Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Book of Mormon's Inner Meanings: 1 Nephi 12

The next section of the Book of Mormon I'll examine is 1 Nephi 12, part of Nephi's vision.
Take a look at verse ten:
"And these twelve ministers whom thou beholdest shall judge thy seed. And, behold, they are righteous forever; for because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood."
What an interesting image! And it's one that appears over and over in Mormon scripture. To have "my garments made white in His blood" goes against common sense; blood is red, whereas it whitens. However, the paradox of white and red isn't a new image, by any means. Swedenborg wrote that the two main colors of the spiritual world are red and white: red for the principle of good/love and white for truth/wisdom. These images correspond to "heat" and "light" in his writings, respectively. Red is the color of life's intensity: flowing blood, rosy cheeks, a ruddy complexion, etc. But if red has intense vitality, white has cool reflection. White is the color of purity and cleanliness: worn by doctors in hospitals and by temple-goers.

Alchemy, the pre-scientific ancestor to chemistry, can help us here. In alchemy, two major parts of the opus are called the albedo or "whitening" and the rubedo or "reddening." Normally the albedo would precede the rubedo (instead of the other way around, as in the Book of Mormon passage). In his book Alchemical Psychology, the master psychologist James Hillman writes that the white albedo by itself is incomplete:
"Having absorbed and unified all hues into the one white, the mirror of silvered subjectivity expands to reflect all things at the expense of differentiation of itself. It takes something outside subjectivity to see into oneself."
If white is the cool peace of spiritual wellbeing--nothing wrong, things going smoothly--it's still only subjective. It reflects everything back into itself; since everything is peaceful, no fundamental distinction, division, and opposition exist between the things in the world. Multiplicity gives way to unity. However, red is what the passage calls the "something outside subjectivity." It is the "other," what interrupts the clean union of everything with myself. Moreover, white doesn't like red; referring to the white albedo stage, Hillman writes "This condition does not want more light, more heat." But somehow--whether as rosy desire or ruddy anger--the rubedo's passion interrupts white's peaceful unity with itself.

Ideally, says Hillman, the white albedo functions as the self's "ground," what the alchemists call the terra alba or "white earth." However, red as the rubedo should be the focus of that self: extraversion, the complex, multiple "outside," what's "out there." Knowing this, the way Christ encourages our garments to be "made white in his blood" begins to make sense. Christ--whose blood we symbolically drink in the Sacrament--is the stuff of life itself, an insight Swedenborg made repeatedly. However, while white is a color of purity, it's also the color of death: think of gleaming white skulls and the white moon which was a gathering place for the dead in cultures the world over.

If we combine these insights, Christ's red, sacramental blood gives life to our stark, white inner death. This has a few implications. For one, it suggests that we need to symbolically "die" before we can become pure and receive Christ's life, but that insight is hardly new. More fascinating is the idea that blood as a symbol of life can revive the dead. Greek mythology says just this: that shades in the Underworld can be temporarily revived through living blood. Moreover, Jung's Red Book gives a similar insight:
"We sacrificed innumerable victims to the dark depths, and yet it still demands more. What is this crazy desire craving satisfaction? Whose mad cries are these? Who among the dead suffers thus? Come here and drink blood, so that you can speak." 
The "innumerable victims" sacrificed to "the dark depths" is ostensibly the violence we commit in the name of egoism: though we like to play the "hero," any heroics we commit in the name of an ideal kills something. In its most innocent form this shows up as the repression necessary to build an ego and in its worst form it causes the wars and genocides we commit for the sake of an imagined virtue. From Jung's perspective, "the dead" are anything that's been thrust down and killed in this egoistic pursuit. So when we give life to the dead by "feeding them blood," we're really giving life to the repressed parts of our personal and collective unconsciouses.

The dead--corresponding to the cold, stark white of bone, winter, or a moonlit night--have the purification we seek. For when we feed the white dead with red life, we're bringing life and death together into a kind of marriage. We acknowledge ourselves as dead--empty, poor in spirit, meek--and receive life into ourselves that's nevertheless still distinct from us. We become white to receive the red, and red lets the white have life in its death, as if death were a vessel for life.

When we're made white through Christ's blood, we lose the sense of our life belonging to us and realize that it belongs to Christ as the "other." We become white--dead in itself, a white reflection of all other color--and Christ's redness acts as a way to enliven our white purity with the life and intensity present in the world. Christ--as life itself--gives us life when we turn to Him. We just have to die to ourselves first.

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