Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An experiment.

I find many passages of scripture to be poetic, but I find the numbered verse format to be rigid and stifling, and not conductive of the lyrical beauty that I'm convinced is often there. After amanda's recent post soliciting thoughts on light, I've been thinking about one passage in particular. Here's an experiment with line breaks---an attempt to bring out the rhythmic beauty I hear in these words.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-13.

This is the light of Christ.

As also he is in the sun,
and the light of the sun,
and the power thereof by which it was made.
As also he is in the moon,
and is the light of the moon,
and the power thereof by which it was made;
As also the light of the stars,
and the power thereof by which they were made;
And the earth also---
and the power thereof,
even the earth upon which you stand.

And the light
which shineth,
which giveth you light,
is through him
who enlighteneth your eyes,
which is the same light
that quickeneth your understandings;

Which light proceedeth forth
from the presence of God
to fill the immensity of space—

The light
which is in all things,
which giveth life to all things,
which is the law by which all things are governed,
even the power of God
who sitteth upon his throne,
who is in the bosom of eternity,
who is in the midst of all things.

What say ye?


amanda said...

I'd say it certainly enhances the meaning. The form created by the added line breaks lends itself to a level of meaning that is hard to get at when everything isn't lined up so clearly. Have you ever read through a copy of The Book of Mormon that has no verse or chapter breaks? I read through just the first few pages of a copy I came across last year. In that case, it's the removal of all but natural paragraph breaks that makes it so interesting to read through. I love the idea of formatting scripture as prose and poetry with a more creative, natural form. It might be more difficult to cross reference, sure, but having an additional copy formatted in a way that is more aesthetically pleasing is definitely worthwhile, I think.

apyknowzitall said...

I've never thought of reading scripture that way. It really does bring out the beauty of the words.

JKC said...

amanda, do you mean the replica copies that the Community of Christ publishes?

my parents have one, and I've always kind of considered it nothing more than a novelty item, but now I'm thinking I'll pick one up next time I'm in Nauvoo, so I can read it that way.

I suppose you would get much more of a narrative feel, which in my opinion is much misunderstood in the scriptures.

And cross-referencing can be overrated anyway. I think it's a good idea, but I also think that often it can cause us to link passages artificially, or to create some artificial context that skews meaning. I like to let a passage stand on its own and take it as it comes rather than try to make it conform with the preconceived ideas I've gotten from previous reading. I like to approach the scriptures like I'm reading it for the first time. It's more engaging, and more fruitful, I find.

The various writers in the scriptures are, I think, much more beautiful when you think of them as a series of attempts (essays, if you will) at understanding and communicating the gospel from different points of view. And it frees us from the sort of shoddy logic that too often prevails when we turn apologists and try to reconcile ambiguities or uncertainties in the text. We have different accounts of Christ's life, for example, and different accounts of the creation, for another example, because each one is trying to communicate a different aspect of deity. Understanding the messages, is, I think, more important and more fulfilling that trying to harmonize the facts or systematize the doctrine.

God should be experienced more than taxonomized.

The Shark said...

I also have flipped through one of those Community of Christ BoM's and thought it was really interesting as well. I'd be open to reading it cover to cover in that format.

I'm not as wary of cross references as you are, but am careful to make sure I read cross-referenced scriptures in the context they are given.

One time, though, I was 15 or 16 and attending Education Week at BYU, and I remember one of the speakers using the "See Also" subheadings in the Topical Guide to draw really watered-down connections between two principles. I don't recall the exact examples he used, but to illustrate the point, he would pick a word to look up like "Servitude" and it would say, "See Also: Service, Charity, Obedience...," so then he'd have us flip to "Obedience" and underneath it, it would read, "Commandments, Sacrifice, Covenants...," and so on. Eventually his conclusion would be, "And so we see that 'Servitude' is a simile for the 'Messiah.'" Again, that wasn't his actual conclusion, but I remember it being that absurd and thinking that this guy was trying to teach me to incorrectly read the Topical Guide!

Another great example of how a strength can become a weakness. All Education Week instructors should be put in a box and thrown into the sea!

Cabeza said...

JKC--thanks for alerting me to Amanda's post so I could read it, love it, comment on it. I need to check the updates on her blog more regularly. And I love what you did to Doctrine and Covenants 88. I've always loved those verses, and reading them this way makes them more beautiful, I think.

