Note: This was a talk offered at the Horsetooth Student Ward in Fort Collins, Colorado
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’m easily overwhelmed. I mean this in the traditional sense, where “overwhelm” is synonymous with words like “overflow” or “overbrim,” like a capsizing boat or a cup filled passed the limit. To overwhelm a thing is to submerge it completely. And if there is one sense that I try to carry with me on a day-to-day basis, it’s this sense of being overfilled or filled past brimming. I try to find myself submerged or immersed in light, color and sound. Submerged in joy, sadness, boredom. Immersed in my family’s love, immersed in God and God’s love. Believe it or not, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy trying to cultivate this state of mind, this state of being overwhelmed. I’ve found it’s not easy to give yourself over to the world in this way, usually because there’s a lot of pressure that goes along with submersion. Indeed, when it comes to scuba diving, the most important factor to overcome in breathing under water is pressure. Water is almost 1000 times more dense than air. To scuba dive, say, along the coral reef, to see the vast and vibrant array of animal and plant life the ocean has to offer, one has to endure the burden of a pressure 1000 times greater than that which we experience on a daily basis.
These days, I feel overwhelmed in particular by the modern world. I feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the planet, and by the incredible complexity of ecological, economic, social, and interpersonal systems. For instance, I am astonished by the physics that causes burning paper to curl, or the biological systems at work that cause leaves to emerge and array themselves along a branch. Often, looking beyond nature, I feel overwhelmed by systems and industries that lie over and above my control, or by the accelerating and damaging effects of unmindful human consumption on the planet and environment. As a result of this sensitivity, as a result of being plunged into the midst, so to speak, I have become more aware than ever of my own place in these systems. What role am I playing in the irreducibly complex landscape of the modern world? Becoming aware of myself, I then become acutely aware of other people, beings, things. An old Daoist aphorism might help explain this phenomenon: “from one thing, comes ten thousand things.”
What is my responsibility to the world in which I’m submerged? What is my responsibility to my neighbor, to my community, to my environment? These are questions that every major world religion has set out to answer in some way. What is my domain? In the beginning, of course, man was given dominion over the fish of the sea and the beasts of the earth and over the whole world itself. Our world is our domain—but this means something more complicated in the original sense.
In Hebrew the original word for dominion is radah, and it’s used to refer to the dominion of a ruler or king. Of course, if you know your scriptures at all, you know that kings are a constant source of debate—what makes a good king is a major question throughout the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin is often used as a model example, a king who labored with his own hands to serve his people. The word radah is also used in Psalm 72, originally a coronation psalm for Solomon, which reads in verse 8: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” What follows is important, too, and describes dominion as God intended us to exercise it, starting in verse 12: “For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” In other words, to have dominion over the earth is to have dominion in the same sense that Benjamin or Solomon were instructed to rule, from sea to sea, from the river to the end of the earth. I think radah, or dominion, describes stewardship, the care of others. The attitude that blood should be precious in all domains. I think that this goes for the earth itself as much as it does for human beings. Precious should be the earth, and its systems, and its cycles, these beautiful patterns which so easily overwhelm. Joseph Joubert, a french moralist and essayist from 18th and 19th century writes in one of his notebooks: “this stone in my hand, it demands glory.”
How do we glorify that over which we have dominion? Reading between the lines, I think that Hosea is fascinated by this question, and is adamant in critiquing the children of Israel in their unrighteous domain and dominion. In particular, I think Hosea in particular is interested in understanding the world in the same way God understands it. He’s interested in what we call ours, and how we exist in relation to those things or people over we have dominion or stewardship, and he uses a metaphor of marriage and sexual purity—and impurity—to deliver his point. In Chapter 3, Hosea outlines the concept of marriage—“thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man…so will I also be for thee.” This reads as a firm affirmation of the lateral bonds of matrimony. He then goes on in v.4-5, writing that “the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod and without teraphim. Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God and David their king and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” What are we to make of this verse which follows so closely on the heels of a description of the bonds of marriage? Perhaps thinking about it in terms of bonds and bonding is productive. Throughout this Old Testament book, Hosea critiques Israel’s fidelity, especially their fidelity to their covenants and to their God. As we know, to covenant with God is to make a bond. To enter the covenant of marriage is to make a bond between you and a spouse. It seems to me that what’s at stake here in Hosea’s matrimonial metaphor is the idea of bonding itself, and the quality or fidelity of those bonds. This is something for which I have a deep appreciation and reverence. A bond is a source of connection. It brings one thing to bear upon another. Bonds are immanent, they are immediate, they are physical and real. I think that’s what Hosea was talking about when he addresses the children of Israel, who are being forced to abide without so many things to lean on in vs 4-5. Instead of relying in their worship on images, kings, priests—all of which are important in their own way and in their own time—Israel would have to rely on one another, on their spouses, families, neighbors, and communities. This, for me, is what the church is all about. It’s about being overwhelmed by our bonds to the person sitting next to us in the pew, experiencing their soul and their brightness through the gospel of Christ.
