30 July 2007

Temples, Sacraments, Mysteries

"That is one of the reasons that I believe in Christianity. It is not a religion you could have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe that we have always expected, I should expect that we were making it up. But in fact it is not the sort of thing that anyone could have made up. It just has that queer twist about it that real things have."
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In my current Hugh Nibley research, I've been reading (all right, skimming) books like A. D. Nock's Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background and Kirsopp Lake's The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow. This morning, in these and other sources, I ran across an interesting bit of religious wordplay. Apparently, the Latin-based word sacrament in ecclesiastical Greek becomes mysterion from which we get our "mysteries" (Lake 23). And from Nock:
A mysterion is a secret rite, in which the individual participates of his own free choice, and by which he is put into a closer relation with the deity honoured; normally he must undergo ceremonies of initiation (not usually capable of repetition) conferring a new and indelible spiritual condition and commonly giving an assurance of happiness hereafter. Those being initiated, says Aristotle, need not to learn something, but to receive an experience, and to be put into a frame of mind. The experience of the initiate may consist of acts done to him or by him, or again of the watching of a sacred drama. (Nock 5)
Reading that quote in context of the temple catches my intellectual breath in a way that hasn't happened since I found out covenant and testament are rendered from the same word. I confess that since my early Sunday school days, I've longed to find out what is meant when the scriptures refer to the mysteries of God. As a child, I was an avid learner, and this sounded like the best knowledge of all: "And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways" (D&C 6:11). It seemed as though that knowledge was the apex of life, which of course, it is.

But as I prepare to go through the temple, I'm conceiving of the mysteries of God in another way: as sacraments, as ordinances, not necessarily something that we learn so much as something that we do. In the past, the importance of physical action in ordinances seemed to me out of step with religion which I saw as primarily intellectual and spiritual. Yes, I could see the symbolism in the action of baptism by immersion--the going down and coming up out of the water representing death and resurrection, the water acting as the physical sign of the cleansing of the soul--but in spite of all its beauty, my brain couldn't grasp why it was necessary to salvation: why should being covered in water at a certain point in your life actually affect the state of your eternal soul?

And I'm still not sure I can answer that question in an intellectually satisfying way. But what I have discovered is that religion isn't all about intellect. So much of it is about things you can't understand, predict, or explain, things that simply are as they are: "as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be". If you limit religion to intellect, you make it what it should not be. One of the essential qualities of religion, says Lake, is mysticism. It is not logic. "It is not an emotion: it is a different form of consciousness" (Lake 178-9). It's the ordinances that we recognize as correct and satisfying without knowing why.

As I listening to a temple preparation lesson yesterday, I realized that the plan of salvation reminds me of nothing so much as the hero cycle, both in its steps and in its ubiquitousness. The hero's journey appears everywhere. There's no particular logical reason why it needs the steps Campbell assigns to it, yet they feel right. The plan of salvation just feels right, though I suppose you can't logically explain why it ought not to be some other way. This feeling of rightness is one of the things which can't adequately be explained by science: string theory, for instance, can explain the laws and constants of the universe, but can't explain why the universe would choose this particular set of constants from among all the other predicted possibilities. To science, to reason, they all seem equally likely. It is something beyond logic that says, "This one."

20 July 2007

HP7 Predictions: The Rest of Them

Rushing through the rest of Scholastic's seven questions, since it's the LAST DAY before the end of it all. Everywhere I go, people are talking Harry Potter. The receptionists at the ObGyn clinic were excited for the release. Every person I pass on campus is talking about their plans for midnight into their cellphone. The whole world is about Harry right now!

Question #3: Will Hogwarts reopen?

Duh. Of course it will. And Harry will be back in it. In spite of all the knowledge Harry received from Dumbledore in book 6, he really doesn't know much about where to begin looking for the horcruxes. And something always turns up when Harry's at school, so . . . . Plus I think it unlikely that McGonagall, as a member of the Order, will just roll over and give up on the school, essentially admitting that Voldemort has won. That's just not feasible. And as Joni said, these books are about Harry's seven years at Hogwarts, not six.

Question #4: Who winds up with whom?

Nice use of whom there, Scholastic. All I have to say about this is--for the last time, Harry and Hermione's relationship is platonic. Platonic, I tell you! You're all delusional!

Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione are shoe-ins, presuming Ron doesn't die. That's the only thing that could screw that up. But I think he won't. And too much of the books has been devoted to presenting not just the story of these couples but the reasons why they work. There's no way JKR is going to waste that. No freakin' way.

As for Tonks/Lupin, gosh, I hope they get together. At least one of the Marauders should end up alive, not evil, and happy. Lupin deserves it as a character, especially since he's done everything right. (Of course, he'll probably die now. Sadness!)

And if JKR hadn't explicitly told us there would be no Neville/Luna, I'd root for them too. And except Neville is so dead. Dang.

Question #5: Where are the horcruxes?

No, they're not just a hilarious song by Harry and the Potters anymore. Harry's got to find himself some serious horcruxes. I'm expanding this question to my guesses about the horcuxes' identities. Since there are six total horcruxes (making a seven-part soul all together), here's my analysis based on the HP Lexicon's list:

  1. Tom Riddle's diary: hid with Lucious Malfoy; destroyed by Harry in book 2.
  2. Marvolo Gaunt's ring: destroyed by Dumbledore in book 6.
  3. Slytherin's locket: hid in the cave; presumably destroyed by RAB
  4. Hufflepuff's cup: I'm not sure where this might be hiding. I'd guess Hogwarts, but since Slytherin's locket wasn't at Hogwarts, the others don't necessarily need to be there.
  5. Something of Ravenclaw's or Gryffindor's: I sincerely doubt he has both. I guess he didn't get Gryffindor's. Going by the tarot theory, Ravenclaw's artifact might be a wand or something.
  6. Nagini or maybe Harry: Nagini would be a very good touch--Voldemort would like being able to talk to himself. I don't think Voldemort would pick Harry as a horcrux though. But if he did, I subscribe to Orson Scott Card's theory of how it would be eliminated.
As for horcrux locations, clearly they're all going to be somewhere meaningful to Voldie. Places that haven't been used yet--the Riddle house, Hogwarts, Godric's Hollow?

Question #6: Will Voldemort be defeated?

Yes. He dies. Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and maybe Luna all help, but in the end it's up to Harry alone.

Question #7: What are the Deathly Hallows?

Hallows refers to something or somewhere sacred. Deathly meaning it can cause death, or looks like death, or is in someway connected to death. I can think of a few possibilities:
  • First, the horcruxes themselves. They certainly are deathly.
  • A place where Harry looks for the horcruxes, perhaps somewhere at Hogwarts.
  • The place behind the veil in book 5--Harry may need to go there somehow because he needs advice from dead friends.
And now, I will stay away from the computer until I finish reading the book. Gah! People in England are getting it now!

19 July 2007

Spoiler Outrage

A letter I recently fired off to letters@nytimes.com:

To whom it may concern:

I'm writing to express my disappointment with the New York Times' decision to publish an early review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows based on spoilers leaked prior to the book's publication. Although going after the exclusive scoop may or may not be good journalism, it's certainly bad citizenship in the world community. Millions of fans are waiting patiently to read the book--with no desire to find out what happens early--and the information you've chosen to share could ruin the experience for many of them who trust your newspaper for accurate and sensitive delivery of the news.

I'm extremely saddened by your newspaper's unwillingness to help preserve the integrity of what Orson Scott Card called "the most significant event in English language literature in decades." But I guess that's what we can expect from the newspaper who decided to create a children's best seller list explicitly to stop the Harry Potter books from continually topping the 'normal' best seller list, which belongs to more serious fiction--like the Danielle Steele novel that replaced them for the number one slot.

Congratulations on your literary integrity.


Liz Muir
Harry Potter Fan, and member of Jo’s Army

Want to express your own outrage? Check out the instructions for The Leaky Cauldron's letter writing campaign. Be sure to include your contact information (name, address, and phone number) if you want your letter considered for publication. See also JK Rowling's response.

And all of the links in this post are spoiler free.

17 July 2007

Knowing the Bridegroom

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. (Matt 25:10-12)
So it's been awhile since I've written a more serious entry, for reasons which should be obvious. But since my mind insists on formatting every thought I have into a blog entry, I guess I better recommit myself to the blogosphere.

