Pinwheels, Lotuses, and Mormonism

My friend remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that with the recent trend of my blog posts people will start to think I’m a Really Bad Mormon. And so, to assure anyone out there who may believe that Brother Ted has gone apostate or has become some kind of anti-Mormon wolf in sheep’s clothing, I want to write briefly about why I believe in the Church.

Some of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had are the intellectual kinds. I’m not a fuzzy feeling, burning in the bosom kind of a guy. Most of the time, when the Spirit communicates to me, it’s a sudden shock of clarity and for one brief, exalting moment, it’s almost as if I can comprehend the grandeur and beauty of Zion and I know – I know – there’s something special about this religion.

The first time I experienced this spiritual clarity was in the Missionary Training Center. My parents performed excellently in making sure I knew my stuff – I had read the Book of Mormon several times, I had memorized the Articles of Faith as a child, I had an over 90% early morning seminary attendance record. But during personal study time, while struggling with Alma 42, an especially verbose and weighty chapter in the Book of Mormon, I experienced The Event.

Suddenly, all of the cloudy, confusing thoughts in my mind coalesced into the image of…a pinwheel. Each blade of the pinwheel I instinctively knew represented some aspect of what Alma was talking about – justice, mercy, redemption, the law, eternal life, forgiveness, repentance, obedience, commandments – all of these seemingly random concepts suddenly began to come into shape as the most beautiful pinwheel I had ever seen in my life, with Jesus Christ as the lynchpin holding everything together in the center. The complexity of the gospel spun before me, blending into one single whole, but the center, the Savior, remained unmoving, holding all of the pieces together.

Complexity in parts, simplicity in design.

Complexity in parts, simplicity in design.

This brief vision literally took my breath away. It’s hard for me to explain what exactly happened, and as someone who firmly believes in being rooted in the empirical evidence of science and reasoning, it still bothers me to this day why exactly I had this experience the way I did. Perhaps all of the neurons in my brain aligned for a split second to give me some kind of euphoric super-computer capacity. I have always loved learning, and so I am accustomed to the heady ecstasy of learning something new; this Event was something much more. I have later come to accept that while this experience can be explained by science, this does not lessen the spiritual impact I felt. Perhaps it is within neurons, biochemicals, and the beautiful, constant undulation of ions flooding and receding within the synapses of the brain that God can be found.

Either way, from that point on, I was convinced that I had stumbled onto Something Big.

I’ve experienced more of these Events in my life, always accompanied by days, sometimes even weeks or months, of hard, confusing, clouded thinking and study, straining every capacity of my feeble, mortal mind to comprehend something that seemed to forever elude my grasp. And then, the flash of insight as the heavens open for a split second and I comprehend with a sudden fervor that soon fades and once again becomes ever elusive. But for that single moment, I know. Sometimes, I even forget what I learned and knew almost immediately (silly, yes), while others became the bedrock of my faith and testimony of the gospel, but every single time what startles me the most is that for all of my post-modern intellectualism, for that split second, I knew something confidently, and that feeling refreshes me. Sometimes, the stereotypical Mormon tears accompany these Events, but always I am left in awe, slightly shaken by the brilliance of it all.

Because of this, I love the prophets of all religions, both today and yesterday. The good ones always seem to question (and sometimes get in trouble with God for their impetuousness). They don’t accept the status quo; Abraham was already a possessor of great knowledge and truth, but he always wanted greater knowledge and truth. It didn’t suffice him to wallow in the muddy waters of the world with simple tidbits, the pastiche lessons and faith-promoting rumors that circulate amongst our membership and sometimes replace real understanding of basic, critical doctrines. They became my heroes and I wanted to emulate them all – the curiosity and questioning, as well as the serenity they developed in their later lives because of the knowledge they secured.

The lotus - an important symbol of Asian theology, and an important symbol of my personal theology.

The lotus - an important symbol of Asian theology, and an important symbol of my personal theology.

I have replaced now my image of the pinwheel with the image of the lotus. This symbol is incredibly important to Eastern religion and thought (and as my heritage traces back to such lands, I feel it only appropriate). Not only does the lotus resemble the pinwheel in concept and shape, but the lotus especially holds importance in Asian religions because though it grows in muddy waters, yet it blossoms as if untouched by the dirt surrounding it.

And since then, I have endeavored to become like the lotus – blossoming brightly and cleanly, even if it seems the dirt and muck of the world surrounds me. And to achieve this, I climb greater heights of thought, philosophy, and theology, always seeking that next insight. I can feel the Holy Spirit encouraging me, promising me that the next Event might wait just around the corner, and if I continue to seek that which is good and true, if I continue to ask questions with passion, someday, I will receive those answers that I seek, and my Savior will transform me into a lotus, bathed forever in the brilliant light of His pure knowledge.

This, I believe.

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