The Pattern Of Our Spiritual Journey

I’ve been reading James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ, which is extremely excellent, and I just read chapter 19, “The Dispensation’s of the Lord’s People,” where he gives a chiastic chart of Earth’s history.  It’s very good, and it reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a month or so, since my wife and I had a discussion about what the Earth will be like after the Second Coming. 

That got me to researching, and some things clicked with me.  Below are some notes I’ve been putting together about these thoughts.  They represent my attempt to put some doctrinal concepts in a recognizable pattern, and it strongly emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ.  In fact, looking at our spiritual journey this way adds a powerful dimension to our understanding that, through the Atonement, Christ “descended below all things.”  We can see here that, literally, his suffering and distance from the Father were absolutely beyond even the worst of mankind’s experience.  It was also, again quite literally, the ultimate turning point in history. 

The only thing that confused me at first was the idea that, if Eden and the Millennium are Christ’s domain, then how could the Father also be present in the Garden of Eden?  I soon realized that God may go anywhere He wishes; it is we who are limited by veils and sin.  After all, didn’t both the Father and the Son appear personally to Joseph Smith in this fallen, telestial world?  Joseph Smith had to be transfigured for that to be possible, and I suppose Adam and Eve must have enjoyed a similar experience, in their innocent and immortal state, to behold the Father in the Garden. 

On a slightly less spiritual note, this map also highlights an aspect of good storytelling, which has also been on my mind lately.  I often think that basic story patterns are essentially encoded into us (think of Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, as well as the fondness for using elemental stories to resonate with us in the scriptures and temple), and one of the most fundamental aspects of good story is that the hero must face a daunting, scary setback in the middle, even suffering a literal descent.  Think here of Odysseus going down to Hades, the discouraging tones of The Two Towers and The Empire Strikes Back (each the middle of an epic), or the predictable fight that the lovers must have in the middle of every romantic comedy, before they reconcile and reunite (sappy, but also another Atonement-centered device). 

Most of the “insights” on this chart aren’t very original, but I enjoyed drawing it up to see these things together in graphic form for the first time.  This is only a rough draft, and any refinement to it is welcome.  Click to enlarge. 

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The Purpose of Astronomy In the Book of Abraham

This post is not meant to explain the many astronomical references in the Book of Abraham.  I’m not a scientist; I’m an English teacher.  My interest is in analyzing why those astronomical references are there: what function do they serve?  After studying them, I find that they consistently testify of the doctrines of Christ.

The Pearl of Great Price itself is a fascinating text, and ironic.  By far the smallest of the standard works, this tiny anthology is not a series of testimonies, a record of covenants, or a detailed collection of exegesis and exhortations, like most other scriptural works are.  No, The Pearl of Great Price is far too ambitious for that.  Just about the only thing it does is reveal the most important saving truths of eternity, connecting us directly to the Lord. 

Consider that the Bible Dictionary identifies seven major dispensations throughout world history: those begun by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  Now glance through The Pearl of Great Price and notice whose records it amplifies: in order–Moses, Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  

Consider that in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual for church classes, the Pearl of Great Price, which comprises less than 2½% of the standard works (61 out of 2475 pages), represents about 10% of the scriptures cited in the index (nearly a whole page out of nine and a half printed pages), an impressively disproportionate total.  If The Pearl of Great Price were a basketball player, it’d be one foot tall and five times better than Michael Jordan. 

I labor this point because it relates directly to the use of astronomical information in The Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Abraham.  These often confusing ideas about space and time are not a primer for astronomy as much as they are meant to add to our understanding of those massive spiritual truths with which this volume was designed to enlighten us.

First, in Abraham 3:12-13, God shows Abraham an expansive vision of the physical universe Continue reading

Book Review: The Holy Secret

I’ll cut to the chase: The Holy Secret is a disappointing follow-up to James Ferrell’s superior book, The Peacegiver.  They share much in common: both books are short and simple; both are parables about improving our relationship with God by being reconciled with each other; and both take the form of a wise old man mentoring an earnest but flawed protagonist.

It’s easiest to approach this one with a list of pros and cons.  First, the bad news:

  • The title is misleading.  There is no single thing that the author wants us to know: in fact, his narrative is structured around three “insights,” though even these are nebulous.  Nor are the spiritual truths that Ferrell relates in any way “secret.”  To the contrary, they’re obvious to any one who has ever payed attention in Sunday School.  They could only be considered hidden in the sense that our worldly, distracted lives often forget them.
  • The narrative conceit is annoying.  I can only imagine that Ferrell scripts his sermon as a parable about an impetuous, frustrated disciple (us) so that he can more humbly present the teachings of the story’s elderly sage (Ferrell).  However, after a few uses, the ongoing device of the protagonist thinking, “Wow!  That’s so profound!  A merely normal person like me could never have realized such a massively spiritual mystery like that on my own!” gets to seem pretty cocky. 
  • It’s poorly written.  I don’t expect a mainstream, didactic religious novel to be Wuthering Heights, but Ferrell’s prose is a day laborer who grunts and just gets the job done.  The literary care taken in writing by a Neal A. Maxwell or even the engagingly casual stylings of a Thomas S. Monson would be welcome here.  As it is, the cliche “his mind was racing to keep up” appears at least twice in the book, to endless irritation.
  • Even the three major facets of spirituality that Ferrell dwells on–scripture study, Sabbath observance, and temple worship–ultimately all boil down to scripture study.  At one point in the text, Ferrell almost admits that his methods–and the book’s whole foundation–are ripped off of a great old story by Jeffrey R. Holland: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=14f3fd758096b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1 (reading this fine little tale will do you just as much good as most of The Holy Secret, frankly).
  • Ferrell briefly tries to show a unified, natural flow of his ideas from beginning to end in a single paragraph near the end, and it doesn’t even come close to working.  The truth is, Ferrell’s ideas are random, and even the sections on Sabbath keeping and temple worship have very little to do with those subjects.

OK, enough griping.  Here’s what’s good:

  • Ferrell presents enough genuinely useful gospel information that anyone reading it will either learn something, or be reminded of something that they hadn’t thought for a while.  If you’re looking for a good model of scripture study (or an expanded version of Holland’s story from above), then The Holy Secret really is worth your time.
  • A few sections do stand out as especially worthwhile: a few pages where the lives of many major and minor Old Testament figures are described so as to highlight their symbolic figuring of Christ; an arrangement and then analysis of the two sacrament prayers done so we can see how they aid fallen humanity; and a unique, compelling analysis of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood that relates it to the Abrahamic Covenant and the promised blessings of the temple.  These three things are, undoubtedly, meaningful and powerful.  Despite the book’s many flaws, these things alone make it worth reading, albeit quickly. 
  • I admit my review is subjective; someone else could be entirely capable of reading it and deriving great personal value from Ferrell’s extended meditations on reconciliation (his references to how Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son wake us up to reality and convince us to come to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit are genuinely eye-opening). 

Ferrell’s book has some positive points, but someone looking for a rejuvenation of faith or a refreshing analysis of scripture (or, preferably, both) would do well to look elsewhere.  Holland’s Christ and the New Covenant would fit the bill quite nicely. 

Final grade: C