Posted: November 5th, 2012 | Author: Daniel Embree | Filed under: Sacred Art Experiences, Spirituality | Tags: body, Joseph Smith, Mormonism, performance art, religion, spirituality | No Comments »
Mormon Ritual Highlights the Role of the Body
Joseph Smith saw in vision that God the Father and Jesus Christ have tangible bodies.
Stained glass window from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of the things that I love about Mormonism is how important the body is. A physical body is so important to the Latter-day Saints that they perform physical rituals on behalf of the deceased who do not have physical bodies themselves. In my experience, most other religious thoughts tend to elevate the intangible spirit over the body, but for the Mormons, the body is the center of everything.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the washing and anointing ceremony that Joseph Smith introduced in 1836. The ceremony involves touching, naming, and blessing the parts of the body, first with water to wash them, and then with holy oil to anoint. It’s a beautiful rite, though it has been significantly modified from its original form.
Joseph Smith describes the first washing with an intimate group of select men in his journal on January 21, 1836, “we attended to the ordinance of washing our bodies in pure water … We also perfumed our bodies and our heads, in the name of the the Lord.” Oliver Cowdery described the washing at Joseph Smith’s house, saying, “after pure water was prepared [we] called upon the Lord and proceeded to wash each other’s bodies, and bathe the same with whiskey, perfumed with cinnamon.” (quoted in Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman, page 311). Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: September 17th, 2012 | Author: Daniel Embree | Filed under: Sacred Art Experiences, Spirituality | Tags: Book of Mormon, exodus, gay Mormon, gay rights, history, Mormonism, narratives, religion, spirituality | 2 Comments »
What Gays and Mormons could learn from each other about Marginality, Exile, and the Promised Land:
Alma the Younger Called to Repentance, by James C. Christensen, leaded stained glass, 1977.
If there is a central story to the Book of Mormon, it is the story of a marginalized people journeying through the wilderness and miraculously arriving in a promised land. That exodus narrative is replayed over and over again by the literal histories of the peoples described in the Book of Mormon, principally in the account of Lehi’s persecution in Jerusalem and subsequent journey across the ocean to ancient America under the direction and providence of God.
That central narrative also plays out in their figurative and doctrinal discourses. In the conversion of Alma the Younger, for example, Alma describes being racked with torment until he had a change of heart and was born again of Jesus Christ. He compares his new state of mind with the former, saying, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20). Spiritually, he had to journey through the wilderness to reach a place of peace.
I think these stories must have provided hope and comfort to the early Mormons who faced their own persecution in mid-nineteenth century America and were forced to journey across the barren plains to their promised land in Utah. And in fact, learning these stories growing up has actually helped me as a gay man. Like my Mormon ancestors, I have moved from marginalization and exile through an emotional rebirth into a new place of peace and community. In that way, the gay American narrative is nearly identical to the Mormon narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: May 6th, 2011 | Author: Daniel Embree | Filed under: Spirituality, The Daily Life of an Artist | Tags: doubt, gay Mormon, religion, spirituality | 3 Comments »
Fear and Trembling, 22" x 14" monotype ©Daniel Embree 2010
The gay Mormon community is big, and encompasses a wide range of beliefs and lifestyles. I am part of a network of gay Mormon blogs, and I enjoy reading about so many different approaches to spirituality and sexuality. Recently in one of these blogs, an acquaintance of mine lamented his frequent doubts, expressing the shame he felt over his lack of faith.
I believe that making doubt a vice is one of modern religion’s biggest and most tragic crimes. Doubt is not a vice! It is a virtue!
Doubt tempers society. Questioning leads to growth. It leads us to new, more accurate information. Skepticism creates accountability. It keeps people honest, and without it, we would have no ethics.
Consider a person who doubts–he is likely humble, able to admit his own faults–able to admit what he doesn’t know. He is curious, likes to learn, checks his sources. He is not easily tricked or manipulated. He is adaptable and able to consider many viewpoints. All of those things are virtues!
Compare that to what I see far too often with people of a self-professed faith–they are stubborn, self-righteous, and often close-minded. They are sure of themselves–yes–but with that comes inflexibility and arrogance.
I see a fear of doubt in many conservative religions, and I think it is a reaction to science, which requires questioning. I think that’s a shame because skepticism doesn’t just belong in the laboratory. I think there is a nice place for it in religion. Look at how questions and experimentation have improved technology. Wouldn’t it be nice to see our knowledge of spirituality increasing at a similar rate?
I am wary of any culture that makes doubt a reason for shame, embarrassment, or apology. If an organization is telling you not to question it, not to doubt it, not to be skeptical, then I think that is a reason to be even more skeptical of it.
Learning how to doubt–and how to be comfortable with the idea of not knowing–is one of the best things I have learned since finding myself on the outside of Mormonism. It has made me a better person, and I am grateful for it!