Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Winter's Quest

The Wall Street Journal recently recorded a warm story of man's journey to have a large coffee at every Starbucks in North America.

The poor man's quest is costly, and he sometimes has 125 coffees in a given weekend, and he now faces the depressing challenge that Starbucks, suffering along with the economy, is closing franchises, before he has a chance to visit them.   It is an impossible quest.

The man, who lives with his parents and has named himself Winter, is a remarkable case study of religion in the most general sense.  I don't wish to mock what is an unusual quest.  I think it illustrative of the human condition.

Follow me for a minute, if you wouldn't mind.

What is religion?  What is a story?  At their most basic, I submit they are largely the same thing.

Stories are, at their basis, problems and the manner of their resolution.

Villains cause the problems.  Victims or heroes deal with the problem.  There is usually an agent of some sort that redeems the hero or there is no resolution in tragedy -- and there is a cause to that redemption or its failure -- these are largely the morals or the basic morality -- of the story.  These resolutions require a journey.

Those agents that redeem inside stories may be the actions of the characters, the influence of a third party (a messiah), or even an idea or ideology.  They are what get us to our journey's destination.

Story is the heart of life.

So, religion's relationship with story is that religion is also about problems to be overcome.  In the end, the problems with which religion deals are the great problems of existence: sin, suffering and death.  Religions sort out causes and resolution differently, but many take us on quest.

In religion, believers often go to sacred places as a way to find God, who ultimately redeems us from the problems we face.  We go on a religious quest -- often at great peril and sacrifice. (That Mormonism is connected more deeply to this ancient tradition than some of more modern, more political Christianity is significant to me.)

 Much like Winter's quest to find coffee, such quest can seem absurd to an outsider, but this quest motive leads monks and others to great feats of self-discipline in their personal quest stories.

What Winter's quest shows is the deep yearning in the human soul, so often seeking redemption by the quest to find God or to find purpose in life.

We have lots of quest stories in my Mormon faith -- The Book of Mormon is often about a journey to a sacred place -- the wilderness and the promised land.  Each church unit is on a quest to become more like Zion.  The pioneers were seeking a place God had prepared so they could redeem their souls in part by worshipping him.

Our Temples -- holy, sacred places we sometimes call the Mountain of the Lord's House -- most profoundly reflect the role of pilgrimage to my Mormon faith.

Our Mormon journey to Temple is not unlike journeys to holy places in Eastern religions or medieval journeys to Canterbury or a Muslim's journey to Mecca, or Matsuo Basho's epic across Japan.

Or, for that matter, our quest seems much like environmentalism's quest to find redemptive meaning by journeys in wilderness areas or trekker's desire to find an epic experience.  Even the ritual journeys to art galleries, to concert halls and to historic sites tie into the quest story -- finding redemption through transcendent beauty and historical meaning.

So what Winter does isn't unusual.

Mormonism is a tradition dripping in story and in quest.  We get what seems to be Winter's yearning.

 That our ritual and religious practice connect our religious stories to God directly and to our personal problems and narrative and that our quest provides deep purpose and understanding for the grand journey in life makes my religion worthy indeed.

Temples, never far from news coverage of Mormonism for their supposed secrecy, make the quest of Mormon life to truly find God and heaven.

The subtle and powerful feelings I get in temples -- a satisfying end to this earthly quest -- teach that my life's journey's purpose will be worthwhile, better even than the impossible perfection of finding every Starbucks in the world.  My earthly quest to find the House of the Lord has taught me that I truly have a chance at redemption.

 I do like being a Mormon.

1 comment:

  1. You still continue to amaze me with the depth of your thinking and your analogies. I will never be as smart as you are! I enjoyed the article! Thanks! Janae