El Sol and the end of conservative and liberal Mormons

(version also posted as guest at BCC) Consider the images of the sun included here. The first is, of course, a Sunstone that has survived from the original Nauvoo Temple. In an unusually explicit nod to the past, the design of the new Nauvoo Temple replicated the old temple’s exterior, including this kind of sunstone. The second sun is from the exterior of the Albuquerque Temple. Finally, an even better example of what I’d like to say, look at the lovely, understated sun that sits above the organ pipes in the Conference Center. I think I see, as I observe these early and recent suns, a movement from something baroque to something classical. The personality of the early church expressed in the Nauvoo sunstone: colorful, ornate, contradictory, unabashed, and oddly expressed. Contra Harold Bloom, and speaking generally, the same basic doctrine still exists and can be seen in the recent temple and Conference Center suns. Now, though, they are tempered, not only by a concern for their reception by a Protestant nation, but also with a concern for harmony, unity, consistency. The metaphysic is still present and potent, but is somewhat tamed, in these recent symbols, by the modern church’s concern for decorum and simple cheerfulness. They are sunstones for a people concerned with smiling and keeping lawns mowed – but are suns all the same, with flame. This kind of Classicism almost certainly presages a Romantic period. A breaking out period. We may be starting to see that shift with the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. The Mormon cheerfulness is still the face of that campaign – but it is almost possible to imagine someone saying “I love gathering tempests, and thunder, even gun fire, and my own idiosyncrasy and am gentle with the imperfections of my friends, and I’m a Mormon”, without a hint of that smile.

While this new state of affairs will please me greatly, it will be just one more example of being pulled this way and that across the field of tension. Classical virtues slowly traded across for Romantic virtues, the incompletely realized virtues of one period giving way to those of another. It isn’t that we should try to learn while looking at each other. We should, under the sun. But it is difficult, for reasons I’ve stated. I found this while reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ reflections on Spain, written not long before the Spanish Civil War. He has been presenting the views of the Spanish intellectuals, who line up roughly, like always, as either traditional or progressive, and then says,

“Which of all these apostolic voices will prevail? None of them alone; all of them together. … All these voices in unison, struggling, feeling sympathy, working together, will direct Spanish destiny, each one from its own sphere.”

This is a vision of health through diversity in community. It is not what happened. A few short years later, the terrible civil war erupted: one example among many against assuming that a divided society can become whole while its citizens remain fragmented within themselves. Even if we could maintain tolerance long enough, and educate ourselves with such an openness to truth that we absorb one another’s virtues perfectly, such a circumstance would fall short of the goal of being truly finished humans. We would still lack those divine virtues that are quite beyond our horizon, play and wrath and marvelousness, and who knows what more. Zion is built as its citizens take on an totality of spectrum.

None of this is meant to detract from the ideal of diversity. Tolerance for diversity is necessary for creating an environment in which individuals can more easily work out their own salvation, starting not from someone’s else’s place but from their own. Diversity in others is also is part of the fun of life and the richness of reality. My own opinion is that even beings who posses the full range of divine virtues maintain an important and powerful individuality that is apart from those virtues. A couple examples. First, male and female are not divine virtues, and there is some indication that they are permanent.  Whatever differences there are between the sexes,  those differences cannot be described as eternal virtues. Positing that would require two exemplars, and we have only one: Christ. Whatever the eternal virtue is thought that a woman should posses – say, compassion –  men should also develop. Whatever eternal virtues it is that have been associated with men – say, some kinds of legalistic understandings – should also be developed by women. Men and women have one identical set of divine colors, and both can and should develop the entire set. So that even between equally divine beings there exists at least this one difference, gender, that provides variety. Even if there is no way of describing that difference other than the words male and female. Second, at the far end of this kind of thinking there is the individual himself. It seems to me that each person has a quality, inexpressible except perhaps by a name, that remains at the core of that person in spite of genetics, or repentance, the acquisition or loss of any number of virtues, or any way that that person might be altered. How this is manifest, I’m not sure. But I believe that it is real, and that it is rich. Perhaps it can only be spoken by a name. The first name I was known by was Tommy, and I am there in that name. Perhaps I have had other names, and will again have other names, that are even better expressions of this being that I am.

But back to the man on the field of tensions, captured by the fixing tensions of like and unlike, and moved by tensions created by the insights and phantasms that draw him towards his goals. The sun has also risen and sits in the sky above him. ‘The Light of Christ is given to all men.’ The sun is a perfect mandala, or symbol of wholeness, completion and psychic integration. Jung identified it as the symbol of the imago dei, the God image. We say that the glory of Celestial beings is ‘that of the sun, even the glory of God.’ It is the final goal to which we are drawn. I feel inadequate to this image. It requires a poem or a hymn that I’m not yet capable of writing.

As in the case of the Brass Serpent, one must disengage and reorient one’s gaze upward. This requires a tremendous moral effort, such that it often only happens after our vision across the field has been shattered. Plato asks, within a similar metaphor, about looking at the Sun: “(when a man looks at the Sun) would his eyes hurt and would he flee, turning away to those things he is able to make out and hold them to be really clearer?” He affirms that the tendency will be to turn back to the things one thinks one can perceive. He will assert, once again, I’m a conservative! I’m a liberal! But my metaphor is better, because Plato claims that those who look for the sun are a separate class, and must be forced to come back to serve as philosopher-kings. In fact, we never leave the field. The questions that we ask, and the answers we receive, are those drawn from our experience on the field and they are related to our action on the field – although they involve the acquisition of additional light, color, from above, as they say.

One begins to recall scriptural phrases to this effect: when the eye is single then the whole body is full of light.  ’Coming to Christ’ – a phrase that for a while we used quite glibly – involves forming a binding tension of the seeing and moving kind. And all those who will look will be saved. Grace to Grace. Revelation to revelation. Color to color. Truth to truth. Light to light. Until, full of light, like the Sun, we, too, are able to love perfectly – sight is made possible by light, and real love is the inevitable end of seeing. We will see as we are seen and know as we are known, because we are full of light.

Might be there is no end of conservative and liberals. But for all these reasons, I refuse to participate.

Buena suerte!


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