experienced peace and comfort to transcend everything I felt during the week. I've experienced both myself and others suddenly start speaking things in church which they didn't plan or even think about beforehand, but which left everyone there full of the Spirit's fire. And in the temple, I have openly and profusely wept when getting confirmed for one of my ancestors, a feeling I didn't anticipate and which doesn't make sense from a secular perspective. Even now I feel tears coming to my eyes as I remember the goodness and love I've felt in the Church.

I bear you my solemn testimony that the Church is true--this doesn't mean that the leaders are perfect or that everything that comes out of their mouths is objectively right. Instead, it means that God is here with us, that his sacred fire and his life circulate through and between us like blood, that we are all connected together through an atonement and a gathering that are making themselves known now more than ever. It means that despite whatever disappointments and setbacks we experience in the Church, faith, hope, and love will always prevail and have the last word. And it means that even now, through the tears and the sorrows we're feeling, God is coming ever closer to the world and the gathering is getting that much closer to its realization.

I bear you my testimony that God lives and that He is here in the Church. I have felt Him again and again, and--though I'm not sure why--I know that these setbacks will only bring Him closer to the world. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why Halloween is Still about the Dead

Hello, all! Halloween is upon us once again, and I just realized that I've never really done a Halloween post. So why not do it right now?

Halloween is the time of year when we think most about the abnormal. From haunted houses to costumes to skeletons on the lawn, October 31st calls on us to abandon our traditional ideas of what's proper and explore different ways of being. The concept of "death" is also a big part of Halloween, but this preoccupation with death is really just another version of the abnormal focus Halloween does best. In so many words, Halloween is what shows us the "underside" of human reality, the side of it opposite to the one we normally see.

Knowing this, what gets me about our culture's idea of Halloween in contrast to, say, Mexico's Day of the Dead is that our idea of death is almost unanimously associated with horror and the macabre. Just watch any zombie or ghost movie and you'll see what I mean. Why is this the case? I'd wager that it's because we as a culture are terrified of death. Or perhaps more clearly, we're so terrified that we put it out of our mind and give it no thought, like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

But in addition to the way we ignore death, we also ignore the dead. Most people outside the LDS church (and many within it, I'm sure) have no idea who their ancestors are past their first set of grandparents. This means that there are legions of the dead who aren't remembered at all, something I'm sure doesn't lack consequences. If there's one idea that occurs in cultures the world over, it's that the dead demand our memory of them, and we have come up drastically short in that department.

The dead aren't just buried in the ground, and they aren't just invisible wisps of air floating here and there. No, the dead are within us and between us. Swedenborg says this, as does psychologist Carl Jung when he writes in his Red Book about...:
"...the dead, not just your dead, that is, all the images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history, the ghostly procession of the past, which is an ocean compared to the drops of your own life span. I see behind you, behind the mirror of your eyes, the crush of dangerous shadows, the dead, who look greedily through the empty sockets of your eyes, who moan and hope to gather up through you all the loose ends of the ages which sigh in them. Your cluelessness does not prove anything. Put your ear to that wall and you will hear the rustling of their procession.
As with Halloween, the dead dwell on the side of life we don't see: the underside, even the under-world. And to avoid literalizing the whole thing, the dead aren't just actual departed human beings, but anything and everything which exists but to which we haven't given heed. Among these dead, I think, is the "soul" belonging to animals, to the world, to fiction, and even to things. Yes, you heard me right. Psychologist James Hillman even talks about how "inanimate" objects resent the way we treat them as soul-less in his work Alchemical Psychology:
"Technology is cursed by our mechanical idea of it. It is the great repressed, the unconscious, the realm of the dead, forced to carry the egocentric unimaginative demands we put on it: labor-saving, cost-efficiency, productivity, uniformity, speed. It may break down--only wear out and be thrown away....These things have taken their revenge. The repressed alsways does, by insinuating our notion of them into our notion of ourselves: ourselves as mechanical functions, assemblies of parts, enduring stress and friction, attempting objectivity, until we, too, oxidize in 'burn-out.'"
The dead today rest uneasily. We have given them no thought and no heed, and, as a result, they "stand behind [us], panting from rage and despair at the fact that [our] stupor does not attend to them" (again from the Red Book). Ideally the dead and the living should stand side by side, each helping one another and each interpenetrating with the other's world. But people today don't even think about death, let alone offer the dead propitiation.

