Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Visions, Brotherhood, and Building Ships (Svithe)

A day late and a dollar short, but here are my notes for last week. Feel free to discuss at will.

Notes on reading: 1.11-1.17

1.11 (1 Nephi 13)
Word changes between editions: 1840: "foundation of a great church"; 1990s: "formation of a great church." Interesting emendation considering the foundationlessness of the great and spacious building in Lehi's dream/Nephi's vision. The change suggests an attempt to unify the imagery, to make the angel's words consistent with the things he's asked Nephi to behold.

1840: "devil [...] was the foundation of it"; 1990s: "devil [...] was the founder of it." Ditto here. Though the institution has no foundation, it can---indeed, must---have a founder: one who establishes the guiding principles, or, more appropriately here, the lack thereof.

Desires of the great and abominable church: the desires/things/lusts of the world. Desiring the lusts if the world, endlessly seeking pleasure. How can a church claim to unite people with God while its vision is occupied/weighed down by/with the things of the world? In contrast, Joseph Smith authorized this vision: "a religion that does not REQUIRE the sacrifice of all things NEVER has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." But I guess if the institution is great in its own eyes, distracted by and preoccupied with its own vain imaginations, become an abomination to God because of pride, it's not particularly concerned with the life and salvation of its members. It simply becomes a self-feeding and self-consuming ego-machine bent on relieving others of their will, their moral agency.

Reminder of conversation in class today: Columbus not the first European to set foot on American soil. Others before him. But was he the first "wrought upon" by the Spirit of God?

"They were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people, before they were slain": might this reveal something of Nephi's prejudice, his bias towards his people, his seed? Implications?

1840: "plainness of the gospel of the Lord"; 1990s: "fullness of the gospel of the Lord"

"Mixture of thy seed" and "The seed of thy father": Essentially the same thing?

"I will bring forth unto them in mine own power, MUCH of my gospel": what about the fullness? Where is the fullness contained? Can we possess a fullness here and now?

Wonder if this section, where Nephi discusses the restoration of plain and precious gospel truths to the Gentiles, then to the seed of Lehi; and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, was Moroni's source/inspiration for the title page. Much of the language is the same: gift and power of God, contain the covenants of the Lord, convincing of the Gentiles, and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews. Would make sense: the first great Nephite prophet inspirng the last. Implications?

1.12 (1 Nephi 14)
"Numbered among the house of Israel": adoption, inclusion. Assimilating the Other such that binary oppositions are swallowed up in Christ. Unites us under His common banner. Initiates us into the commune of Deity, the assembly of heaven, the Church of the Firstborn. Gives us one name, one label. Makes us His.

Irony: pit "digged for the destruction" of humanity to "be filled by those who digged it." God is an ironic Being---appreciative of irony. Uses irony to teach, to punish, even to strengthen. To expand our appreciation of paradox, perhaps?

Why the "whore of all the earth"? What implications does this image carry?

One of my favorite scriptures: 14:12-14: the power of God descending upon the saints, upon the few. The few a means of redemption for the many?

John and Nephi: partners in prophecy. Prophetic partners.

1.13 (1 Nephi 15)
"Carried away IN the spirit"; "caught away IN the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain" (11:1). Why not say "BY the spirit"? How is one carried away IN the spirit? Was this an actual, temporal displacement initiated/carried out by the spirit? Was Nephi physically carried away or was he wisped away in vision? Taken mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sensually to this sacred place? I suppose either is possible, but Nephi's language (IN the spirit and this: "after I had SEEN all these things," as in a vision or dream) suggests the latter: that his journey was made in spirit. This doesn't make it any less real or affective (for him or for us). It's simply another---perhaps more powerful (?)---means of experience: The Holy Spirit communing with the human spirit in a moving, real, meaningful, soul-searing way (the images imprinted on Nephi's mind and spirit).

"Hard to be understood": just because hard, doesn't mean inaccessible. Such understanding can only come through extended mental exertion: the means of working by faith.

"We CANNOT understand": no, you CAN. You just won't put forth the effort required to do so. Mental laziness an impediment to faith.

1840: "by the spirit of the Lord which was in our fathers"; 1990s: "in our father." One letter can make a significant difference in the meaning of a word. Here the difference is encapsulated in a single man's experience with the spirit, Lehi's, versus the experience of an entire lineage, the patriarchs of the House of Israel. Which entity are Laman and Lemuel more likely to believe and follow: the immediate experience of their own father, whom they dismiss as a mere visionary, an overzealous mystic, or the more distant experience of their ancestors? In either case, the 's' was removed in the recent revision, though either reading is supported by the context.

How effective/affective is Nephi's expository technique? He's very pointed, very specific; from what the record illustrates, he offers very little latitude to his brothers: "THIS is what out father meaneth"

"So much was his mind swallowed up in other things": overwhelmed to distraction from fundamental details. This is much how I've been feeling lately: swallowed up in too many things. How to strike a balance...

As Nephi conveys the things he spoke to his brothers, he addresses us directly: "I say unto you." Right in the middle of the paragraph. A layering of narrative. A reminder that Nephi was aware, perhaps acutely so, of his audience.

