10 April 2008

The Transparent Creation

"Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?" (The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau)

The opening line of Rachel Carson’s ‘The Sea Around Us’ states "Beginnings are apt to be shadowy, and so it is with the beginnings of that great mother of life, the sea." When it comes to a discussion of the Creation, it is true that much is not understood. Adding to the confusion are no fewer than four accounts of the Creation narrative (Genesis, Moses, Abraham, Temple). But the Creation may be one of the clearest, tangible and real things we have been given from God. The beginnings may be in shadow, but the results are here for us to see, touch, experience, and learn from. For the religious woman or man, the ability to see God in all His Creations, transforms those Creations into a window by which to comprehend God. This transparency is His gift to us. Those who cannot see are the blind who "…have eyes to see, and see not…for they are a rebellious house." (Ezekiel 12:2) They "see through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12) where the creations, and God Himself, are translucent or completely opaque, rather than transparent.

Mircea Eliade in his amazing book ‘The Sacred and the Profane’ discusses many religious symbols in nature that help provide this transparency. "For religious man the supernatural is indissolubly connected with the natural, that nature always expresses something that transcends it." (page 118) The religious person will be able to see the sacred in all things through symbols of the actual objects themselves. Only by attaching meaning to these symbols are we able to see God’s transcendence in the Creation and in all things. This human experience is reinforced in the Book of Mormon teaching that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it" which allows us to look at how God is revealed to us in every day life and ritual. (Alma 30:44) Joseph Smith further taught, "any man who hath seen any or the least of these [sun, moon, or stars] hath seen God moving in his majesty and power." (D&C 88:47)

Physical symbols that reveal the Transparent Creation:

The heavens reveal the Most High who "is manifested in meteorological phenomena – thunder, lightning, storm, meteors, and so on." (Eliade, page 121) Storms and other natural disasters, rather than indicating pleasure or displeasure, simply reveal God and remind us of He who is in charge. The vertical expanse of sky is also linked with ascent, climbing, trees, and mountains. Nephi, the brother of Jared, Peter, James, John and Jesus all sought inspiration and knowledge by ascending to the tops of mountains.

Stones "reveal power, hardness, permanence…perceived by virtue of a religious experience, the specific mode of existence of the stone reveals to man the nature of an absolute existence, beyond time, invulnerable to becoming." (page 155) Joseph Smith and the brother of Jared each used stones to help reveal God. These stones, which "were white and clear, even as transparent glass" enabled the Seers to reveal actual light as well as spiritual light and revelation about God. (Ether 3:1) Seer stones are independent of time and reveal the past, present and future of God and man.

The waters have always brought forth life. The land came out of the waters, and as such, was created from the waters. "Everything that is form manifests itself above the waters, by detaching itself from the waters." (page 131) The waters "precede every form and support every creation." (page 130) Symbolism of water represents both death and rebirth. Contact always brings regeneration and purification in rituals such as baptism, and the sacrament. The Garden of Eden contained a fountain of living waters from which sprang four rivers. The dream of Lehi likewise contained a fountain of living waters, which represented the love of God.

"On the level of profane experience vegetable life displays merely a series of births and deaths. Only the religious vision of life makes it possible to decipher other meanings in the rhythm of vegetation, first of all the ideas of regeneration, of eternal youth, of health, of immortality." (page 148-149) It was a piece of fruit that conferred immortality while in the Garden that Eve and Adam were allowed to eat from. Likewise, it was a miraculous and forbidden piece of fruit that changed them into gods, with the accompanying knowledge of both evil and good.

The moon represents the cycles of life "in becoming, growth and waning, death and resurrection. For we must not forget that what the moon reveals to religious man is not only that death is indissolubly linked with life but also, and above all, that death is not final, that it is always followed by a new birth." (page 157)

"The sun remains unchangeable; its form is always the same. Solar hierophanies give expression to the religious values of autonomy and power, of sovereignty, of intelligence." (page 157) For Latter-day Saints, the sun represents Celestial glory, even that of the unchangeable God. "These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical." (D&C 76:70)

Women and men are also a symbol of God, reinforced by Jesus, the Creator, coming embodied to the earth as a man and Joseph Smith’s testimony that man is in the image of God. While here, God could be seen, touched, and felt. He taught in symbol, and was a symbol Himself. But only those who had eyes to see were able to see Him for who He really is, and not as a man. Only those who believed saw Him as God – the rest saw only a man. In the King Follett Discourse Joseph Smith taught that to see other people is no less than to see God, because God is an exalted Man.

From these few examples God’s Creations each represent higher realms and meanings which teach us about Him. In a very real way, removing ourselves from the waters, sky, vegetation, or people is to remove ourselves from God. We are removing ourselves from the very things He has created that are continually bearing testimony of Him. Living close to the elements reminds us of our dependence on God for all things. As mostly urban dwellers, how can we avoid losing our transparent connection towards God? How can this dependence be retained where consumerism, capitalism, and specialization rule the day?

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…" (Walden by Henry David Thoreau)

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