The greatest contribution to spirituality in centuries began with a column of light on a 14-year-old Joseph. Certainly a brighter light than the Sun in which Joseph could observe two characters. What could this young man imagine that was brighter than the Sun? Who could conceive of the paved sky?
From that column, a voice or a figure may have come out, but a new and surprising truth emerged: «The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also» (D&C 130:22) and from that corner of the restoration a whole world opens up before us.
In Joseph’s time, God was omnipresent, without body or passions, intangible, invisible and incomprehensible. And that same thing was shared by all religions, Christian or not. In Islam it is taught «Allah is One; Allah is eternal. He never begot nor was begotten; and there is nothing like Him.» (Qur’an 112)
Joseph Smith brought from the forest a message out of his culture, out of his environment, a strange particle, an element out of the table, brought the dark matter of divinity. No one could imagine it until then, no heart dared to conceive it because that idea was outside the language, of any intention, of any way of thinking. His testimony is outside his time of context, of debate and… Do we understand the difficulty of such a thing?
To innovate in any matter we start with something known and create ideas with other relatives. On the other hand, the ideas of religion and philosophy of their time (and even today) were unable in their alphabet to articulate that phrase in D&C 130:22, useless to conceive of a God with a body of flesh and bones.
The Prophet Joseph Smith brought the paved sky
The prophet taught at the funeral of King Follett in April 1844 «you yourselves must learn to be gods, and to be kings and priests of God, as all gods have done before you.»
Just as Einstein did not innovate or expand physics but revolutionized it with a surprising vision of space and time, thus surpassing Newton’s physics, providing a different vision of the universe. Similarly Joseph Smith in the first vision, revealed the fabric of a humanized divinity, understandable, accessible, palpable, visible, material and with emotions. An authentic revolution in his time. Even today I can read to many loyal to the classic idea (never better said) of divinity, to be shocked by that revelation.
The Platonic idea that «the body is the prison of the soul» still reigns in many senses in the mind of man. The concepts of body and matter were punished in Christianity and other religions, considered as sinful, inferior, vilified elements. However, restoration elevates them to the category of blessings of privilege and highly desirable. They are now in their true position, «For as ye have looked upon the long absence of your spirits from your bodies to be a bondage, I will show unto you how the day of redemption shall come…». (D&C 45:17)
Everything is matter
Everything is matter. Nothing could have shocked me more, in my youth, than this phrase. I had a poster of «The School of Athens» (Rafael Sanzio 1510) in my room. In the center, Plato and Aristotle dialogue. Plato gestures pointing to the sky, to the world of ideas, Aristotle extends his hand to the ground, he works on his physics of the world. I confess with a certain blush, that I had Aristotle to spare in painting, I was a disciple of Socrates and Plato. At that time the mayéutica, the spirit, the idea and the immaterial were everything to me, I memorized entire pages of their Dialogues, I practiced them with my friends and I wrote my first book (I gave it away and I lost it).
When I was baptized I read D&C a short time ago and I suppose also this scripture «There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;». (D&C 131:7). The amazing thing about that time is that I remember no debate, no struggle in my mind, not even after reading the next verse, «We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.» (8)
I don’t know exactly what the transition from a Platonic disciple to a «materialistic» Mormon was like. What I do know is that it happened slowly and silently. It often amazes me that it was not a stumbling block for a spirit like mine fully identified with Socratic philosophers, Siddhartha’s admirer and Hatha Yoga practitioner, to come across a religion that proclaims «all is matter».
But there was a time when something changed. As I narrated in that experience of January 24, 1978, that day of May, 1976, I heard from some American missionaries the story of the first vision, around a table in my house with my family. At that moment I was not fully aware of what was happening, but in the following days, I noticed the perfect fit of my soul in that hole cut not with my hand.
A bronze sphere
In the Book of Mormon we read about an object found by Lehi at the door of his shop. A sphere deposited not by human hands. This sphere is a sample of the kingdom of heaven and in its meditation we can infer the quality of its inhabitants.
«And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.» (1 Nephi 16:10)
Meditating on the scriptures is, above all, asking questions, a task similar to digging around a wild olive tree. We dig in them.
- Why a sphere?
If we extend the hand, its natural position is concave, nothing better than a sphere to fit into it. We see an ergonomic intention in its construction. A whole detail that shows a delicate attention to those who would use it.
- Why fine bronze?
It is a familiar material for Lehi, very useful in its time. At present it is used for industry and mechanisms, gears, crowns. Material of great resistance to wear and a salty environment such as the sea. It is admirable the use of elements of his time to make objects of an unknown technology.
- Why meticulously carved?