I believe that the dead have resorted to forcefully interposing their will on us. This has happened time and time again throughout history--whenever something is forgotten, the corresponding dead rise up and force us to remember them. Think of World War I and how it almost mockingly replaced the propriety of Victorian Europe with an influx of new culture and ideas. In the years surrounding the war, everything changed: this is when Jung wrote his Red Book, when Joyce wrote Ulysses, when Picasso started painting, and when all those stodgy Victorian values evaporated in a flash of shorter skirts and jazz music. I wouldn't be the first person to say that that surge in culture came about by means of the dead from ages past, breaking in through the hole in our consciousness that was the Great War.

They're doing this again today. What our cultural images of a "zombie apocalypse" represent is our unconscious recognition that our way of life is unsustainable, that the dead want acknowledgment from our hearts and mind. But what would this involve? Could it be that--like zombies--they want us to participate in the dead's secret life, to "become-dead?" If true, their subtlest trick would be to come and influence us on that day of the year that was always theirs: Halloween. Originally a day to honor the dead, they--as the repressed, the unconscious--have snuck into our celebration by getting us to honor them more than on any other day. When else do we give up our identity to act out an identity that is neither proper, ours, or even possible? When else do so many people give up their sense of propriety to explore, to dance, to party? Halloween is still the day it has always been--it's when the dead join the living as equals.

But can we extend this principle by, to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, keeping the spirit of Halloween with us all the year? Maybe instead of dressing up as a cat, a potato, or Captain America we can try always remember the soul of the cat, the object, and the fiction, acknowledging their life, their soul, their spirit. Maybe we can always be willing to "try on" new identities, never regarding ours as fixed but only as a costume itself. For beneath all of our masks lay the dead, with us always, and always having a share in our life. Let's remember them on this day of the dead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Resurrection that "Matters"

Resurrection has always puzzled me. As if the scientific problems with a resurrected body weren't issues enough, the notion of going back to a physical, limited body seemed distasteful. Why would anyone want to be in this one human body forever and ever? Isn't eighty years in it quite enough? As the desirable thing Mormons paint it out to be, it didn't strike me as very appealing. And other questions arise: how does the resurrected body "work?" Is it temporal or timeless? Is it somehow infinite and if so, how? All in all, resurrection seemed altogether too "fuzzy" a concept for me to put much stock in.

But a fuzzy concept also leaves room for interpreting that concept. While the traditional notion of resurrection might strike me as distasteful, I've stumbled upon a conception of it that rubs me the right way. I'm going to give it here for your reading pleasure

What's the Matter?

In a similar way to my reincarnation post from earlier this month, I'll start by asking: "what is resurrected?" It's certainly not the physical "stuff" that makes me up right now, at least not in a literal sense; all it takes to go against that idea is the remembering fact that the matter in my body circulates in and out over a cycle of x many years, leaving none of material that originally composed it. No, I think that what is really resurrected isn't my physical body at all. Despite what others might say, I don't think that matter in its deepest sense is just composed of atoms, molecules, and chemicals--it's broader and deeper than that. The real nature of matter reveals itself in our language. When we ask "what's the matter with you?" or "this really matters," our words are more than just fluff. "What's the matter" is matter, in its real sense: the impressions, feelings, hopes, and dreams that our lives are built out of. This matter--what matters--is the substance of our convictions, what really means something to us, what gives weight to the stuff in our lives.

You can discern that matter if you're perceptive enough. When walking into a room, ask yourself: in what way do I feel different from how I feel in other rooms? When talking to another person, try to pay attention to the different "flavors" of interaction that come out between you. And when reading a book, notice the different feelings and emotional impressions that seem to "waft" from the pages. In each of these cases, what you're noticing is the matter of the situation, "what's the matter" there. And I used words like "flavor" and "waft" above quite deliberately--Emanuel Swedenborg described how auras--an analogous concept to what I'm talking about--are an awful lot like smells. For instance, he gives examples of this concept deep in his multi-volume work Secrets of Heaven:
Some have indulged in mere physical pleasure, without developing any neighborly love or any faith. Their aura smells like excrement. The same is true of those who have carried out a life filled with adultery, although their stench is even worse....When an aura of charity or faith is perceived as a smell, it yields intense pleasure. The smell is sweet, like the smell of flowers, of lilies, of different types of perfume, with unlimited variety.

