Tag: Zion (page 1 of 2)

The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot (English classic)

“Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother; hunchbacked Tom Wakem, the son of her family’s worst enemy; and the charismatic but dangerous Stephen Guest.”


The Mill on the Floss used to be on my list of George Eliot novels not to read. I watched a movie version of the story years ago and thought that the ending was so random and awful that there was no way I was going to read that book! In the years that have passed, however, I’ve read and loved several novels by George Eliot and come to trust her as an author. I decided I was ready to give The Mill on the Floss a try.

Many descriptions of this book, including the one above, make Maggie sound like a rebel and perhaps even a revolutionary. The quality they miss is her simplicity and lack of sophistication. Maggie doesn’t want to be a rebel! What she lacks is the ability to suppress her natural authenticity in order to conform to the beliefs and behaviors demanded by her family and community. Her mistakes are rarely true sins against God, and yet they are regarded as unpardonable sins by many members of her family and, later in the book, by the community at large. No matter what Maggie does, it isn’t right. Continue reading

Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 3)

For Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 1: Introduction), please click here.

For Democracy in America, Volume 1 (Part 2: The Power of Democracy), please click here.

United States Capitol

United States Capitol

Part 3: Babylon or Zion?

In the Introduction of Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville  declares that the democratic revolution of the world “possesses all the characteristics” of being “the will of God”:

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years, which has not turned to the advantage of equality. . . .

Whithersoever we turn our eyes we shall witness the same continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom. . . .

The gradual development of the equality of conditions is therefore a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress. . . .

If the men of our time were led by attentive observation and by sincere reflection to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive development of social equality is at once the past and future of their history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred character of a Divine decree upon the change. To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence.

Tocqueville doesn’t speculate on why this democratic revolution of the world is the “will of God.” I, on the other hand, will attempt to give an explanation. In the Bible, we learn that there will come a time when: Continue reading

Shirley

Shirley

Shirley

Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë (English classic)

“Written at a time of social unrest, [Shirley] is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when economic hardship led to riots in the woollen district of Yorkshire. A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline. She suffers misery and frustration, and Shirley has her own ideas about the man she will choose to marry.”


I really wanted to like this book and began it with that intention, and by the time I finished it, I did like it—I just didn’t love it. I think the reason was because it never completely captivated me. Brontë begins the novel by describing many minor characters in detail, and I had difficulty understanding which characters the story would follow, which made it all seem rather pointless to me in the beginning. As the novel and its underlying themes unfold, it does become just as much about a community of people as it does the lead characters, which gives at least some purpose for the detailed descriptions of the secondary characters. Structurally, this novel begins with a community in turmoil and ends as that community begins to come out of the turmoil. This struggle is mirrored on an individual level with several of the characters, in particular Caroline Helstone and Robert Moore. This observation from Chapter 20 puts into words what I believe is the overall theme of the novel:

Most people have had a period or periods in their lives when they have felt thus forsaken—when, having long hoped against hope, and still seen the day of fruition deferred, their hearts have truly sickened within them. This is a terrible hour, but it is often that darkest point which precedes the rise of day—that turn of the year when the icy January wind carries over the waste at once the dirge of departing winter and the prophecy of coming spring. The perishing birds, however, cannot thus understand the blast before which they shiver; and as little can the suffering soul recognize, in the climax of its affliction, the dawn of its deliverance. Yet, let whoever grieves still cling fast to love and faith in God. God will never deceive, never finally desert him. “Whom He loveth, He chasteneth.” These words are true, and should not be forgotten.

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The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot

The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot

The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot

The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (biography)

“It is one of the curiosities of history that the most remarkable novel about Jews and Judaism, predicting the establishment of the Jewish state, should have been written in 1876 by a non-Jew—a Victorian woman and a formidable intellectual, who is generally regarded as one of the greatest of English novelists. And it is still more curious that Daniel Deronda, George Eliot’s last novel, should have been dismissed, by many of her admirers at the time and by some critics since, as something of an anomaly, an inexplicable and unfortunate turn in her life and work. . . .

“Why did this Victorian novelist, born a Christian and an early convert to agnosticism, write a book so respectful of Judaism and so prescient about Zionism? And why at a time when there were no pogroms or persecutions to provoke her? What was the general conception of the “Jewish question,” and how did Eliot reinterpret that “question,” for her time as well as ours?”