One thing that I realized on my study abroad trip was the metaphors in the scriptures are anything but accidental. For one of our devotionals in England, I wrote a talk on why the scriptures refer to Christ as the light of the world. The implications of that metaphor are astounding to me. (I plan on revising that talk over the next few days to post on Blogger of Jared. Keep an eye out for it.) But the metaphor that's been snagging my mind lately is Christ as the bridegroom and ourselves as the bride, again for obvious reasons.

The lesson in Relief Society this week was "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me" from the Spencer W. Kimball manual. Our discussion veered off on the interesting tangent of how we can grow to love God more. As we listed all the typical answers, it struck me how apt it is to compare our relationship with Christ or God to a marriage. It seems from my limited experience that there are two ways we spend time with a spouse. The first is the process of life--buying groceries, looking over the weekly calendar, picking each other up from work, running errands, getting stuff done. The second is the specially set-aside time, time we make away from the work-a-day mill to spend with each other, the weekly dates the Church so frequently councils us toward. One isn't better than the other; both are necessary for a healthy relationship.

How well these two elements apply to our relationship with God! God is to be part of our everyday actions. We must be listening to spiritual promptings and doing the 'errands' of our spiritual lives--our scripture reading, our prayers--in His presence. Yet equally important is setting aside weekly time to meet with God, to commune together without an agenda of getting things done, just listening and talking and repairing our relationship.

How many of us can say we set aside time for a weekly 'date' with God, though? In my life at least, there's often much emphasis on relying on Him in my daily actions--the Spirit is my support through the day--and not enough of simply getting to know Him better. Much of my time with God seems about incidental convenience. Blogging time double-counts as pondering time. Writing in my journal is following the prophets as well as creating material for my honors thesis project. I can learn all sorts of spiritual things while also getting paid to work on the footnotes for the next volume of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley. (Now they pay me to be obsessed with him. Yay!)

I'm not saying such double-counting is bad. God's presence should permeate our lives like light. But it gets to be a problem when I have a hard time thinking of that last time I did something to commune with God without the ulterior motivation of being productive elsewhere. That kind of relationship is exhausting. When George and I went through a few days doing nothing but working and planning wedding stuff, my ability to give and feel love was severely impaired. Without downtime in any relationship, you simply forget why you are doing things. And lack of downtime in my relationship with God leads me to forget why I push through the 'errands' of spirituality.

Another question is this: what do you do with one-on-one time with God? Unfortunately, I can't take God down to the Malt Shoppe for two-for-one Mondays. For me, the answer to alone time with God is prayer. At FHE, we discussed Elder Scott's conference talk on prayer, and this phrase from the "How Should You Pray?" section stuck out to me:
Don’t worry about your clumsily expressed feelings. Just talk to your compassionate, understanding Father. You are His precious child whom He loves perfectly and wants to help. As you pray, recognize that Father in Heaven is near and He is listening.
That description of open communication, without worry about clumsy phrases or entertaining the listener, is exactly the type of communication that ought to exist between spouses. That willingness to say whatever comes to mind, to talk about anything, everything, nothing, is exactly the way I feel when I talk with George. Prayer ought to be the kind of talk that comes of lying in a hammock with someone you love, staring at sky through the tangled leaves, where all life suddenly comes open, and in that instant you can fix problems that have taken years to form, or doing anything really. It's so vast yet personal--overwhelming to me.

11 July 2007

Movie Troubles

This is a review of the fifth Harry Potter movie. Spoilers, insofar as they can exist for a movie made from a wildly popular book, abound. Consider yourself duly warned.

I waited in line starting at 6 pm. When the movie ended at 2:30 am, I felt much like you might after completing a transatlantic flight: tired because of the marathon length, annoyed at the minor inconviences, elated by happy coincidences, and relieved to have arrived safely on the other side. Then the credits began to roll. When JK Rowling's name showed up, I clapped wildly like a fangirl child of the night, but a girl behind me started to boo loudly. I was baffled. People actually boo things? Movie screens? Authors who weren't even part of the movie?

"Well, I'm sorry," she said loudly, with her hands on her hips in her black robe, "but that movie sucked. It completely ruined the book." Instead of feeling an urge to tell her to shut it (as I usually do for people trying to make book/movie comparisons), I felt uncomfortable and quietly ignored her, as though the topic that she had brought up was slightly taboo. Normally, I agree completely with Joni on this topic: book/movie comparisons are irrelevant; movies don't erase books; movies don't have the same purpose as books; each form should be judged on its own merits.