These real, immanent bonds articulated through covenants constitute, for me, perhaps the most poignant facet of the gospel—that through sealing, marriage, baptisms for the dead, the whole human race can essentially be bound together in and through time and eternity like a network woven from perfect thread. I’m not the first to bear witness to sealing, bonding, and universal connectivity in these terms. One of my favorite authors, Sir Thomas Browne, constructs in his book the Garden of Cyrus, published in 1635, a complex vision of the world predicated on a specific shape— that shape being the shape of networks and criss-crossed lattices of interrelationality. Browne points out a beautiful scripture in Songs of Solomon 2:2, which reads, referencing Christ, “he looketh through the windows, showing himself through the lattice.” I read this metaphorically—that, in other words, Christ manifests himself through networks, through the lattices that form when we make bonds, bonds of dominion, and bonds of love.
But much of the Book of Hosea is a call to repentance—a jeremiad of sorts which condemns the children of Israel for their irresponsibility in maintaining their bonds—not only the bonds between Israel and God, but bonds within communities, within families. This shows us that the abuse of bonds is a real and serious sin. When we forget our domain, our connections to others, then we grow distant, not only from each other, but also from God. Hosea writes in 7:4— “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” And in 7:10—“I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled.” A whoredom, of course, is a sexual transgression, and stands in opposition to the holy connectivity of marriage. In other words, it is movement away or a distraction from pre-approved paths. It is also a state of physical excess—it’s often associated with drinking and eating and slaughter, and other pleasures of the flesh. Hosea 5:7—“They have dealt treacherously against the Lord: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions.” Throughout Hosea, the children of Israel have forgotten the fidelity of their bonds, living instead in whoredom, marked by excess—the excess of strange children and of devouring portions. I think this bears with it a lesson for our time—when we live in a state of excess, we forget our bonds. When we forget that we play a role in the vast systems that surround and overwhelm us, we forget that we must nurture our families and wards as diligently as we nurture our planet, remaining aware of what’s meant by dominion and the metaphors of sexual fidelity found throughout Hosea. I have a firm testimony that we have a better knowledge of God and, by extension, a better knowledge of our earthly bonds and covenants, when we maintain an awareness of ourselves in relation to the world and universe. For example, we are reminded constantly of our divine birthright—“I am a child of God.” The Lord wants for us to know ourselves and our potential, and in order to do this, we must love become aware of others, and become aware of who we are in these contexts. I believe this also involves an awareness of ourselves as producers and consumers—aware not only of how much we use, and how much we consume, in excess of our given place, but also of how we give back as agents and participants in systems, for the betterment of all creation.
As you may know, the Old Testament and the New Testament are associated with two different covenants between humankind and God. The Old Testament is a record of the children of Israel under the Law of Moses, the lower law, while the New Testament is a chronicle of the children of Israel under the higher law, a Law brought into the world by Christ and Christ’s atonement. God desires of us that we follow the higher law, which is the law by which we begin to know him. Love thy neighbor, love the Lord thy God. In other words, remember love, remember your bonds. Hosea 6:6 reads, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Here, Hosea acknowledges that God essentially desires an observance of the higher law. He wants for us to have and exhibit a knowledge of him. And what is the knowledge of God? I like to think of the knowledge of God or the mind of God as pure love. In other words, a pure understanding of all things, where all things exist immanent to one another, where all things “group, concatenate, relate, network, negotiate, compromise and compose.” Love is a bond—pure love is an understanding of all bonds. If you’ll humor me, I think that Gilles Deleuze, one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, articulates beautifully, what the mind and knowledge of God might look like. He writes in the book A Thousand Plateaus:
“Each individual is an infinite multiplicity, and the whole of Nature is a multiplicity of perfectly individuated multiplicities. [The parts of nature] are the various assemblages and individuals, each of which groups together an infinity of particles entering into an infinity of more or less interconnected relations. There is therefore a unity to the plane of nature, which applies equally to the inanimate and the animate, the artificial and the natural….It is a plane upon which everything is laid out, and which is like the intersection of all forms…; its dimensions, however, increase with those of the multiplicities of individualities it cuts across. … [It is] a plane of immanence or univocality opposed to analogy….What we are talking about is not the unity of substance but the infinity of the modifications that are part of one another on this unique plane of life.”
God desires the higher law. God desires mercy, and compassion, God desires for us a knowledge of him and the possession of a knowledge like his. I believe we learn from Deleuze what we learn from Hosea—mercy and the knowledge of God comprise an understanding of the unique plane of life and all that is arrayed on that plane, and all the intersections and interweavings that compose it’s bright network. Christ looks out from the lattice of all things. Christ and God regard us through creation. It is my hope and prayer that we take what Hosea says to heart, and seek out mercy and the knowledge of God, and try daily to obtain an understanding of our bonds, in which we are poignantly entangled. It is my testimony that the gospel is a gospel of promises, covenants, and bonds, and that sealings are given on earth as they are given in heaven. I know that the domain we’ve been given on earth constitutes a challenge to glorify and give glory and mercy and love to the multiplicites which surrounds us. In loving creation, I believe we will eventually come to understand ourselves as children of God, as part of the vast and sealed universal family which extends throughout and composes time and eternity.