Lehi was a person of certain position, since he possessed «gold, and our silver, and our precious things». (1 Nephi 3:22), Nephi clarifies the following «Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great» (25) then the astonishment of Lehi and Nephi about their bill is significant, they understood about this matter. Alma tells us later, «And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship» (Alma 37:39).
We also recognize this mastery in the construction of ships, as Nephi worked them with «singular mastery» and later clarifies this point when he says… «I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men» (1 Nephi 18:2). This bronze sphere was carved in a way that Lehi could appreciate, its appearance was contemporary, but not its functioning.
In all this I see the intention not to distract Lehi and his family in the details, disguising them in his sight, and to focus their attention on the purpose, that is to guide them into the desert according to their faith. These details show the humble attitude of a manufacturer, not ostentatious but helpful.
- How did it work?
Nephi didn’t really know, but he tells us «I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them». (1 Nephi 16:28). Even today we cannot make faith a source of energy and yet that sphere transformed it into movement. All this in the appearance of a familiar object with which Lehi and his family could interact.
In these previous points, I only intend to highlight the evidence in the restoration and particularly in the detail of the Liahona, of the physical and material consistency of the kingdom of heaven. And this inspires childish questions, let me use the adjective. Questions about the origin of that object, as well as where the Book of Mormon plates are right now.
And in this case there is another question, the most important.
Who made the Liahona?
Yeah, who and not what. The restoration allows us to ask this question, to ask it according to our own language since «every man shall hear [and, I add, wonder about] the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue and in his own language» (D&C 90:11) The simple language that the Savior used to teach is the same that is needed to appreciate the first corner of his kingdom that we see in the first vision.
As we meditate on the Liahona, we sympathize with the question «Who asked it?» and we should not shy away from it because it brings us closer to knowing Him.
And then, as we dig with faith, the answer emerges with force, like a sprout of water that is born as we sink our thoughts around the olive tree. We are amazed and gaze upon the answer with joy, for we have diligently searched. Then we can answer .
Someone made it. And that humble and bent response to reason keeps a mystery hidden in the sight of many. That someone belongs to one of the principalities, kingdoms and powers of a paved kingdom of heaven. That someone is very capable of doing that wonder with his hands and with his knowledge originating in worlds prior to this one, perfected to the point of detecting faith and diligence. To pull on that word, someone, would take us to a whole world as physical as ours.
When I was about twelve years old, before knowing the restored gospel, I listened to my teacher Don Rufo, an excellent math teacher who also taught us religion.
Don Rufo was a fervent believer, he instilled in us faith in God and this made me think a lot about his kingdom. With the information I received I could only build in my mind a sky in a gaseous state, full of clouds, cumulus-nimbus type. And me, if I was good, singing all eternity. At that time, I was a member of the school choir. We rehearsed every week and sometimes I got tired of singing the same songs all year round for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Thinking of the sky and the heavenly choirs singing eternally, made me quite uneasy.
Don’t think that Don Rufo had a better idea of heaven than mine. Once, after much meditation, I literally asked him this.
«If Jesus rose with a body, should he now be in a place with a floor to step on?
I waited, then, for the description of the pavement of Heaven. He looked at me a few seconds behind his dark glasses, saw that I was not joking and answered «Don’t ask those questions». Three years later he read that marvelous description, «We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.» (D&C 110:2).
The paved sky
By «there was a pavement,» you mean someone did it. I don’t know what kind of gold has the color of amber, the truth is that it sounds good. I have a reddish ceramic floor under my feet. In both cases there is a body and someone who did a paving job.
We find another example in D&C 137:4 «I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold». They seemed to be paved with gold, I think it will be the material similar to gold as amber. Paved, we have those who do that work. But the streets of that kingdom? There seems to be urban design. Houses, buildings, streets, gardens, rivers, trees, promenades, palaces, citizens… a king. A golden pavement the color of amber under his feet.
Can there be a more concrete heaven? Few actually take seriously the description of the heavenly city that John describes.
I think that in that kingdom behind the veil, in addition to singing there should be more activities, I do not think that leisure is the main one. But at least I know one of them. One of its inhabitants made something fantastic «… a sphere of fine bronze, carefully carved; and in the sphere there were two needles».
To produce such perfect and advanced objects, a realm at the same level is needed. «Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?» (Matthew 7:16)
In comparison the sky taught us by Don Rufo and the god who inhabited it intangible, without parts or passions, incomprehensible, immaterial… what kingdom corresponds to this? What space? Where can one create a sphere like that? How if there are no hands to give shape to the bronze and without someone with extraordinary knowledge?
Perhaps someday we can do something similar, as the magicians of Pharaoh did before Moses. But surely on both sides of the veil will need a kingdom, knowledge and hands to carve.