Our Journey Back Home

I’ve been wanting to write a Pilgrim’s Progress-style allegory for young children.  Here it is.  Happy Easter, everybody.

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Once upon a time there was a wonderful king.  He had very many children and they all lived in a beautiful castle high on a mountain.

One day the king told his children that he was sending them on an important journey.  They had to go on a long walk through the whole world.  The king said that they had to do this in order to grow up.

“Will it be hard?” the princes and princesses asked.

“Yes,” said the king.  “But it will also be an exciting adventure.  And it will help you become ready to be kings and queens yourselves someday.”

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A New Way to Look at the Plan of Salvation

plan of salvation map

There’s a joke that Mormons are the only people in the world who can communicate a profound spiritual sermon by drawing three circles in a row.  This traditional paradigm for teaching the gospel—with its circles for the premortal world, Earth life, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory—has served very well as a visual aid of the plan of salvation.

Here, I propose a new way of visualizing these things.  Instead of the narrative flowchart model, I’m going to describe a great, eternal chiasm.  Yes, chiasmus as in the ancient Book of Mormon writing style where a series of ideas or phrases are given and then repeated in reverse order, to contrast parallel variations in the elements of the story and to highlight the central turning point.

Chiasms are typically shown as the left side of a letter X, looking like an arrow pointing to East on a map.  This one will be depicted as a letter V, because I want us to see the turning point as the end of a long descent and the beginning of an ascent.  You’ll see why shortly.

This new paradigm was inspired by the temple.  I won’t make any overt references to the basic floor plan of the average temple or to the content of the endowment, but the reader who is familiar with those things is encouraged to consider how they suggested the ideas presented below.

The elements of this story can be understood as following the ideal progress of each individual person or of “the whole human family of Adam” (Mormon 3:20).

A and A’: The Celestial Kingdom

Our journey, as far as we understand it, both begins and ends in the Celestial Kingdom.  This is where, from our point of view, our “descent” begins and our “ascent” ends.

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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.