Thursday, July 21, 2011

Urim and Thummim

I've always been fascinated by the Urim and Thummim. Joseph Smith described them as two crystalline stones, through which it was possible to receive revelation and light from God. The Book of Mormon makes reference to them as well as playing a role in translating the records of the ancient Jaredites. In my own prayer and scripture study, it gradually became clear to me that the scriptures themselves are a kind of Urim and Thummim to us.

Alma refers to the scriptures themselves as "very small means [by which] the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls" (Alma 37: 7). The scriptures are physically small, and -- with the benefit of modern e-book technology -- are getting smaller all the time! I've got a whole library of scriptures on my Kindle -- not just the LDS standard works, but the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Library, the Books of Enoch, the History of the Church, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Discourses of Brigham Young, and so on and on.

The scriptures are fascinating as physical, historical artifacts. They tell us much about the times and places that produced them, and offer a wealth of physical, material and historical information, if we know how to glean such information from their pages. Many scholars have, in fact, devoted their lives to studying the scriptures as historical documents. But to look at them solely in this fashion is, in essence, to reduce them to physical objects alone, having no more than mere physical interest.

The reason the scriptures are so vitally important to us is precisely for reasons that have nothing to do with reading them in this fashion. When we approach the scriptures in a spirit of prayer and faith and hope, the scriptures are able to transcend their mundane physical nature. The Spirit can use the stories, ideas and principles in the scriptures to open our minds up to heavenly and spiritual worlds previously inaccessible. Through the scriptures, the Spirit can help us to see humanity and creation in the context of their fullest potential; and to see ourselves in our own fullest potential. The scriptures, in other words, become a physical vehicle, a physical means by which the Spirit can open up wider understandings to us than are available just in the letter of the scriptures. In this sense, the scriptures are, like the Urim and Thummim described by Joseph Smith, translucent: light shines as much through them as from them.

In order for the scriptures to function for us in this translucent fashion, we too must, to a certain extent, be translucent. The light of the Spirit needs to be able to shine through us. Much in life of what I think of as "sin" are distractions, that cause is to forget what's important. Sin is like junk that clogs up our mind and body, preventing this light from passing through. Just like the actual Urim and Thummim, just like the physical scriptures, we ourselves are physical beings with transcendent capacities. If we think of ourselves as Urim and Thummim, as crystalline beings through whom the light of God can shine, then sin is basically like dirt on the windows of our soul.

I used to look at sin as a violation of some rule that God gave us; and so when we commit a sin, God punishes us by taking the Spirit away. But I realize now it isn't so much like that. It's not so much a sinful act per se that we're being punished for. It's that sin has emotional, mental and spiritual ramifications.

If I'm addicted to porn, for instance, my mind and Spirit, instead of turning to God, are looking for the next sexual thrill. So there's an aspect of dissipating valuable time and energy on things that won't lift me up. And there are the emotional after effects; the empty feeling that accompanies the impersonal, anonymous sexuality that porn offers; the disconnect that comes from looking at the body as a piece of meat rather than as the temple of our spirit and our intelligence; the cheapening of actual, real relationships that occurs when we start comparing our own bodies or the body of a loved one to the artfully posed and airbrushed and "perfect" bodies in the magazines and videos. These are all real effects I've perceived in my own experience with porn.

Recently, I've taken up the practice of yoga. In the last seven days, I've taken eight yoga classes and have experienced an incredible sense of well being through this practice. One of our instructors talked about a "detoxifying" process that is a part of yoga. The emphasis is on being silent, being present, being attentive to spirit through the vehicle of physical movement. The practice of yoga can be emotional. I've found that as I've practiced it, occasionally very strong emotions come up that have literally brought me to tears. The yoga instructors periodically remind us that when such emotions come up, we need to acknowledge them, then let them go, and then ground and center ourselves again in the present.

This practice is like the process of repentance. (I suspect, like any disciplined spiritual practice -- including prayer and scripture study! -- yoga can help us with the process of repentance.) Repentance is basically getting our life back into appropriate postures that enable life-giving light and energies to flow through us unhindered again. The various things we do as part of the repentance process -- asking forgiveness, making restitution, and then forgiving ourselves -- will help us deal with the toxic after effects of sin, help us deal with unpleasant emotions that darken the windows of our souls.

I don't think we can do this successfully in a judgmental way. In fact, judgment -- both of ourselves and others -- I would class as a sin. I dare say -- if I were to rank sins as superior or inferior -- that judgment is a worse sin than using porn. Porn is maybe a physical or emotional sin. Judgment is a spiritual sin -- far more weighty. Judgment darkens our minds more effectively, I think. It shuts us down and discourages us from moving just at the moment when we need to be moving freely. Judgment of others always leaves a residue of judgment on ourselves, and will ultimately shut us down more effectively than it shuts down others.

I've come to realize we can tell sin more effectively by its effects than we can by comparing our lives against the various laundry lists of sins we can find in the scriptures. What is sin to one person might not be sin to another. Only we, ultimately, are in a position to know what darkens us and what leaves us clearer.

It has really helped me to understand that our lives are less about accumulating things -- even accumulating intangibles such as knowledge -- than they are about becoming. When I remember this, it helps me to brush aside the distractions and focus on what is most important.


Holly said...

I'm really glad you're enjoying your yoga practice. It can be a wonderful support and complement to just about any other form of spiritual or physical discipline. I hope you'll write more about it as it progresses.

J G-W said...

Holly - It's been AMAZING. I probably won't be able to avoid writing about it more...

Right now, after practicing it pretty intensively for about a week, it feels like it's moving into a kind of yin-yang relationship with my Mormon/Christian faith. It's opened up some deep stuff for me, that's helping to put stuff in surprising perspective.

For instance, some of the yoga practices we've done have felt very much to me like the kind of prayer I've been practicing. I've also experienced some really amazing stuff (as I alluded to in this post) in relation to letting go, forgiving myself, not judging...

Holly said...

Read this post by a friend who teaches yoga to sisters at the MTC and thought you might appreciate it:

J G-W said...

Holly - Nice post, thanks for the link. Definitely something I can relate to as a new practitioner.

I'm reading Meditations from the Mat right now... Some great stuff. He talks about how it is very common for new practitioners to get down on themselves because they have trouble getting certain poses. They push themselves and push themselves, and eventually burn out and drop out. Ironically, becoming a nonjudgmental observer of oneself is a much more effective way to progress in yoga than being overly driven to progress.

I wish more Latter-day Saints could apply this principle to their own efforts to achieve perfection!

lovesex said...

nicve that artikel I like it

J G-W said...

LS - Thanks!