Those Oh-So-Temporary Golden Ages

September 5, 2010 | 5 comments
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800px-Staudammkrone_Lünersee_2I started teaching seminary three weeks ago. We’re off to a great start. I don’t have any goofballs in my class, so that helps. As I started preparing before the semester began, I tried to figure out how to present the Doctrine and Covenants in a way that could be compelling to high school students. The strongest memories I have of my own seminary years are the rides to and from the seminary building.

I’m not sure whether the fact that I remember the transit more than the classes themselves says something about the quality of the instruction or just the nature of the teenage mind. Regardless, I hope to present the material in a way that it will stick with the students, so I’ve chosen to teach the book in reverse. We started with the martyrdom in Section 135, and then spent the last three weeks covering the Nauvoo period from 124 to 132.

What hit me for the first time while teaching these was that Nauvoo under Joseph Smith only existed for about four years — about 2% of our church history! Yet those four years so heavily influence our identity today.

My own parallel to Nauvoo was the two months right before my mission. This “golden age” in my life was spent enjoying the magic of friendship, summer romance, sunrises, night skies, and hiking through the golden grass (or dead brown stickers, depending on who you ask) of the hills around my home, all without any real responsibilities. If I could organize my life to represent any time in my history, it would be those two months. And, the fact is, the work of my life since that time has been focused on trying to do that, in a realistic way.

The relevant similarity I see between Nauvoo and those two magical months of summer is that neither was really a sustainable situation. I’m no historian, but I would bet that is true of most cultural golden ages. Perhaps the point of a golden age is that it isn’t sustainable — it challenges and directs us by showing what we have the potential to be, and what we currently lack the capacity to maintain. It’s the visions I’ve received during the ephemeral magical moments of my life that have served to guide and direct my labors during the largely unremarkable years of labor that have formed the bulk of my years. I imagine that’s as true of the church as an organization as it is in the lives of its individual members.

5 Responses to Those Oh-So-Temporary Golden Ages

  1. Dan on September 5, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Fascinating thought about golden ages. Perhaps they are golden because they are unsustainable and thus as valuable as gold. Perhaps they are also unsustainable because they overreach beyond our capacity for but a fleeting moment and then the vicissitudes, challenges, and opposition of life pull us back into the real world. Or it could be that a confluence of events allow for a moment’s peace and tranquility that we enjoy far more looking back at it, longing and reminiscing it, than we did experiencing it first hand.

  2. Martin on September 6, 2010 at 12:13 am

    The four summer months before my mission were my golden age as well. I had an excellent job, a car, fun activities with good friends two or three times a week, and a girlfriend. It was perfect. But the friends were off to school and I had started to wear on the girlfriend — she was happy to see me leave. So, the golden age was going to end, mission or not, but I didn’t seem to realize it. Ask me then, and I was sacrificing a lot to serve God, and I expected Him to appreciate it.

    The big difference is that I wasn’t growing during my golden age. Nauvoo was.

  3. Adam Greenwood on September 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    The first section of this blog-essay is highly relevant:

    http://www.johnreilly.info/04Sept10.htm

    I see some interesting parallels between what you describe and what C.S. Lewis described as the peaks and troughs of spiritual experience and my own spiritual experience: small moments of illumination so bright that it is almost unseeable in an otherwise twilit landscape.

  4. Dane Laverty on September 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Adam, I’d never heard of the “heavenly liturgy” before, but I love how Reilly (and apparently the whole Catholic church) use it to describe the actual ideal of which Sunday worship service is a symbol. Thanks for sharing that connection.

    Martin, good point about growing. The problem is that it’s tough to climb and enjoy the view at the same time.

  5. Kent Larsen on September 7, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Nauvoo was the Camelot of Mormonism.