Note: This is the final part of my review of The Fob Bible, which I began here last week. This part picks up where I left off, which was here:
Within the Mormon context of The Fob Bible, the (pro)creative movement of these “opposite equal” spheres further implies the eternal (pro)creative influence of both male and female Deities over the universe. For if we have a Father in Heaven and if, as Eliza R. Snow reminds us, “truth is reason, [then] truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a Mother there” and that she’s doing more than merely keeping House. Rather, as Nelson’s variation on this theme suggests, she, as represented in the creative power of the moon (which here “lift[s] land” from the earth’s watery void, “set[s] the rain in silver sheets / upon the ocean’s stormy streets,” and places “birds in flight” and fish in the sea) and as the feminine coeval with God the Father, is an active participant in the eternal, reiterative round of creation, a circling “dance” that is more productive of all that is “good,” beautiful, and holy than many of us may care to–or even, at present, can–imagine.
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Re: The Fob Family Bible: The Final Four Fobnesses and Conclusion
But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to imagine what such a relationship might look like or to consider the extent of its influence in/on our existence, especially when it comes to our own (pro)creative companionships, which, if we believe what Joseph Smith taught, are simply mortal reflections of the “sociality” of the exalted, those beings “coupled with eternal glory.”25 I take “coupled” here to mean at least three things: one, exalted beings are inextricably linked to the glory of God, whose name is “Eternal”;26 two, exalted beings are paired as eternal husband and wife within the highest “order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]”;27 and three, such glory and order, such Eternal union, necessarily includes acts of sexual communion, which are not meant solely as the means to propagate the race of the Gods–as “a continuation of the [pair’s] seeds”28–though that is, of course, a necessary function of the coupling. Rather, such an eternally-interdependent union of opposites deifies the “procreant urge” to create such that it continues, deepens, and tempers our inherently human passions, making them as Eternal as God, whose well of emotion runs deep as eternity, as is evident in the breadth and depth of emotions he expresses throughout the scriptures, including anger, anguish, sadness, happiness, joy, and a fullness of love. I’m convinced that such divine love encompasses, is even heavily informed by, God’s (pro)creative power; as Nephi testifies, even though he doesn’t “know the meaning of all things,” he knows “that [God] loveth his children”29–the fruits of his eternally procreative body.
And though this matter of eternal intercourse, of the Eros of the Gods, is essentially, as Brigham Young taught, “a hard matter [for us] to reach” because “it is without beginning of days and end of years” and so, ultimately, beyond the limits of mortal comprehension, we can, as Brother Brigham continues, “tell some things with regard to it”–namely that “it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of Salvation [“¦]; it is from eternity to eternity.”30 This thread thus not only links the procreative pair to one another and to God in the bonds of Eternal matrimony, it further binds them to the Gospel of Christ and to the expansive range of God’s creation. Hence my belief that Eros is in effect the catalyzing force in the universe. It draws together and renews bodies in a sacramental bond that nourishes the soul. Such eternal eroticism–as a deep expression of eternal love mirrored in our own sexual coupling–thus nourishes us and our relationships, leading to the “continuation of [“¦] lives”31 because it encourages fully empathic connections to other bodies in ways that move us beyond our flesh into service to another’s corporeal desires and that drive us to (pro)create, to leave our personal mark on the universe, a tendency each Fob Bible contributor acknowledges (though not always explicitly in sexual terms and never with disrespect) in their communal efforts to re-imagine familiar scriptural worlds.
Samantha Larsen Hastings loosely interprets this dance and speaks to the power and virtue of eternal womanhood through her revision of the “Song of Deborah” (her sole poem), a lyric witness of Deborah’s influence as “prophetess,” judge,32, and “mother in Israel.”33 Hastings’ greatest achievement in this poem isn’t that she drastically re-creates Deborah’s words and Deborah’s world, for what she offers is simply a compressed and reworked version of the twice-told Biblical tale; yet in this retelling–and here is where the achievement resides–she focuses on the female agency at work in this story of “a woman’s” “victory”34 as she acts to great effect in a historically patriarchal role. Indeed, not only is Deborah one of just a handful of female prophets mentioned in the scriptures35 and the only female judge of pre-monarchic Israel; and not only was her story likely told/compiled by a male scribe; but, as a poet and “mother of,” not simply in, Israel36–characteristics highlighted in Hastings feminist re-appropriation of the Biblical text and in her metered interpretation of Deborah’s song–she is thoroughly enrapt in the (pro)creative dance of the universe.