I do disagree somewhat, however, with your appraisal of cross-referencing. I think that the footnotes and the Index and Topical Guide are one way in which we are shown that all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. I see your point about the individual authors, but I think that taking their words along with those of other witnesses can often enhance them and increase our understanding. It also occurs to me that a lot of time, money, and effort was put in by the Church to produce the 1981 edition of the scriptures. Before that the footnotes were scant and the Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide as we know them did not exist. I think that if the First Presidency found it important enough to put the kind of resources that they did into putting all of that together, there must be great worth in having cross-referencing and concordance so readily available to us.

Also, I have found that doctrinal misunderstandings between our faith and others often arise from singling out individual writers or scriptures and taking them out of context of the greater work. For example, many modern Protestants' emphasis on grace to the exclusion of the necessity of works comes from an exclusive subscription to a few of the writings of Paul, ignoring Peter, James, and even Christ himself. Some Biblical students could benefit from some more cross-referencing.

But like I said, I do see your point about the value of taking one author's work as a whole in view. I think that studying the books or chapters as individual "essays" can certainly lead to better insights; I just wouldn't do so to exclude the added value of cross-referencing.

And Shark, that was totally from a talk on tape that we had from Troy Dunn. "Respect: Yourself, The Savior, and Others." Less-effective study method, less-effective talk.

JKC said...

Don't get me wrong, guys. I think cross-references are a good idea. I only think it's important that we remember that the cross-references are a useful tool to study the scriptures, not part of the scriptures themselves.

I also think i'ts useful to think of the printed cross-references as incomplete--as a start. The rest we should be writing in ourselves because the spirit will tell us things that aren't in the printed ones. Choose your own adventure style.

It might also be interesting to note that sometimes cross-references might be used to indicate contrast rather than agreement.

JKC said...

Back to the actual text I quote here, there are a few things I want to point out that I think are really cool.

Structurally, I really like the repetition of the second "stanza" as I chose to break it up. It reminds me of the creation both as recorded in Genesis and as recounted in the temple, especially with its images of the sun, moon, stars, and earth.

I like the linking of the physical with the mental/spiritual implicit in pairing the enlightening of the eyes with the quickening of the understanding.

I love the rhythms of the fourth stanza, it sounds almost like an excerpt from a Shakespearean monologue or sonnet.

I love the phrase "in the bosom of eternity." Such a concrete physical image applied to such an abstract concept.

And the idea that light=life=law=power is really, really cool. It's Joseph Smith like "in the beginning was the word" is John. So cosmic, so spiritual, almost mystical. Very cool.

The Shark said...

I always keep my eye out for connections I can make with scriptures I'm familiar with. I was actually much better about this on my mission, but it always feels good when I can jot a reference in the margins of my scriptures, it makes me feel like I'm actually starting to get parts of the big picture a little more in-depth, without being exclusive to the cross-references already made.

This whole topic has made me think about a talk I gave on my mission. I was given roughly 30 minutes' notice (the brother who was supposed to speak called in sick at the last minute), and I ended up using my scriptures, cross-references, and memories/thoughts I'd had from recent personal study to connect a string of passages that included at least one scripture from each canonical volume we use. The end result was having used all these different texts (on an outline that I had prepared on the back of a business card I'd recently been handed) to testify of the importance of home teaching. I really wish I'd kept that business card.

Anyways, later I was praised by a bunch of ward members as some sort of scholar, which I negated by explaining that I simply drew conclusions from personal study and cross-referencing. I was actually really surprised by how blown away the ward seemed to me, because even though I was glad I could deliver a well-constructed talk with such short notice, I didn't think myself worthy of all the attention. In fact, I wondered if my newfound popularity was overshadowing the message I wanted to teach.

Anyways, this whole discussion makes me wonder if I was unconsciously being more manipulative than spiritual in the use of my scriptures, making connections that seemed to support what I was saying but really had very little to offer other deeper than face value. Hmmmm... Not that there's anything I can do about it five years later...

Skoticus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Skoticus said...

I very much enjoyed this post, thanks for the idea. I tried it myself, with 2 Nephi 4, and put it on my blog. Thanks for the idea, it really helped me see some of the beautiful poetic forms.

The Shark said...

When JKC was in Egypt's land...