Dream Matter

These auras are ways that the "stuff" underlying the situations in my life can come into sight. Likewise, this is the "stuff" which dreams are made on, quite literally: when I see my childhood house in a dream, there I'm seeing its matter, the colors, shapes, and textures that rendered it emotionally significant to me. So too with my friends and family: in dreams, I see what matters to me about them, for good or for bad.

Dreams "harvest" what matters in my life and shows it to me at night. So when Alma the Younger wrote that "that which ye do send out shall return unto you again" (Alma 41:15), he could thus just as well have been talking about this deeper matter. Moreover, Rudolf Steiner wrote somewhere (and I'm paraphrasing) that sleep is analogous to death. When I sleep, my body becomes still and I lose consciousness. But more than this, in sleep I go to a place in many respects like the spiritual world. As with Emanuel Swedenborg's descriptions of that world, in dreams I can go to places and make things appear with the power of desire and thought. Moreover, dreams speak using the symbolic language that both Steiner and Swedenborg say is characteristic of the spiritual world.

The Matter of Resurrection

If dreams harvest the deeper "material" of my life, could the same be said of "what dreams may come" after death? With death, I likewise conclude that this world of molecules and atoms is just food for the world of "higher" matter, of matter that matters." To use another image, this world is a fertile ground where seeds from that higher world can mature into fruit-bearing plants--the soil is just there so that the seed can have the nutrients it needs to realize itself. Or to use yet another image, this world is a mirror by which a higher being--made of higher matter--can see and realize itself as an object.

It is this higher being that gets resurrected, and the resurrected body is the aforementioned mature plant or image in a mirror. To my understanding, resurrection is the process by which a nascent being of this "higher" matter comes into itself, using "lower" matter as a foil. That higher matter's infinity (read: unboundedness) needs limitation and finitude to realize itself. To use a parable, the rushing fullness of water is useless unless it has a limited vessel to contain it, and an empty vessel is useless unless it contains the fullness of water. In this process, infinity and finitude meet and enter into marriage--both are worthless without the other. And the resurrection proper happens at the consummation of that marriage, when the boundless matter of infinity--again, what really "matters"--realizes its own nature in the looking-glass of finite, lower matter. In that consummation, infinity contains itself in limitedness and finitude realizes its own endlessness. The bounded and the boundless meet and become one.

But here's the real question: when does resurrection happen? If I'm being completely honest, I'll say that resurrection occurs whenever the "matter that matters" completely sees itself in the world's material. The last two Christmases have been like this for me. On both days, I experienced a closeness with my family that rarely comes on other days These were moments of love and joy when I saw what really mattered right in front of me--the matter of eternity laid bare, evident for me to see. But it also happens when I look into my girlfriend's eyes and time seems to stop--there's just us and what matters between us. These are a kind of resurrection--matter raised out of the drab obscurity of atoms and molecules to see itself perfectly.

But what about the resurrection, that ultimate consummation of the world's purpose toward which we're all heading? Well, I've had intimations and intuitions of a big change coming. By and large, the world is suffocating in the fire of desire--we want infinite satisfaction from finite objects and bodies, which, of course, can never happen. But, whether through pain or disappointment, we'll eventually realize the futility of this quest. At this point, the resurrection will happen when we stop clutching at the glass of the lower matter's mirror and instead see through it. We don't really want the literal matter of wealth, titillating bodies, or exciting new gadgets: we want what matters--spiritual matter, the matter of eternity, revealed for all to see. And it will happen, I have no doubt.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Love, Wisdom, and the Root of Being

The eighteenth-century Christian mystic and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg gave a metaphysical worldview in his books with an elegance I haven't seen anywhere else. He taught that God is identical with principles he called "love" and "wisdom," concepts he compared to heat and light; goodness and truth; substance and form; reality and manifestation; female and male; respectively. God thus exists wherever love and wisdom do, whether in my love for my girlfriend or your learning truth from a book. But love and wisdom have another aspect: Swedenborg explained that love--as the principle corresponding to un-manifest reality--is invisible as such. Love only becomes visible through wisdom. To put it differently, as the principle of invisible reality, love only becomes visible to itself by "looking" in wisdom as if it were a mirror. Wisdom is, therefore, the means by which the invisible heart of being becomes visible.

