In the first part I discussed modern influence with moving to Utah, or Zion. Today I wanted to talk a bit more about the source of this interest for me.
A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the local LDS bookstore. As per usual I found a number of used books I wanted but I stuck with this one. This book was not a Mormon written book, it is amazingly written by an Anglican minister who was studying Mormonism. Reading who wrote it I had to admit I was skeptical of the source.
Yet, Mormon Spirituality: Latter Day Saints in Wales and Zion was actually a very pleasant surprise. At least after reading almost half of it, I am not questioning why I bought it. The author Douglas J. Davies, to quote Amazon, “is Professor in the Study of Religion in the Department of Theology, Durham University, UK. He is the author of many books including Death, Ritual and Belief (Cassell, 1997), Mormon Identities in Transition (Cassell, 1994), Mormon Spirituality (1987), and Meaning and Salvation in Religious Studies (Brill, 1984).”
So he is both an academic and an Clergyman. What caught me about reading this book was how Professor Davies was able to point out something to me from an outsider position. One I might not have thought a lot about.
In his second chapter entitled The Language of Zion, he brought out how Mormonism changed Welsh Latter-day Saints in ways that would be hard to imagine now. Keep in mind that in the 1800s most people living in Wales still spoke primarily Welsh. In the 1840s and 50s most of the Mormon tracts and even the Book of Mormon itself were translated to Welsh.
Yet the movement was there to try and understand Mormonism from an English lens. To do as Muslims try to do, read their holy book in the native language. For many of these early saints it was obvious, according to Davies, that they would have to be with the body of the Saints, that this body was primarily Anglophones and they would need to fit in. So many tried to learn English before going to overseas.
The Perpetual Emmigration fund helped these people fufill their dreams, at least in part, so that they could go to Utah. Nearly 300 a year did so, joining the mass of English, Scots and others who were making the trek. For Davies, this desire for Zion, was in everything for the Saints, from the literature to the hymns. So it was a palpable driving force which helped to reinforce this. Combined with a new understanding of the center place that America had in the Mormon world view and it becomes obvious.
For Christians in the dark ages and the medieval period traveling to the Holy land was a necessary pilgrimage to overcome your sinfulness. In Islamic tradition all are commanded to at least once make the pilgrimage to Mecca. These spiritual emotions which drive us to be one with both history and community drive most today.
Mormons today are just as driven, whether it is to see Cumorah, Palmyra, Kirtland, Nauvoo, Salt Lake City, or even ruins in Mayan Mexico. We all in a way feel the pull. I know I do, I want to walk into Carthage Jail, to Nauvoo, to travel some of the roads that Saints in our day have passed down. I want to see Mayan ruins and wonder about their links to scripture, if any. We do it because we want to be one, to unite in something that was greater than us. So I think Professor Davies judgement of this desire for Zion appears to sit well with how we feel in my book. Certainly even those who could care less about history still want to see these things and become immersed in events of real magnitude.
So while I argued there is for some a pull to turn to Utah, I would argue it is stronger than that, it is both a sense of community but it is also touching on how we understand the world, and our place within it. Given this I think most of us want to touch the face of God, even if it just to enter a room that his prophet once entered, to attend a meeting with the modern prophet, or to understand the role it had for those who gave up everything to join an unpopular and at times hated religion.