Monday, January 11, 2010

Dreams, Visions, Prophecy, Family, Narrative, Vanity (Svithe)

My reading notes for the week. Any discussion is welcome.

1.4 (1 Nephi 5)
Two things stand out here: 1) Lehi as a visionary man, a prophet, one blessed with the spirit of prophecy ("would God that all the Lord's people were prophets"); 2) the power of genealogy, of knowing one's family ties/bonds. Nephi (through his narrative about Lehi) connects the two ideas: prophecy and genealogy; situates his father, and thus his family, himself, and his narrative, in terms of an ongoing dialogue with God and with his genetic & ethnic heritage---the tradition of faith passed from Joseph to his posterity. Suggests Nephi's understanding of/connection to the Abrahamic covenant, as passed through Jacob and his seed, a covenant that would bring Lehi and his seed out of captivity and that would allow them to deliver others from captivity (just as Joseph preserved Jacob's seed from famine with his position in the house of Pharaoh). How might this relate to me and my position in life? If I am faithful, God promises to make me a major influence on those around me. So I must be more faithful.

1.5 (1 Nephi 6-7)
"The fullness of mine intent": the author's intent matters, especially here; by aligning my reading with Nephi's intent (that he may "persuade [wo/]men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved") I participate with him in the work of redemption. I allow him to influence my thinking about God. I must look beyond the places where his language betrays weakness and ask, What might Nephi have meant by this? I must seek the spirit, which can carry/bear witness of intention from soul to soul, mind to mind. I must remain open to shades of meaning, where the literal blends with the figurative, the figurative with the literal. I must realize some meaning is lost in translation but trust that the translator left much meaning intact, that he was likely tutored by Nephi, if not at the time of translation, but later, and that Nephi approved of the new language and any revisions. I must also realize that my intention as a reader matters, that my own reading of Nephi's words will draw upon my own experience, my own context and the union of my world with Nephi's world can spark new meanings and enhance the things Nephi meant to say such that the language takes on deeper, personal meanings with each reading. And that such interpretive movements are allowed for by Nephi's suggestion that to get the "fullness" of his language, I must be vulnerable to his rhetoric, his attempts to persuade; I must approach his narrative with faith that it can bring me closer to God ("than any other book"), that its language as recorded by inspired and faithful men, however it may fail, is a means to salvation. In other words, to get the most out of the book, I must engage it with the desire, with the intent to be saved. Because in things spiritual, intention matters.

The family unit is central to Nephi's narrative, to his theology. With this focus, he suggests that the family is central to salvation, even that it is the main forum in which we are to work out our salvation. Even amidst dysfunction. No, especially amidst dysfunction, since, after all, we're all human, all just a little bit dysfunctional. The family is the site of the highest AND the most mundane of our redemptive rituals.

1.6 (1 Nephi 8)
Dreams, visions, prophecy: the language of revelation, the language of metaphor, of collective meaning.

Desire central to Lehi's dream: his desire to partake, to share. The desire of other wanderers to cleave to the rod. Fruit pure, white, desirous above all other fruit.

Family also central to the dream: Lehi is very aware throughout where his family is in relation to himself, what they are doing/aren't doing, where they should be headed. And after waking: shares the dream with all the feeling of a tender parent: com/passionate, inspired, conscientious storytelling. Infusing narrative---and through narrative, audience---with life.

"Lost from his view": narrative told from Lehi's perpective, as mediated by/through Nephi's perspective and intent (see chapter 6). Does this necessarily mean these people were completely lost? Or just "lost from his view"? Also: implies some bias in the account. What's left out (see chapter 11)? Exaggerated? Emphasized? Lehi's worried about Laman and Lemuel and Nephi's remembering the narrative thirty years and a personal pronoun removed (not his experience---at least this time---but his father's). How might Nephi's later vision of the same thing and the interpretation he's given by the angel inform this retelling of his father's dream? Or might he simply be copying the narrative straight over from his father's plates? He does say he can't write all of his father's words, then he abridges them some before returning fully to his own language (in chapter one, he states outright that he is abridging the record of his father first). But the act of abridging is also an act of narrative. Piecing together someone else's words is just as much an act of storytelling as is piecing your own words together. What has he decided to cut, then? Just more of the same? May have to ask them both some eternity...

1.7 (1 Nephi 9)
See. Hear. Speak. The obligation of a prophet, of a minister for God/a minister to God's people: to pursue and to relate---with all the senses, with the while soul, the entire being---the stories of God and his tender mercies over his children. To show what he has done, what he can/will do, for the faithful in all ages and throughout eternity.

If language is a central concern of the book, so is the purpose and power of narrative. Might this be one of the "special purpose[s]," the "wise purpose[s]" for the book as a whole? To explore/engage narratives of faith? Seems part of Nephi's purpose for writing: he's very explicit in the opening chapter that he intends to "show," by telling stories, "that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." Might narrative itself be a power of deliverance, a means to salvation? Faith is, after all, a function of words and imagination. Of mental exertion on the words of God as mediated through the words of His prophets. Words upon words upon words. Faith as an act of literary criticism, of interpreting and re-visioning the narratives of human experience with the divine.

