One of my favorite little objects in Brigham Young University’s exhibit “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture,” which closes at the end of this week, is a small Sufi begging bowl from Persia.
I haven’t found an online photograph of it, but it’s made from a large hard nut (rather like a coconut) that grows on a variety of tree down in the Indian Ocean. Apparently, these nuts routinely fall into the sea, and are then carried by ocean currents up to Iran or Persia. They’ve become popular items among Sufi mystics in Iranian Islam not only for their utility as physical objects but –and this is what caught my attention — because their crossing of the Indian Ocean, hundreds and hundreds of miles of it, is taken to represent the passage of the human soul from its divine origin across the vast sea of life and material existence.
It occurs to me that the journey of the Jaredites and, later, of Lehi and his party — as narrated in the Book of Mormon — might also be viewed in such a manner. Inspired by faith, and relying upon the Lord, these faithful people cast themselves off from the comforting solidity of the continent they knew and hurled themselves into the vast, unstable, ever-shifting, and uncharted ocean. They weren’t sailors. Like most people in previous generations, they probably couldn’t even swim. The Jaredites were from deep within a mostly landlocked country; Lehi’s family lived near Jerusalem, high on an inland mountain ridge. This must have been both bewildering and absolutely frightening for them. Yet their faith led them, ultimately, to the Promised Land, which they could not see from their point of origin nor even from amidst the tempests and the waves, but which, reliant upon the word of the Lord, they believed to be there.
All of which is just an excuse to feature the painting above, which I found in this month’s Ensign. (I want to encourage fresh Mormon art, and want to push it wherever and whenever I can.) Painted by Jonathan Arthur Clarke, entitled “I Will Bring You Up Again Out of the Depths” and featured in the Ninth International Art Competition now on display at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, it depicts those relatively tiny Jaredite barges scattered out across an enormous, trackless, utterly foreign sea, under a huge sky.
That’s how we ourselves often feel. We don’t know exactly where we are, we’re dwarfed by things around us, we’re not sure what’s ahead, we know that a terrifying storm could hit us at any moment, sometimes we’re absolutely submerged, but, in our most faithful moments at least, we’re confident that, if we trust in the Lord, he will bring us up again, and to a Land of Promise.