The language and imagery of the poem point to her active participation with God, the Father of Israel, in renewing this people and their home. Hastings’ “Song” begins with the scriptural invocation, “Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, utter a song,”37 calling for the mother to call her child Israel from “twenty years” of “captive captivity”38 at the hands of “the king of Canaan.”39 As “mother of Israel,”40 she’s thus marked here as a mediatory influence between heaven and Earth, Earth and heaven. This comes through especially as we consider the geographic backdrop of the poem, signaled by its editorial epigraph: “And Deborah [“¦.] dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim.”41 Standing atop a hill–the meeting place of heaven and Earth–beneath the “palm tree”–her typical seat of judgment and a place variously symbolic of peace, plenty, victory, and the fruitful union of the sexes (a towering trunk supporting expansive, flowery vegetation and fruit)–she “prophesies and lauds,”42 sings and prays “[f]or the children of Israel.”43 Such prophecies and lauding as the prophetess offers are rhetorical efforts symbolic here of her divinely-ordained power and influence and thus of her fruitful union with God, a bond that ultimately turns Israel away from their “new [Canaanite] gods”44 and toward the true and living God whose power over the earth, characterized in the song by “drop[ping] heavens” and “melt[ing] mountains,”45 is invoked by a woman of great faith and calculated “to lead the children of Israel down” to humility, “down to the gates”46 of deliverance from physical bonds and redemption through Jehovah.
In her moving elegiac poem, “Weary” (one of her six verse offerings), Sarah E. Jenkins highlights another, less than pleasant aspect of the woman’s (pro)creative relationship with God: childbirth and the toll it can take on the mother’s mind. Speaking with language that sneaks back on itself and shifts meaning in the movement, the poet explores an experience like Leah’s, the “hated” wife of Jacob whose womb was opened by the Lord such that she conceived four sons in rapid succession. I can only imagine (if that) what this does to a woman’s cognition, especially when she’s already under pressure to please a husband who likes her “beautiful sister”47–his favored wife–that much more, but after watching my wife adjust to the needs of our first newborn daughter some years ago, I’m convinced that Jenkins captures the weariness well. And though my wife’s passage into motherhood wasn’t tainted by a husband whose attention was diverted elsewhere, there were times, say, after middle of the night feedings or nights of little to no sleep, when her words followed the circling rhetorical path the poet follows here:
I counted them as they
came–sons and daughters
who didn’t count.
I counted their limbs, perfect
limbs, like their father’s–
nothing so imperfect.
I found him perfect, my one
week of us, my one weak
Such sorrow, “greatly multipl[ied]”49 at and because of conception and condensed here in the poet’s language; such physical, cognitive, and rhetorical labor as “Weary” represents is, I’m convinced, the (pro)creative heritage of the Fall, a re-creative act that essentially revised our premortal relationship with ourselves, one another, and with God, providing the means by which spirit could connect with flesh and language to the mind and body as never would have been possible had Adam and Eve remained in their unproductive sphere and, by so doing, bound humanity in a perpetually unembodied existence.
Ryan McIlvain also engages the (pro)creative work of the marriage relationship in his sole anthologized poem, “Genesis,” which ultimately suggests that sex is for more than each partner’s pleasure and for propagation of the species. Learning to properly direct the sex drive, as the poet implies, is also an important part of identity formation. Speaking as Adam and within the context of Adam and Eve as lovers, the poet begins,
She formed beneath me
on a blanket
on the wet ground pushing
its wetness through.50
This imagery intimates the wetness of a womb in which twinned beings–Gods in embryo–wait for rebirth as fully-realized, exalted souls, each forming to maturity in the presence of the other. Such growth is nurtured, the poet further suggests, by the couple’s interdependent engagement with the flesh and with the intellectual, physical, and spiritual rhythms of embodiment, illustrated here in the relationship between the couple’s lovemaking and the poems they read to one another in the name of communion, each “taking [“¦] turns on the makeshift bed, / turning the stars on / line by line.”51 These concluding lines speak to the promise God made to Abraham that, because of the prophet’s faith, his seed would be multiplied “as the stars of heaven.”52 In this context where poems both inspire and are byproducts of the process of meeting the soul’s needs, the poet’s seed could be both physical and lyrical offspring, both flesh and blood and rhetorical bodies that expand and progress through earth and heaven line upon inherited line.
