Sunday, September 3, 2017

Matter Unorganized

Pillars of Creation, taken from Hubble Telescope
This summer has been chaotic. The laws of entropy have been in full force, and its evidence can be seen in my kitchen, in the awful sleeping schedules of my children, in my failing routines of family prayer and scripture study, and in myself in general. However, slowly I am gathering myself together to face September, which for me is a return to structure and reorganizing as our family falls back into school schedules, and being able to organize our house again after the messy freedoms that summer brings.

As I gather myself for the upcoming week, I started thinking about the wild doctrine we Latter-day Saints have, that we can become like God in eternity. This doctrine has gotten some backlash by critics who claim we debase God by saying we are actually his children with potential to actually become like Him, but to me it is a crazy beautiful and inspiring teaching, that we can become co-creators with our Heavenly Father, that I am a disciple in training trying to practice divine principles, and that my actions can make a difference in eternity.

One latter-day Saint thinker says it this way:
“Several prophets have taught that we are “gods in embryo,” and in Mormon theology the work of Godhood is a work of creation and order—of organizing intelligences, or of bringing order to disordered or chaotic elements in the universe to form new worlds. The call of authentic, imaginative, and generative spirituality is to identify opportunities to actively engage in this creative work of godhood every day, whether through managing emotions, ordering distorted thought patterns, bridling passions, educating desires, growing souls or organizing families. Godhood isn’t about seeking to live according to what is natural but to take natural element and shape it, organize it, build it, channel it, bridle it, and nurture it toward something transcendent—whether that be the element of our bodies or the element of the cosmos.”[1]
I love this idea.

In the Genesis creation, Latter-day Saints put a unique twist on the creation story. We claim that God did not create heaven and earth ex nihilo, but that God in fact took pre-existing materials and formed them into an earth, creating life through an unknown but definite process of organization, rather than magical conjuring from nothing.[2]

In the beginning, God said, “Look, yonder is matter unorganized.” In the book of Abraham, we learn that God said to those that were with him, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.”[3] For God, creation is a process of organization of raw materials that seems to involve time, space, patience, knowledge of natural laws and science, power, and lots of work. Interestingly, we have the suggestion that God used helpers to assist him in his work of creation.

Today, we are called as helpers to assist God in his perpetual work of creation, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[4] In our own lives, there are many opportunities to participate in this work of creation because it is obvious that “matter unorganized” abounds in this fallen world. Mortal life is the perfect testing ground for learning how to be co-creators with God.

What are some examples of “matter unorganized” that we encounter? 

I can stand in my pyjamas in the kitchen and point out to myself the piles of dishes in a sink, the rice crispies dried on the floor, the milk spilled on the table and say to myself rather drily, “Look, yonder is matter unorganized.” In the evening, there is unmade food in the fridge that I am expected to “create” into a meal for my picky children, and I can mutter under my breath, “More matter unorganized.” While raising my children, when I see my son hitting and biting his brother, I can say yet again, “yonder is matter unorganized” and teach him (hopefully with great love and patience, but not usually) to channel his energies, passions, and enthusiasm in appropriate ways. Often our work of organizing is done in "ways that look small to the understanding of men" [5] Family life is a great place to create order by teaching and learning simultaneously about the organizing attributes of love, kindness, forgiveness, obedience, and discipline; to take those chaotic, painful, raw, and frustrating parts of life and exalt them into a heavenly state. To some it may sound almost sacrilege to use God’s mighty words of earth’s creation in such banal ways, and to me there is some humor in comparing the grandeur of earth’s creation to doing dishes, but I believe that in a very real way the drudgery of everyday life, especially home life, is the same work.

As mortal beings with all the messy mortal baggage we carry, we are each of us “matter unorganized.” In my own life, this is painfully apparent. In our doctrine, we are taught that we are to be “agents to act, not be acted upon.”[6]  God once took of the unorganized elements of this earth to form a body for me so I could come down from heaven into mortality, but to organize me spiritually, God requires my will. He will not interfere with my agency, because that is not how the process works. I can’t passively be formed to become like God. I must act in order to become. In a process parallel to the creation story, sometimes this process of becoming like God involves separating the light from the darkness in my life. Sometimes it is planting seeds of faith to spring up into a later harvest. Sometimes it is causing dry land to appear in an ocean of the impossible. For some it involves the process of creating and raising miniature men and women in the image of God. But always the organizing process takes time and effort.

Family history and temple work is another way we participate in the work of creation—we take matter unorganized, like names on a parish register, and organize them into family units and seal them together in the temple as families. Developing talents is another example. We take ideas and the chaotic creative thoughts of the mind and make them into organized music, poetry, art, carpentry, baking, storytelling, or any other variety of abilities. Controlling words, thoughts, and behaviors to more closely follow Christ’s example is another. Each of us in our own sphere has opportunities to take matter unorganized and bridle it, develop it, change it, mold it, work with it, love it, serve it, or any other action word we can think of that will take that specific “matter unorganized” and help it “fulfill the measure of its creation.”

As usual, the greatest organizing power this world knows is charity, the pure love of Christ. When we work with that influence, we are creators. We are invited to use our time and energies to cultivate diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity so that we can be fruitful creators with Christ.[7] Daily we come in contact with a spouse, a child, a friend, a co-worker, perfect strangers—someone—that is a definite piece of “matter unorganized.” With love, we know what to do. Agency is always a part of the process, but when we are working together with the master creator and organizer, Jesus Christ, miracles happen and the laws of entropy are reversed, people change, including ourselves, and order in the universe is restored. Sometimes we have to be broken down in painful ways in order to reorganize ourselves into something better, but always we can be reorganized. This is possible because Jesus Christ not only created this earth and all things in it, but through the atonement has the power to heal us all and put us back together when His creation--us--inevitably breaks down. 

As I renew myself this September, I am making goals to be an organizer—a creator in the Latter-day Saint definition of the term—to take matter unorganized both in myself and in the world around me, and to help make it into something better. I don’t expect to do anything grand, and I will fail often, because I am a work in progress, another prime example of “matter unorganized.” But I will keep on trying. Collectively as disciples of Christ all around the world, with persistence and love, we can form beauty and order out of the broken and damaged, and with our help the day will come when God will once again look upon creation and call it “very good.”

[1] Ty Mansfield, “A Reason for Faith:  Homosexuality and the Gospel.” Deseret Book.
[2] Parley P. Pratt said, “Man, moulded from the earth, as a brick! A Woman, manufactured from a rib! ...O man! When wilt thou cease to be a child in knowledge. Man, as we have said, is the offspring of Deity.” And Brigham Young said, “When you tell me that father Adam was made as we make adobes from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale. When you tell me that the beasts of the field were produced in that manner, you are speaking idle worlds devoid of meaning. There is no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell.”
[3] Abraham 3:24
[4] Moses 1:39
[5] Ether 3:5
[6] 2 Nephi 2
[7]2 Peter 1:5-8