Love and wisdom in the mind

This principle actually plays out in our minds, and I think part of Swedenborg's genius lies in how well he's able to interpret mental movements too "deep" to interpret using normal language. He says that, just as love sees itself through wisdom, feelings see themselves through thoughts. Thought is the "making-visible" of feeling, or rather the way by which feeling expresses itself to our conscious awareness. This happens through a principle he calls correspondenceA feeling existing on an imperceptible level sees itself in thought as an image that corresponds to that feeling's nature. The spontaneous positive and negative thoughts we hear in our heads are examples of how this works: when I hear a thought that says "you're loved" or "you don't need to worry," Swedenborg would say that they are reflecting an underlying heavenly feeling so as to bring it to my awareness. So too with negative thoughts: heard mental phrases like "you're terrible" or "you shouldn't even have tried" are visible expressions of self-critical feelings too subtle to notice. However, this correspondence between feeling and thought also happens in the mind's eye, in daydreams, and in night dreams.

Love and wisdom in conversation

But an amazing thing Swedenborg teaches is that this reflection of love into wisdom doesn't just happen in our minds--it happens everywhere. A particularly powerful example of this process happens in social interaction. The body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice I make when I talk with another person are also mirrors for those underlying loves (desires for some end--the root of all feeling), and they spontaneously change to better reflect the loves' changes. And if you pay close attention to the subtleties of body language, you'll see the principle of correspondence mentioned above at play. If I cross my arms when talking to you, it means I feel relatively uncomfortable--I'm holding myself in, protecting myself. I don't want to cross the bridge from me to you or let you cross the bridge to me, so I erect a barrier with my arms to keep us apart. But if I open my eyes widely while talking to you, I'm fascinated--I can't get enough of what you're saying, so I open my eyes (the doors to my soul) as wide as possible so as to let more in.

Love and wisdom in art

Music and literature also display love through wisdom. In music, the underlying loves show up clearly and viscerally. The loves or feelings are there for all to hear in the notes, melodies and harmonies, as anyone who enjoys music will know. And fiction shows forth loves in its own unique way. By telling a story, the characters each exemplify a different love or combination of loves--each a different "color" of love. By showing the way they interact and come to a resolution, the author (wittingly or not) shows the ways these different emotional players habitually relate to each other. Thus, there's value in "likening" your life to fictional books as well as scripture; just like with the Book of Mormon (though ultimately in a less powerful way), I can learn more about the deep parts of life by reading fiction. True to their form as "correspondences" of love in wisdom, they're mirrors that show me life's nature.

Loves as perspectives

Moreover, I'll paraphrase Swedenborg's works by saying that loves are also perspectives--they're different ways of looking at the world which show me different sides of it. With a love for money, I'll only see opportunities for profit, to a greater or a lesser extent. With a love for parenting, I'll only see people in need of nurturing. Of course, no one has just one love; we have many, even though they're all more or less subservient to a "dominant" love. But this equivalence of love and perspective means that, when I emphasize a different love than normal, I see the world differently. This truth has a lot of practical potential. It means that when I shift my love/perspective from one to another, I effectively become a different person than I was before. I'm an embodiment of another aspect of being; I see the world from a point of view previously closed to me. So when you empathize with another person, a book character, or even a piece of music, you're really acting from the reality behind them, to the point where you and him, her, or it are manifestations of the same aspect of being, mirrors for the same eternal source to see itself in.

And finally, though wisdom is the mirror by which loves become visible, there are "higher" or "lower" (read "more inward" or "less inward") ways of perceiving love. For instance, when I read scripture, do I pay attention just to the literal story or do I delve deeper into the underlying loves? From my and Swedenborg's experiences, I know that it's possible to read scripture at a level where the words become completely transparent--they're just a window to the interaction of heavenly loves underlying the text. This can also happen in social interaction: I can get to a level where I "see through" everyone's gestures and body language to the feelings and loves trying to get expressed through that body language.

How do you learn the way to do this? From my experience, meditation and overall closeness to God are key. When you meditate a lot, you learn to separate the different levels of wisdom from each other, noting that feelings are different from thoughts and that thoughts are different from actions. And when you get to this level, you can deliberately turn your attention only to the level of pure feeling or love, having only the inmost layer of wisdom in which to show itself. And it's an amazing experience.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What do Callings Call?

