Thursday, August 16, 2012

Down to earth

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:3-4)
And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:5)
I have recently been granted a "wake-up call," as a good friend of mine called it, in the form of a number of my sureties and plans unraveling before my eyes. This was initially gut-wrenching and very sad; I was brought low.

In the aftermath of the same, I have realized again the call to application in the Gospel. I had imagined to myself a God of miracles, but, dangerously, also a God of miracles who did not expect me to work at the particular miracles intended. As the above examples perhaps illustrate, miracles do occur - but they occur in process, as we do, and not as we consider.

I have, for some time now, sown a life of pondering and wishing for things beyond my control, with various doctrinal and experiential justifications. I now am reaping, to some degree, a harvest of air and wishes.
it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite... (2 Nephi 27:3, quoting Isaiah 29)

By miraculous aid and the assistance of wonderful family and friends, I have been allowed to come thus far. I have tried to pursue a life of holiness and energy, of purity and of being "unspotted from the world," but, to some degree, I have pursued this task with detachment from the world, seeking an escape. I understand the Grecian yearning for the perfect world of Platonic forms; perfection disembodied and unattached, abstract.

The circumstances and experiences of the past month at least, both good and bad, reveal to me that such is not God's ideal. Indeed, the Savior walked in a mortal form, along dusty roads. He spent His time with sinners and publicans, and washed the feet of his disciples. His purity is not the purity of abstract perfection, but the purity of applied truth: love in action.

Indeed, the most abstract principle of Christianity - the Atonement - is itself the ultimate application of Christ's love - both in His taking upon Him all of our sins and infirmities to answer the demands of justice and "that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12), and also in the application each of us must make to our individual circumstances, guilt, and memory. It is an infinitely personal process of making "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" that each of us must undergo to receive the benefits  of the same. The Gospel and Atonement of Christ is a Gospel of the personal application of eternal and infinite truth.

It has been impressed upon me too, of late and by necessity, that it is so also with my discipleship. I am so much more in His hands, and I suspect in His eyes, when I befriend and serve the men and women around me, the child next to me, the outcast, the arrogant with whom I have personal difficulty. In retrospect, I am shocked by the incredible difference in my own life and psyche between the kind actions of one friend, and hours of personal agonizing and introspection. I am earnestly grateful for friends who have helped me - imperfectly, but personally, real-ly, rather than waiting for some type of perfection.

And so yes, this blow has been a wake-up call. I have been to large degree knocked from my intellectual pedestal, and I find that I am not privileged, not unique, not protected from the trials and irregularities of life. I have been reminded that,
“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work” (Beryl Markham, 1936).
I do not regret my intellectual exercises or striving for perfection. "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18), but I am reminded also that "To the engineer [applicator, the applied actor] falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science [or religion] with life, comfort and hope" (Herbert Hoover, Memoirs, "The Profession of Engineering." Comments added). A similar quote, discovered while searching for the exact quote given immediately prior, extends the point:

No mathematical formula, however exact it may appear to be, can be of greater accuracy than the assumptions on which it is based, [with the] conclusion that experience still remains the great teacher and final judge. (James Kip Finch, Engineering Classics, commenting on Sejourne's Grandes Voutes)

And so, I choose for this blow to set me back on a path of engagement, of creating light in murky darkness, of being in the world even if I am not of it. I can accept and chart my limitations. I can intellectually accept and embrace my mortality. And I can do so while striving to live a Celestial life. Indeed, I give the Lord greater opportunity to show me that, while I am weak, "in His strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12). As I do so, I can better assist the Lord in making my life something unique, beautiful, and extraordinary.

(Thus concludes the intellectual portion of my post.)

These thoughts lead me to expand my personal definitions of what is acceptable on this blog. While reading a collection of essays by Wendell Berry, (What Are People For?) I was surprised to find that many of his essays are book reviews. After I pushed through my initial objections, I realized that the substance of Berry's reading provided a framework for his thought and positions in very effective and sincere ways. It supports my previous theme: knowledge is inseparable from experience, depends upon it, cannot be divorced from it.

