Friday, September 18, 2015

The Scripture in You

A long time ago, I wrote a post that said there are two Books of Mormon--an "outer," literal one, and an "inner" one, closer to both God and your life. I want to expand on that point today, and I'll do it by talking about one of my favorite Book of Mormon chapters, 2 Nephi 27.

Waking up hungry

This chapter is famous for being what Book of Mormon scholars call a "Midrash," a Hebrew literary form that weaves together a sacred text and a commentary on that text. In this chapter, the sacred text is Isaiah's prophecies on the latter days (Isaiah 29, specifically) and Nephi gives the commentary. Isaiah talks about how darkness and apostasy will cover the earth in the last days, giving this poetic description:
"And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision; yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion" (2 Nephi 27:3)
When I came across this verse doing a recent pass-through of the Book of Mormon, I realized that this describes me pretty well, at least at times. But I think it describes all of us to one degree or another--who hasn't wanted something with all their heart, only to find that they didn't feel any better once they got it? I was this way with video games all through junior high, for instance. I would anticipate games like Spore or Fable II for months or even years, only to "wake up" dissatisfied--like a hungry man dreaming of food--when I finally got to play it. You can also see this in politics a lot: people look forward to electing a candidate who they think will solve all the country's problems, but find out when he gets into office that he was average at best.

To put a long story short, the earth isn't heaven, an idol isn't God, and muladhara isn't sahasrara. No matter how much we want an earthly thing or person to satisfy all our desires, it won't make the cut; only God can do that. As I see it, Isaiah is saying in the above verse that many will realize this in the last days, coming to know only after great turmoil that they lusted after something ultimately empty. I think that this idolatry works as a definition for all sin. Whenever we sin, we want infinite satisfaction from a finite source, something that can obviously never happen. The only way to be happy is to see all things as means to God, Who is the source of our being in the first place.

Your inner Book

But Isaiah and Nephi aren't done. Nephi puts a twist on Isaiah's prophecy when he writes what happens after the world has gotten to this idolatrous state:
And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
This passage outwardly talks about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the book written by those "slumbering in the dust," crying from the ground of the long past. But how can we liken this passage to our lives? Because it talks about a divine book that had been "sealed up" to come forth in the latter days, I'll suggest that we read it as commenting on our divine nature, hidden in us like treasure in the ground. So when Nephi says that the Book--which was also hidden away--will come forth, we can liken it to us by saying that the latent divinity within us will eventually express itself.

This can happen whenever we run into something that touches our hearts and opens our spiritual horizons. When we read a piece of scripture, a book, or even an internet article that "shows forth" more than it literally contains in its text, we can be sure that the Book in us has come out. The physical text in front of us then becomes a mirror in which that Book can see itself, a way for us to "translate" that Book into our everyday awareness. It becomes a window to divinity itself, but not just God; my being as it exists in God--my divine potential--actualizes itself through that process of reflective "translation."

The Book of Mormon breaks through history

When I realized all this, I came to an amazing conclusion: this is what the literal Book of Mormon does best. As a revelation of hidden spiritual wisdom, the Book of Mormon is the perfect mirror for our inner Books to reveal themselves. And that's what we do when we read it: the Book of Mormon transposes itself to our life and circumstances--it becomes the Book of Christian, the Book of Daniel, or the Book of Eliza. Through this translation, the Book's story and my life's story become one. My flight into the wilderness is my flight from comfortable bad habits in dating; my "War Chapters" are my fight against temptation's wiles; Christ's coming is the peace that comes after I've been painfully refined by divine fire.

And then I realized something even more remarkable: if the Book of Mormon is supposed to make its stories "at one" with the stories in my life, then it's really manifesting the spiritual in the physical. Mormon scholar Joseph M. Spencer (whom I once met) wrote perhaps the best possible explanation of this idea:
"Any enclosure of the Book of Mormon within a totalized world history amounts to a denial of the book’s unique claim on the attention of the whole world. In the end, then, to take the Book of Mormon as either historical or unhistorical may be to miss the nature of the book entirely. Both positions in the debate about Book of Mormon historicity—-whether critical or apologetic—-are founded on a common, backwards belief. The historicity of the Book of Mormon is not in question. Rather, as Alma makes clear, it is the Book of Mormon that calls the historicity of the individual into question."
The Book of Mormon isn't enclosed within history, and so it's wrong to say that it's either a history or a fiction. And that's how it should be: when we're bound by our bad habits and our past successes or failures, what we're bound by is history itself. Pure history, in a sense, is Satan's plan--our being entirely determined by the past without hope for an irruption into it from eternity. But that's what is needed, and that's exactly what the Book of Mormon gives. The Book of Mormon acts as a bridge from history to eternity and back again; by likening our lives to it, it shows that our lives aren't just the effects of past choices, but instead grow out of seeds from eternity. To read the Book of Mormon is to follow that seed back to its heavenly tree, where we can finally eat from its fruit. So doing, we bring together history and the eternal, even to the point where they're no longer opposed. In fact, I might dare to say that, by reading and likening from the Book of Mormon, we also accomplish something far greater than personal salvation: we help bring about the redemption of the world.

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