Tomorrow I'm giving my lesson in Elder's Quorum for the month of October: the chapter called "Leadership" in the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson manual. As I was preparing for that lesson, I came across a passage in the chapter that I really liked:
"He [Christ] helped us realize that the godlike qualities in each of us clamoring for expression can become glorious living realities. His example continues as the greatest hope and strength of mankind."
I realized a profound part of a leader's role while reading this quote: like Christ, he or she gets the good parts of us to "come out from hiding." While those "godlike qualities" are normally hidden unexpressed inside us, the leader "calls them out," letting them emerge into the light of day. Note that word: call. The leaders in the church "call" in more senses than one: not only do they call out that potential in us, but they also give us "callings" and sometimes also titles we can be "called" by (Elder, High Priest, teacher, chorister, etc.). But these different kinds of "calling" are really all the same thing. As philosopher Martin Heidegger notes in his What is Called Thinking:
"To call is not originally to name, but the other way around: naming is a kind of calling, in the original sense of demanding and commending. It is not that the call has its being in the name; rather every name is a kind of call. Every call implies an approach, and thus, of course, the possibility of giving a name."
In all those different kinds of "calling", the leader calls by "calling out." He calls out divine potential, as President Benson observed, but that divine potential is actually what different callings "call for." When the bishop gives you a calling as a Sunday School teacher, he's summoning the divine potential in you to fulfill that calling. He "calls forth" that possibility.

In all this "calling," it's the divine in us that's "being called," summoned, etc. But if we remind ourselves of the use of names as a kind of "calling" (that is, "I'm called Christian," or "she's called Brenna," etc.), then this gains a whole new dimension when we consider the fact that we covenant, "take upon us the name of Christ," as mentioned in countless places throughout the scriptures. This is something we do whenever we say "in the name of Jesus Christ" or any variant of that phrase, but what does it mean in the context of this post's idea? I'll put forward the notion that when we take the name of Christ upon us and we're thus "being called by His name," Christ is calling out to the Christ in us. Christ calls us Christ; Christ calls out to Him in us, to the divine revealed through Him in our spirits and bodies.

From this perspective, all our callings are ways for Christ to call out the Christ in us. Our callings are Christ calling us--calling us Christ, calling forth His divinity in us. But when we're called by Christ's name, at least in a sense, we no longer have our previous identity. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
"But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away."
When we are "in Christ," called by His name and full of His grace, all absolute ties between our existence and our identities are severed. We still weep, but it is as though we don't weep; we are still men and women, but it is as if we are neither. This is similar to the Law of Consecration: we still own our wealth and our property, but because we consecrate it to the Church, it is as if we did not own it. In Christ, all claim to pretension and possession vanishes: we consecrate our identities to Christ, and we receive all that Christ has in return.

This is how physical intimacy between a man and a woman is, even in the innocent, microcosmic ways that I've experienced: both the man and the woman give up their manhood and their womanhood to the "space" between them, and they are both able to enjoy both identities. In that intimacy, I experience both man and woman, though I claim neither identity for myself. We are both together in the "between," and we mingle our identities there.

And this is also what happens when we are given callings in the Church. Though I am called as an Elder's Quorum instructor, it is as though I'm not called in that way. For my ultimate identity lies not in that teacher-ship but in Christ, for all callings in the Church are callings that call out the Christ in us, as I said. The man who "descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" calls out to "all things" in us. And so should it be surprising that since I've had my calling, I've experienced a connection to "the whole" like never before? I feel like I have a place in connection to the whole Church, that I'm somehow serving that totality through my calling. I think that each calling is a way for each member of the whole to serve every member of the whole. One for all and all for one.

I guess you could say that the main thought here has been that Christ--as the "all-in-one"--calls out to the all in us and so brings our nature as Christ or at least Christ-like. As I said, Christ calls us Christ; He calls forth Christ in us. We enter that space "between" all things that Christ represents, for as He who brought about the "at-one-ment," Christ makes as at-one with all things as we take on His name. In fact, I guess you could say that this is what the "gathering" is all about: Christ gathers Christ--His divinity--wherever it lies latent, hidden, or buried. He calls forth Christ by gathering Israel. Our callings, therefore, bring about the gathering, for they gather Christ as He lies scattered across the world, like leaven hidden in so much bread, like treasure hidden in a field.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Everyday Phenomenology: Netflix

In this post I'm going to return to my "Everyday Phenomenology" series of posts, this time looking at the experience of watching Netflix.

