A Most Mormon Story

April 20, 2006 | 13 comments
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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. Andres’s business and property were confiscated and his family left destitute as beggars. Andres’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.

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13 Responses to A Most Mormon Story

  1. Lamonte on April 20, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Adam – You’ve shared a beautiful story (I’m sorry to say I haven’t read that story in the Ensign) and a wonderful insight. I believe what makes our stories unique is not the actual experiences but our individual perspective on why those experiences are important. You’ve illustrated that in beautiful way. Thanks again.

  2. Boris Max on April 20, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Adam–

    That’s a wonderful and inspiring account of something that actually happened. It’s not literature, however, so it doesn’t support any assertions about Mormon literature. It is not fiction, and it is not presented using the stylistic devices common to literature. It’s not an epic poem and it’s not a Didionesque novel. It could be, but it’s not. It actually happened and was recounted in a periodical that observes commonly pacticed journalistic standards.

    The story itself, the “what happened” of the narrative, does makes a great argument for expanding the Mormon historical canon of faith promoting experiences beyond the Utah pioneers. It could become great literature, but the people who edit for the Ensign aren’t trying to create litearary works.

  3. Jonathan Green on April 20, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    Adam, this is excellent. I hadn’t thought of it in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense that Mormons use narrative to reconcile rejection of prior religious traditions while at the same time giving family a perhaps unique religious significance.

    Boris, I think you missed the point. Adam is looking for a category of story that is uniquely and essentially Mormon at its core, and he makes a pretty good case for one here. Whether or not those stories are turned into first- or fourth-rate literature is not (yet) his point. Besides, didn’t you get the memo rescinding the hegemonic categorical distinction between privileged modes of Western literary creation, journalistic reportage, and the mundane genres of resistance typically employed by the oppressed? I think it got passed around the MLA in 1972 or so, and the promised results are supposed to be “groovy” and “far out, man.”

  4. Mark IV on April 20, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    Adam:

    Well done. I think you have hit the mark, and I agree with Jonathan Green.

  5. Aletheia on April 20, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    Jonathan, It’s interesting to hear that we can deprioritize the canon while all the while sympathizing with putative Carlists. The Carlists?

  6. Adam Greenwood on April 20, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    Shoot, here I was gonna take out that reference to Carlists, cuz its a pointless aside, but now I guess I have to leave it. Anyway, I can assure you that the Carlists were “groovy” and “far out.”

  7. Kimball Hunt on April 20, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    What makes for a faith promoting experience is by its nature a highly personal memoirs, even a folk literature. And what makes an example of this a specifically “Mormon” thing is whatever symbols and context within the tale would resonate within the community of the Saints.

  8. DMS on April 23, 2006 at 10:59 am

    This reminds me of other connections that people make that often seem to me a real stretch.

    The story of the young Joseph Smith refusing alcohol when he had his leg surgery is often told as a faith promoting event – even though the Word of Wisdom did not come for many years and Joseph Smith drank alcoholic beverages during his life. I was glad to see this story wasn’t part of the Joseph Smith film being shown at the JS Memorial Building.

    Also I’ve often noted how the Church news describes as miraculous how the clouds parted and rains disipated for events such as temple dedications. I was struck by the incongruence when they put an equaly positive spin on the rainy weather that would not let up for another temple dedication – I think it was the Hong Kong Temple.

  9. Jim F. on April 23, 2006 at 11:45 am

    DMS: Isn’t this one of the consequences of confessing the hand of God in all things (D&C 59:21), whether it is in sunshine or in rain?

  10. DMS on April 23, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Jim F: Yes, I believe you could say that linking God to the weather at Temple dedications is a consequence of confessing the hand of God in all things. I really do believe that God has power over the weather and everything else for that matter. I’m glad the Church News didn’t say that God was displeased with the Temple where there was rain during the dedication. I suppose it’s best to look for the positive.

    Some of my evangelical acquaintences thought the Salt Lake City tornado toppling the crane at the Conference Center several years ago was a sign from God about his displeasure with the Church of Jesus Christ.

    That just illustrates to me that while God can control the weather, I’m not clear how to interpret the meaning of a specific weather event. I’m a bit cynical that the writers for the Church News know how either.

    So while we should confess his hand in all things, does that mean we should declare that we know his purpose or try to derive a faith-promoting meaning in all that he does?

  11. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    DMS,

    The point of the story is not that God planned for Andres Sanchez to save the parish records that later allowed him and his kin to be baptized (though likely He did). The point of the story is that without Andres’ Sanchez willingness to sacrifice for his religion, it would not have been possible for him to join the church later.

  12. Kirsten M. Christensen on May 3, 2006 at 3:54 am

    Adam (#11) — “without Andres’ Sanchez willingness to sacrifice for his religion, it would not have been possible for him to join the church later.” You mean, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to have joined the church in the way he did — through the records his granddaughter found. If all the temple work to be done were dependent on well-preserved records, lots of people would be lost. Had Andres Sanchez not been able to save the artifacts and records, we wouldn’t have this peculiar, wonderful story, but another avenue would have opened up for him, no?

  13. Adam Greenwood on May 24, 2006 at 9:51 am

    True.

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