What keeps me warmly Mormon through the long nights of cold, cutting dogma and bad faith and that nasty, Christian urge to turn from the stranger and to call the hungry to repent? It’s nonsense, of course. When, with increasing frequency and vehemence, my spiritual home bares its teeth at good, gentle things, it’s the nonsense that keeps me unmoved where I am.
I’m tethered to some ideas, certainly. However one chooses to read it, or any of the few versions of it, Joseph Smith’s brash first vision casts the idea that god is not apart and other, but in creation, with us, like us, immanent and material. It’s a gasping heresy, I know, and superlatively kooky, but so, so lovely. Work matters, and learning, too. That’s an idea with radiance. And we’re all divine and saved, because no suffering is forever. Some Mormon ideas have given such audacious, graceful form to madness that I can’t take my eyes off them.
And, surely, the truth is in madness. A world of flesh-eating bacteria, mass beheadings, invasions and incursions, nuclear arsenals, greedy, grasping maniacs with nuclear arsenals, tumors, starvation, and earthquakes in divers places is madder than a hatter, and we could slice our minds to bloody ribbons searching out the meaning and the sense of it all, and never be any closer to The Answer than our most ancient, ape-like ancestors when they first became aware of themselves and wondered why.
Or, we can play along. The Sanskrit-Hindi term lila—which can be translated as play—emerges sometime in the mid-BCE-millennium, to carry an even older, comfortable concession that god doesn’t make any sense. God, or the gods, or physics unmoored from divine direction, if you will, is not concerned with you and the infinitesimal blip you are in the eternal course of stuff, but is at play, in a game of his/her/their/its own.
Here on the drizzled tarmac of the Houston airport, a gray sky and a gray rain have made the weather morose, but certainly not to slip me, personally, into a chilled funk, nor anybody else. Matter and energy do their thing according to some impenetrable mystery that called them out of whatever there is without them, according to a game whose rules have not been explained, and our consciousness of the business is not a revelation that it’s all, ultimately, for us.
This is not a confession of futility. On the contrary, divinity invites us to play along with what goes on without us, anyway. Build your temples, chip out your fossils, pursue with whatever means the microbes and the men who would inflict misery and death—for gods’ sake, search out the cause of matter and energy. Shape clay and fire it in forms grotesque and gripping, and dance, dance, dance beside the god particles that do not move madly for your peace of mind.
To paraphrase one of our great modern sages: Do, or do not. There is no why.
The doing, after all, is the super fun part.
Our annual cycle is now bringing us out of Holi—or Phagwa, when you’re in Trinidad—those few explosive days each year that try very, very hard to ignore the rules of deference and propriety that govern civil society. The best parts of Holi find communities erupting in sloppy messes of sun-boiled water and neon powder that quickly paint over whatever class distinctions try to explain society during the rest of the year. You can stand by, clinging to your disbelief as everything around you becomes a chaos. Or you can jump in. Forget whys and wherefores and simply make a holy mess of yourself and do your part to make a holy mess of everything else, besides.
When the madness exhausts itself, we might think Holi returns us from unhinged revelry to the real world we have to inhabit the rest of the year. But it may very well be that Holi’s pandemonium gives us reality, more clearly and firmly, than any grey day in the clutch of necessity.
Hinduism’s plunge into deep, Holi nonsense reveals divinity, right here in the world, the things we really are that the everyday obscures, and the hard, lovely labor that sustains it. The body and spirit let loose at the hot, dancing anvil, invent, create, a way to live in existence that has other things to do than not rain on creatures whose torment is knowing that rain is falling on them.
What Hinduism sees in play keeps me Mormon.* And keeps me Hindu, for that matter, since the games are not distinct when everything is in divine disorder, anyway. Despite the salty rigidity of a church that has fallen prey, with western monotheisms, to the great lie of Modernism that religion must make sense—and, so, that religion can never surrender its carefully rationalized principles, however obsolete they may be—my Mormonism can be great good play, as revelatory of the real-ness of life as any other nonsense.
*Yes, I’m aware of the voluminous reasoning that the various branches of Hinduism have done over the past couple of millennia. This isn’t the Encyclopedia of Hinduism.