Normally, I would not share the rather plebian or mundane experiences and sources of inspiration that lead to some of my personal discoveries; today, as I hope the previous post explains, I believe I will do so. Additionally, in the future, I will be providing some more of my applied thoughts - such as book  reviews and descriptions or analyses of experiences, etc. - in addition to the more abstract musings I have generally posted. Hopefully, this process will provide more posts, greater opportunity for personal development and growth, and encourage more, and better, photography.

I thought, in preparing these experiences in my mind for publication, about two pieces of music which use a similar low, almost percussive bass sound for dramatic effect. Perhaps because of the change in frequency, I have felt that this particular bass sound is musically comparable to my experience of being brought metaphorically low.

The Main Theme of Mass Effect 3, embedded below, uses the motif in a wistful mood of ending. As the game story requires, the protagonist is nearing the end. It is a game, and a music, of conclusion. Though I thoroughly enjoy this music, I feel that the emotional arc of the piece is a melody defeated by the motif.

In contrast, the following piece - Bach's magnificent Prelude to the Unaccompanied Cello Suite in G Major, as performed by Mischa Maisky, - uses the low note as a source of energy and correction or change for the progress, drive and momentum of the piece.

So too do I decide to let this lesson be for me. It has improved and sharpened my leadership abilities. It has refined and clarified my planning. It has drawn my priorities and necessities back into alignment. It has required me to be more honest with myself and the Lord. It is, most paradoxically, a blessing, and I am grateful for it. 


  1. Beautiful Brett! I read a book last week that had a great impact on me, contextualizing what it means to be both a disciple and a scholar simultaneously. I was unsure of how to be a good disciple while desiring to be a scholar, so I shut out the scholar in me to fulfill what I know is more important. But I was directed to a book (Learning in the Light of Faith ed. Henry R. Eyring) which explained that scholarly pursuits are important in building up the kingdom too. The overarching quality that Elder Maxwell explained a disciple-scholar must have is meekness. That quality was reinforced throughout the book.

    I also read a fascinating article by a proclaimed atheist. What this woman explained was that every morning she needs her dose of "Mormon mommy blogs" to help her feel happier throughout the day. She described the blog Nat the Fat Rat ( as self-deprecating, a quality that she respected in the blog. Perhaps her choice of words was reflecting what Saints would term as humility, or meekness. But a light was seen in it no matter the lack of understanding of why or how.

    Elder Bednar said, "control is an illusion. Maybe one of the great lessons of a lifetime is to come to the conclusion that we're His, we're not our own. We've been bought with a price. And it's not just a hymn that we sing, 'I'll go where you want me to go.' "

    Keep up the good work Brett!

    1. Thanks so much Sean! I love that point about meekness - it applies to where we end up and who we are called to serve... really, it applies to everything.
      Anyway, thanks again!

  2. although with mass effect there cannot be a heroic end
    that is the whole point
    it is a desperate attempt against unimaginably overwhelming odds
    the story from start to finish is completely desperate
    it's sort of a theme
    even in the end, it isn't exactly clear what happens
    you are given a choice in which it is not clear what happens or if you made the right one
    something ultimately hopeful and upbeat would be highly inappropriate for the ultimate artistic theme of the game

    1. My citation of Mass Effect was not a commentary on the game, but an aside and commentary concerning my own life.

      While I enjoy both pieces of music, I choose to live as I have interpreted the Bach Prelude, rather than as I have interpreted the main theme of Mass Effect 3.

    2. well, that is what i mean
      i think it is awesome that the prelude is how you choose to live your life
      i guess my point is, i mean, mass effect 3 is essentially a tale of questionable survival against ridiculously impossible odds
      it just seems kind of obvious that that kind of music wouldn't fit someone's outlook on life
      thus it came across to me as a commentary