Choosing a show to watch

The first thing I experience when logging onto Netflix is the menu screen, and it immediately confronts me with a wide variety of titles to choose from. And I do mean wide; from TV dramas to foreign films to horror movies, Netflix has more choices than I could ever hope to watch in a year, let alone in a single night. This variety stuns me like a deer in the headlights. When I face this menu screen, I feel almost hesitant to pick something, as though more depended on my choice than a simple night of binge watching. This leads to the many nights I've spent just debating with my friends and family members what we should watch.

Here, I'm actually afraid of committing to a single choice. Staying on the menu screen seems--at least for a time--more desirable than actually picking something. In fact, I feel this way because the menu screen is really just immense possibility, and I give up that potential for limited actuality when I press the remote to choose something. To think: in the next forty-five minutes, I could watch dozens of completely different TV shows! But if I make a decision, I only get to watch one. It might seem silly to think that infinite potential can rival reality (however limited), but it happens.

If you read my tabletop role playing phenomenology post, you might remember my discussion of Ananke, the Greek personification of Necessity as a cosmic principle. Necessity is what must be, that which "is what it is." When I hesitate on Netflix's menu screen, I'm really afraid of Necessity. I don't want to be something specific or concrete, even when it comes to something as insignificant as at TV show--I'd rather have the promise or potential of watching everything. And yet I must choose something, or else I've wasted an evening.

Can we see a parallel to life in a broader sense? If I have a wealth of many different talents, I might be tempted to dabble a bit in each of them without committing to any one. But this would be a mistake. To paraphrase Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise Von Franz, to be something in actuality is to give up being everything in potential. I have to "grow down;" if I want to stay in the "hub" or "menu screen" of life, I'll just end up wasting my energy by spreading out to things too widely to make a difference in the world.

This begs the question: could giving up broad potential for limited reality in this way be a reason we "came to earth" in the first place? As a part of the Mormon tradition of pre-existence, we believe that we abandoned a life with God to inhabit limited bodies on earth. This was necessary to our development--we couldn't have progressed any other way. But perhaps the reason finite earth-life helps us develop is because even finite actuality is better than infinite potential. Instead of living "up there" where we can see everything but participate in none of it, we give up our transcendent perspective to get into the thick of things, to make a difference, even if it's only in a small way.

Binge watching

But there's another aspect of Netflix: binge watching. In a way that would have been impractical for earlier generations, we can now watch episodes of TV shows for hours on end, maybe even finishing a whole season in a day or two. Binge watching has become so commonplace that everyone knows what it means; if it were just one word, the dictionary could have added it by now. Binge watching seems impractical, though. It's not immediately clear why I keep watching episode after episode for hours, even though I know I need sleep for work the next morning? What brings about this lack of self-control?

While a big part of binge watching has to do with cliffhangers and finding out "what happens next," that explanation doesn't get to all of it. I've seen people regularly binge watch story-of-the-week sitcoms, after all. I'd actually argue that we binge watch because the relation between past and future is uneasy for us. When I watch the beginning episodes of a TV show I like, I feel captivated by it. There's an aspect of that show that touches me, excites me, or makes me laugh, and suddenly I think "I want more of that." But I can't just watch that episode again; I know what happens, and re-watching it wouldn't even compare to how new and exciting it struck me when I watched it for the first time. So I watch another episode in hopes that it will give me the same feelings.

Apart from cliffhangers and such, binge watching is really about trying to find old joy dressed in new clothes. I want the same feelings of laughter, excitement, or tenderness to come again, but I want the episode I watch to be just different enough that I can see those feelings anew. I want the same emotional substance with a different form; I want the soul of the experience reincarnated in a new body. But of course this doesn't always happen. A TV show like Heroes, one with a captivating first season that subsequently became lackluster, disappoints me when I try to recapture the excitement I had before. Sadly, the emotional heart of the experience is gone, and I've run out of episodic "bodies" in which it can show itself to me.

Binge watching is therefore a tragedy--whether the TV show ends with a bang or a whimper, it will eventually end, and so the feelings I gleaned from it will eventually disappear, maybe never to return. However, there is at least one way the feeling can come back: re-watching the TV show with a friend who hasn't seen it yet. By watching it with her, I can vicariously relive the joy I experienced when I first watched it, "seeing" that joy through her eyes. This also has a profound corollary in "real life": as poets and songwriters have explained, having a child is one of the ways I can relive childhood anew.

Anyway, that's it for this post. Happy binge watching!