Will Bishop captures the thrill–and the anxiety–of embarking on such a (pro)creative journey in “When I Do Go on My Honeymoon,” one of his two anthologized poems. He begins by engaging a paradox experienced by unsuspecting virgins when they sexually “collide atop the marriage bed,” a realization that, even though they may intuitively understand the holiness of sex (as the poet understands it here, at least intellectually), there’s more to making married love than turning “”˜No! No!’ into “˜Go! Go!'” and oiling “the mechanics of procreation.”53 Beyond knowing that God ordained sex for our pleasure and for the peopling of the earth; beyond the semantic conversion I mention and the understanding that Tab A goes into Slot B, this entails an interdependent willingness to embrace the fear of vulnerability. Bishop engages this paradox with wonderfully spare lines that mirror the sparseness of emotional vulnerability: “Afraid / but not afraid / to let her touch me,” he says, “we’ll undress / slowly like / passing the sacrament.”54 His reference here to passing, not simply partaking of, the emblems of the Lord’s Supper suggests, first, that the pair is acting with the sanction of God and, second, that each party’s movements are deliberate, meant to prepare the other for the moment of consummation. Such an unselfish and careful approach (literally one full of care) to another’s body, even if unconscious, underscores the holiness of the act of marriage. Indeed, it emphasizes the very nature of the body as a gift from God, as part and parcel of the soul, which, in terms of the LDS cosmology, is the union of “body and spirit.”55 And, as Bishop reminds us in his closing lines, such a union is a beautiful, pleasurable, ennobling thing: “when I see her body, / bare and beautiful / and not ashamed,” he concludes, “I’ll kiss her mouth as if / she were the only woman / who ever existed.”56 I’m certain such affection will be returned many-fold.
As, I’m convinced, will any open-minded reading of The Fob Bible, which was beautifully designed by Elizabeth Beeton and whose texts are punctuated by re-appropriated illustrations by Paul Gustav DorÃ©, whose work not only adds another voice and layers more history into the book itself, but also tells a revisionary, nonsensical story of its own when combined with captions taken from each Fob Bible text (as Theric points out here). My only complaints about the book are that, one, of the fifty-six contributions, well over half (forty) come from just two contributors, and although there’s considerable variety in the work of these two writers, I’d like to hear more from the other members of The Fob Collective; and two (this is perhaps somewhat nit-picky), the font-size is somewhat uneven throughout the book. While the bulk of the text is set in a standard font (Galliard)–save “Ezra’s Inbox” and “Balaam’s Sin,” which are set in Calibri and Courier New (respectively) to reflect each genre’s formal differences–and a standard size, many of the poems are set in either (what appears to be) a significantly smaller or slightly larger font-size. I’m unsure whether this was a choice on the designer’s, editors’, or publisher’s parts or whether it was just an oversight and is the result of an over-hasty drive to publication; whatever the case, it only distracted slightly from the revisionary work of the text, though greater attention to standardization may not have detracted from that work and from the professionalism of the book at all.
Now a final word (though I’m sure it won’t be the last): This collaborative effort between emerging Mormon writers of various stripes and between this collective and B10Mediaworx and their Peculiar Pages imprint represents, I think, a significant achievement in Mormon letters. By banding together and taking an alternative route to publication than those offered to mainstream Mormon authors and as provided through emerging electronic media, they not only enhance the revisionary, (pro)creative intention of The Fob Bible, but they provide an example for Mormon writers to come. Indeed, if groups of artists can couple themselves to God, to their craft, to Mormon culture, to one another, and to their audience with the passion and integrity exhibited here, line by line they may just lead us, “one of a city, [“¦] two of a family,”57 toward that personal and cultural revision we call Zion. Or at the very least, they might just help us see ourselves, our culture, our God, and our potential to create and thus to influence the world in “exciting new ways.”
And I, for one, am perfectly fine with that.
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25. D&C 130:2; italics mine.
26. Moses 7:35.
27. D&C 131:2.
28. D&C 132:19.
29. 1 Ne. 11:17.
30. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widstoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954) 195.
31. D&C 132:22.
32. Judges 4:4.
33. Judges 5:7.
34. Samantha Larsen Hastings, “Song of Deborah,” The Fob Bible line 20.
36. Hastings line 3; italics mine.
37. 1; see also Judges 5:12.
38. Hastings line 2.
41. Judges 4:4-5.
42. Hastings line 5.
47. Sarah E. Jenkins, “Weary,” The Fob Bible line 15.
49. Gen. 3:16.
50. Ryan McIlvain, “Genesis,” The Fob Bible lines 1-4.
52. Gen. 22:17.
53. Anonymous, “When Virgins Collide,” Sunstone Blog 29 Sept. 2008, 18 June 2009 http://sunstoneblog.com/2008/09/29/when-virgins-collide/.
54. Will Bishop, “When I Do Go on My Honeymoon,” The Fob Bible lines 1-6.
55. D&C 88:15.
56. Bishop lines 7-12.
57. Jer. 3:14.