1.14 (1 Nephi 16)
Laman and Lemuel as opportunists (?): they repent when it's a matter of self-preservation, as when Nephi comes down on them for their disbelief or when the sons' bows fail and the only way for the family to get food is for everyone to stop murmuring so the Liahona will work. But when the opportunity arises that they might (possibly) be able to do away with Lehi and Nephi, they take it back. They forget/deny their own experiences with God (e.g. the angel coming to visit them, the voice of God speaking to them in various other manifestations) and try to appropriate a position of power. Yet, if they were really leaders---something they claim to want when they assert their birthright (WE are the "elder brethren"; and Nephi's just a power grabber)---instead of opportunitists, when their first hunting trip failed because all the bows broke down, they would have stepped up and found a way to get food (like Nephi did), instead of blaming Nephi for something that was just as much their failure. Their repentance is never genuine, never truly efficacious (as in able to change their natures, to turn them to God), because they keep returning to their sins. They don't take the process (or much else that really matters) seriously. I get the sense that perhaps one of the only things that kept them from killing Lehi and Nephi was Sariah's presence. They come across, at times, as having a mother fixation (symptoms?) and I'm convinced (though there's not much textual evidence to support this) that they did respect their mom or at least were concerned about what she thought. (She's never included in their threats, at least; and that might just be significant.) Hence, when she and Lehi (who they didn't respect at all, it seems) were gone, they could finally act on their desire to kill Nephi, a desire that may have been subordinate to their love for mom. But with her out of the picture, they could give place for the (formerly) lesser desires and move to act out their brother-killing fantasies, something God foiled by warning Nephi and that subsequently launched a centuries-long sibling rivalry and the almost-destruction of a race.

1.15-16 (1 Nephi 17)
"Arise, and get thee into the mountain": a sacred place, a place of greater, clarified communion with God. A place above the cares of the world, a refuge. A natural temple, a temple of Nature. Where nature meets God, where pantheism sidles up/yields to monotheism. A place to witness how God has ordered the space, both above and below. Must make time in my life to worship in such a place more frequently.

"Whither shall I go, that I may find ore to molten": not only a witness of Nephi's faith (he's always a step ahead). Also a suggestion (along with his awe over the workmanship of Laban's sword and the Liahona) of the family (or at least Nephi's) profession: metalworkers. I remember An institute class I attended with my brother-in-law where the instructor, Jeffrey R. Chadwick, suggested as much. It makes sense in light of Nephi's fascination with how Laban's sword and the Liahona were constructed and with Nephi's understanding of how to make tools: the only thing he initially asks (according to the record) is where to find ore. Not, uh, where do I begin? Or, how am I supposed to do that?He knows he has to get the metal, then make and keep a fire hotter than normal with the use of a bellows, then how to make the tools. Not things, I imagine, that are everyday knowledge. And withe the detail he gives about God instructing him to build the ship, how he went into the mount oft to be instructed, I think if he needed help with the making of tools, he would have recorded the process. But, again, the only inquiry here is, so where do I find the ore I need to make tools?

"The Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God"; seems contradictory. How can God consider us all equally yet still favor some over others? Exactly because he can consider us all equally. His omniscience cuts through the superficial, straight to the marrow, into our character, ou basic nature. Thus he can weigh us all equally against the standards we've received, without bias. And those who live according to the standards they know are blessed and favored. He lets righteousness speak for itself, in terms of intent, attitude, and action. "Esteem" as "honor": so even though God honors all flesh, all the embodied as his own, as his heirs, those who strive toward a more perfect union between spirit and flesh, who purify the flesh by developing their spirituality, by favoring the things of God over the things of this world, are more blessed/favored by God than those who do not.

1.17 (1 Nephi 18)
The Lord knows how to build ships. How sweet is that? Does he have a crew of angels who know how to build awesome ships that he sent to inspire Nephi, to whisper instructions in his ear?

Nephi's obedience made Laman and Lemuel eat their words: "Um, so, yeah, Nephi. Remember before, how we said you were a nutter for thinking you could build a ship? Well, um, sorry, little brother. The ship's awesome. You did a great job. We'll sail in it without murmuring...too much." Right...

The family brought seeds. A means for them to conquer, to colonize, to order, to familiarize the promised land. A way for them to make it home by bringing along old world seeds.

Once on the ship, Laman and Lemuel "did forget by what power they had been brought thither." Big surprise. The real surprise would've been if they'd remembered. Instead, they simply fall into old rhythms. It's just easier that way: to do things like they've always been done. But Nephi's teaching a different lesson here. When his brothers drink themselves to stupidity and hostility, tying him up and making the Liahona stop working because of their more violent than usual disobedience, they've denied themselves the birthright, which has fallen to Nephi, something they can't stand because tradition dictates otherwise, Nephi sticks close to God and thus facilitates their deliverance from the storm by God's power. One moral: don't hold too tightly to traditional ways of seeing the world because that can limit the possibility for miracles (no matter how small), for deliverance from human limitation.

Laman and Lemuel have devolved enough in matters if faith that the only thing that can change their minds from their determined course here is the threat of drowning, of a terrible death and a watery grave. Because of the thickness of their skin, their lack of attention to God, nothing less could get through.