But in the case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I'm not sure I can agree. My opinion may change with future viewings, but right now, the movie doesn't stand on its own very well. Courtney phrased it well this morning: it feels like an outline of the book. Anyone who hadn't read the books would miss a lot of the things that made the movie worth sitting through, like the random cameos of Aberforth Dumbledore, Percy Weasley, and for that matter Tonks and Shacklebolt. They seem like good space-filler in the movie, but you'd have to be a book reader to understand their importance. Kreacher felt very tossed in, even after JKR explicitly told film-makers he would be important to keep because of future books. The establishment of the Weasley's shop is mostly hinted at, and three scenes basically cover the whole Cho Chang angst.

In other words, the style that makes Harry Potter better than your average pulp-young-adult-fantasy-novel is completely lost on the movies. On key part of JKR's style involves including some detail seemingly for humor value early in the book--for example, Dumbledore's full name (Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, his name is my name tooooo)--and having it end up being an important key to the resolution of the book--Dumbledore's initials are on the prophecy and thus he's our link to being able to hear it after Harry smashes it. But since in the movie Harry hears the prophecy, there's no suspense about that. The inclusion of Dumbledore's name becomes an interesting detail but of no relevance. The details are there just for the coolness factor, a common flaw in children's fantasy lit where the author has fallen in love with their own ability to create--look how cool and detailed my world is! The movies turn Harry Potter into something that's just average instead of so astounding that the New York Times had to create a children's bestseller list in order to keep Harry from constantly occupying the top 4 spots of their main list (which of course rightly belong to "serious" writers *cough*).

Then there are the major alterations in the plot--Harry handing over the prophecy to Lucious, Sirius being AK'd instead of just falling through the veil, Voldemort possessing Harry. I'm not sure what to do with these. I actually like the Voldemort possessing Harry bit; it's a more solid resolution of Harry's angst problems, a better transition into book 6 than even JKR wrote (as hard as that is to admit). But the others not so much. And these changes are not just to the mechanism of the plot, but also the meaning. Mechanism changes have to happen in the movies, especially since so many sub-plots must be cut. Things have to happen in new ways. But meaning changes are problematic. How can Dumbledore trust Harry in book 6 if he's willing to hand over the prophecy to any old death eater who's going to kill some people? It simply doesn't pan out. Movie 6 & 7 could end up completely different from the books of the same title. If the movies are trying to stand on their own without the books, I guess this is one way to do it, but unfortunately for me, the main point of the movies is to be able to experience that same story with other people. (Maybe I am making the argument that the books and movies should be the same . . . well, it is what it is.)

What did I like about the movie? I liked the separate development of Neville and Luna. Their character depth was better than I expected from the movies. Ginny needs more facial expressions, but I like the implied jealousy of Harry/Cho. (Ginny could also use more purposeful strength rather than accidental power. But maybe I'm biased about that because Ginny's character development in book 5 was a major point in my IB thesis on gender roles in Harry Potter.) After all my rant about the details, this movie does feel more magical than previous movies--the existance of a wizarding world feels real. The newspaper headlines rock especially.

Yeah, so I had a blast watching the movie. But I'm glad that's over. Now I can look forward to what really excites me: book 7! (More predictions coming this week, along with some non-Harry posts this week. I promise!)

And now after all this seriousness, here's a cartoon losely based on Harry in book 5: Wizard Angst. That summarizes the whole book/film pretty well. *insert brick wall here* Angst, angst, angst, angst . . . .

06 July 2007

A Simple Solution

You are a soon-to-be-married geek couple at BYU who just decided to move your wedding from December 28 to August 30. In your high-speed search for married housing, you:

A) create a spreadsheet from BYU's inadequate family housing search, eliminate entries that are too expensive or too late, then proceed to rank other information such as distance from campus and furnishing, sorting the spreadsheet to your heart's content;
B) make a Google map of the locations of the housing you are considering and color the icons to show which are near and far from campus;
C) write a program to automatically generate emails to the owners on your spreadsheet, letting them know of your interest in the property;
D) all of the above and now you can't stop giggling about how much fun it was.