Nate Oman’s link to the art show from the Kingdom’s latest international competition puts me in mind of a story, most Mormon story, that I read recently in the Ensign.
I’ve argued before that the art shows the Church puts on are themselves an art form, because of peculiar Mormon belief and practice. I have also argued before that Mormon literature should try to tell Mormon stories that capture the unique sweetness of Mormon life. Commenters questioned whether Mormon stories really were unique. Was it just a question of having personae named Romney and Cluff instead of Jones or Goldstein? This bothered me.
Now I’ve found my answer. There are Mormon stories that are unique; its just a question of having personae named Sanchez. In the April 2006 Ensign, aMarie Sanchez tells a story of finding a connection with her grandfather, Andres. He had the bad fortune to be a devout Catholic living in a fishing village in the north of Spain during the Spanish Civil War (given that information, and the fact that he named his daughter Libertia, I would prefer to think of him as a Basque Carlist, as that is the only Spanish Civil War faction I can find any sympathy with, but given his name and his surname, he was probably in Catalonia). Andres’ village was apparently in Republican held territory.
Everywhere the invaders burned the churches and killed the church leaders in an effort to stifle opposition.* In defiance, Andres and a few of his good neighbors secreted away the sacred artifacts and records from the little village church. He did this knowing that the consequences could be devastating for himself and his family. He made a choice and stood by that choice with conviction.
Eventually the enemy came to his village. The name of Andres Sanchez was discovered, and he was dragged into custody. As a result of his actions at the little village church, he met a fate of torture and deprivation. Andresâ€™s business and property were confiscated and his family left destitute as beggars. Andresâ€™s health weakened under the deplorable prison conditions, and after a short while he contracted tuberculosis. He was released to his family two weeks prior to his death.
His granddaughter, Marie Sanchez, a Mormon, was later able to do the work for more than 10,000 of her relatives and his, because of the records he had saved from the Church.
When a new generation accepts new beliefs and habits (converting from Catholicism to Mormonism, for instance), the switch from the old order to the new feels uncomfortably like a rejection of their ancestors. Often the solution is writing narratives that symbolically tie the ancestors into the new order. This story of Marie Sanchez is no exception. Though the sacred artifacts (statues of Mary and the saints?) and the church records were not artifacts that Mormons would recognize as sacred and the records were not our records, the story emphasizes that in rescuing them Andres’ showed acceptable-to-Mormons qualities of faith and devotion. More importantly, because the records he rescued (for Catholic reasons) become very important to Mormons, the story symbolically links him to the Mormon present. Insofar, a sweet story, but not peculiar to Mormons.
The peculiar thing, the Mormon thing, is this. His granddaughter used the records he saved to baptize him and all his kin. He is literally linked to the Mormon present.
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy
*The Spanish Republicans did do this sort of thing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the other side was any less savage.