1.8 (1 Nephi 10)
Nephi's story naturally blends with the stories of this around him: in this case, his father and his brothers, those his mind is constantly occupied with---as he tries to live up to his father's example and to be an example, a teacher, leader for his wayward brothers. This illustrates for me the notion that our lives are intertextual, that our stories cannot be removed from their communal base. Indeed they SHOULD NOT be removed from their place at the intersection of lives. Otherwise they lose their power and their promise.

Desire to see, to hear, to know. Desire makes the difference. And it has to come from within. The desired results won't come from posturing, from trying to appear worthy of the blessing. The faith, the desire has to be real. Or God (and others) will see right through it.

1.9 (1 Nephi 11)
Desire. Belief. Knowledge. Nephi pondered on his desire. Desire generally an indefinite feeling the deserves elaboration, articulation, something that can't happen unless I define the feeling by first exploring it. Following it to its depths. There I'll discover if the desire is good, real; or otherwise. If it is expanding or contracting my faith, what kind of knowledge it's leading to, and how to best act on it. Because unless acted upon, the desire really is wasted(?)/can't be experienced to its fullness.

Faith a manifestation of desire? Maybe more rightly a function of desire. Leading to manifestations that deepen desire, that expand faith, that sharpen my vision of eternal realities.

Neph's vision of the tree of life: look, behold, see/seen/saw. A sensual witness: one literally based in/come through the senses: sight, smell, touch. To desire is to believe is to see is to desire is to believe is to see (and on).

Why the focus here on sight? Not just any type of sight: spiritual sight. Discernment. Available to me if I will but desire and seek as Nephi.

But where does doubt fit in all of this? For my faith to increase, I must doubt. I must ask questions and look for the answers. Could it be that I must learn to desire the questions as much, if not more, than the amswers?

1.10 (1 Nephi 12)
The 12 Nephite disciples are "righteous forever": the angel says this centuries before they're even born. Suggests not only their foreordination to serve, but that righteousness in mortality is an extension of righteousness in premortality. And that such continued righteousness can be sealed upon the individual before their passage beyond mortality. And that this seal, the reception of the second Comforter, the second anointing (at the hand of Christ) was set in place, but not formalized, well before birth and was only formalized because they'd followed the course of faith in premortality, then again in mortality. Does God know us so well that He can gauge our reactions in mortality so as to be able to judge us, to ordain a reward BEFORE we've made the choice, as in this case? I believe He does, that after eons of observation He knows our temperaments well enough to not be surprised at our choices and to be confident in foreordaining us to certain positions (not necessarily ALL positions within the Church) according to those temperaments, our faith, and our needs for progression. Indeed, because of his omniscience, He can see the end from the beginning, can see our place in the eternal scheme, and set our lives in motion so that we best fulfill the measure of our creation. (At least that's my present understanding.) But what place does this make for those not included in the "righteous forever" category? Has God allowed for the free exercise of agency in His foreordinations? I have to believe He has, since agency was the principle at the core of the premortal conflict between God and his followers and Lucifer and his angels. But what of those who fail to fulfill their ordination? What of those who fall away from their faith? What of those who don't live up to their promises? Is there allowance made for them in God's plans? I think the different degrees of postmortal glory provide a good indication of this allowance: there are bodies telestial, bodies terrestrial, bodies celestial, each ordered according to the light they've recieved during their existence. Each rewarded according to their conformity to eternal law, to the transformative power they've allowed these laws to have on their being. But are such bodies ordered so (celestial/terrestrial/telestial) from the beginning? I want to say no, but must settle for now with, I don't know. I believe that, since God is no respecter of persons, we were all organized from the same substance, all given an equal opportunity to succeed. And that some advanced more than others in premortality, earning certain privileges and responsibilities in mortality. And that that may account for some of the inequality here and now. But I'm loathe to say that all inequality is the result of premortal faith or the lack thereof. Some may result from the natural course of the universe, some from the choices of those who came before us. But I can't account for all of it. And I have to settle my seeking enough, for now, to leave some questions unanswered and to reach for the celestial order to the best of my ability. To worry about my faith and my efforts toward charity (as in Ether 12:37).

Nephi's vision provides a good overview of the entire Book of Mormon, as he watches his seed and his brothers' seed venture across the promised land, move in and out of God's favor, and, eventually, meet their untimely end.

"Vain imaginations": vain meaning both 1) conceited/having an exaggerated sense of self-importance AND 2) fruitless. The imaginations, the dreams of those in the great and spacious building are 1) centered on the self, on promoting the self, gratifying personal desires, satisfying lusts, with no concern for how such vanity, such egotistical visions might influence/impose on others. Because we act upon and shape our lives according to that which we think about, such vain imaginations draw us inward, inflate the ego, insulate us from and blind us to the needs of those around us and how we might use our unique gifts and talents to meet those needs. As such, these imaginations are 2) fruitless. They bear no fruit in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. They offer nothing to sustain us when challenges come. They are not wholesome, they do not increase strength or the power to do good. Such mental exertion is not, then, a means to faith. It is a preoccupation, a distraction, drawing the mind away from the things of God. A stark contrast here between those focused on the fruit of the Tree of Life and those focused on fruitless fantasies.