I learned about this book last year after I re-read Daniel Deronda and was preparing to write a blog post about it, available here. George Eliot’s prescience about Zionism fascinates me, and I was eager to learn more about her path to writing a novel that is as unusual as it is powerful. Himmelfarb does a superb job giving historical context to George Eliot’s work and showing how “her vision of Judaism and a Jewish state was all the more remarkable precisely because it was disinterested, because, unlike Deronda . . . , she was not Jewish and had no personal stake in it. It was still more remarkable because she came to it from a large philosophical perspective and from an intimate knowledge of the most sophisticated critics of Judaism. She knew everything her opponents (and some of her friends) might say in refutation of her views, having once shared some of them. Her conversion, not to Judaism but to a respect for religion in general and Judaism in particular, was all the more notable because it involved a repudiation of some of the most powerful ideologies of her time: the belligerent irreligion and anti-Judaism of the Young Hegelians, the attenuated, syncretistic religion of the Positivists, and the secular humanism of enlightened, ‘advanced’ liberals.” (The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, Epilogue)

The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot helped me appreciate Daniel Deronda even more than I already did, and I thought it was a work of genius before I read Himmelfarb’s book. I believe that Eliot’s vision transcends the Jewish drive to unite and establish a national homeland in Palestine because it explores the spiritual bonds of family and heritage in a way that has universal application. Deronda’s story certainly resonates with me, a Mormon woman who, by Himmelfarb’s definition, is as “disinterested” in Judaism as George Eliot was. Himmelfarb explores the reasons George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda from a historical and biographical perspective. I would like to make an observation on how George Eliot was able to write a book with with such an expansive vision of Zion from a spiritual perspective. Continue reading

Ingathering

Ingathering

Ingathering

Ingathering; The Complete People Stories, by Zenna Henderson (science fiction)

“Zenna Henderson is best remembered for her stories of the People which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the early 50s to the middle 70s. The People escaped the destruction of their home planet and crashed on Earth in the Southwest just before the turn of the century. Fully human in appearance, they possessed many extraordinary powers. Henderson’s People stories tell of their struggles to fit in and to live their lives as ordinary people, unmolested by fearful and ignorant neighbors. The People are ‘us at our best, as we hope to be, and where (with work and with luck) we may be in some future.'”


I wish I had read the People stories by Zenna Henderson when I was a teenager. I would have loved them! As an adult, I appreciate these stories and like them. A glimpse of Zion came easily to me as I read Ingathering, because the People and their community embody the idea and qualities of Zion. Some of the religious themes in this book are subtle, but many are so obvious that I question whether stories like these by another author could be published as genre science fiction today. Many readers of classic science fiction already love these stories, and I believe they would be accessible to readers of religious fiction who don’t normally read science fiction and fantasy.

In this quotation from “Deluge” on page 274, a teenage daughter of the People is upset because her family will be leaving the Home on a different ship from the family of the boy she loves. The boy and girl are afraid they will be separated forever. The girl asks her grandmother:

“We only want a chance. Is that too much to ask? Why should this happen, now, to us?”

“Who are we,” I asked sternly, “to presume to ask why of the Power? For all our lives we have been taking happiness and comfort and delight and never asking why, but now that sorrow and separation, pain and discomfort are coming to us from the same Power, we are crying why. We have taken unthinkingly all that has been given to us unasked, but now that we must take sorrow for a while, you want to refuse to take, like silly babies whose milk is cold!”

I caught a wave of desolation and lostness from the two and hurried on. “But don’t think the Power has forgotten you. You are as completely enwrapped now as you ever were. Can’t you trust your love—or your possible love—to the Power that suggested love to you in the first place? I promise you, I promise you, that no matter where you go, together or apart if the Power leaves you life, you will find love. And even if it turns out that you do not find it together, you’ll never forget these first magical steps you have taken together towards your own true loves.”

Little do these teenagers know that they will experience sorrow, separation, pain, and discomfort in ways they could never have imagined. As I try to think of a sentence or two that would provide a modern application to this quotation, I can’t come up with anything that doesn’t sound trite, so I’ll let Zenna Henderson’s statement stand on its own. That one of her deceptively simple stories could make such a profound observation that would, in the hands of any other author, sound like a platitude, is a credit to her genius.

The Return of the King

The Return of the King

The Return of the King

The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)

“The Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents. Gandalf returned, miraculously, and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman.

“Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo progressed towards Mordor to destroy the Ring, accompanied by Smeagol—Gollum, still obsessed by his ‘precious’. After a battle with the giant spider, Shelob, Sam left his master for dead; but Frodo is still alive—in the hands of the Orcs. And all the time the armies of the Dark Lord are massing.”


As the armies of the Dark Lord amass, Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, works to prepare his people for battle. In the first chapter of this volume, one of the soldiers of Gondor says this about Denethor and his captains:

‘They have many ways of gathering news. And the Lord Denethor is unlike other men: he sees far. Some say that as he sits alone in his high chamber in the Tower at night, and bends his thought this way and that, he can read somewhat of the future; and that he will at times search even the mind of the Enemy, wrestling with him. And so it is that he is old, worn before his time.’

Denethor sends his son Faramir on a hopeless mission to fortify the garrison on the river, where the first assault will fall. Faramir and his men are forced to retreat. While doing so, Faramir is shot with a poisonous dart and is carried, unconscious, to his father. At this point, Minas Tirith is besieged and surrounded by enemies. Denethor sits with his almost-dead son, so consumed by grief, guilt, and despair that he no longer cares about defending the city. When Denethor commands his servants to burn Faramir and him alive on a funeral pyre, the hobbit Pippin realizes that Denethor’s mind is overthrown before the city is overrun and goes for help. Continue reading

Mirrors of George MacDonald

When we gaze into our own “fairyland of the soul,” what do we see? Do those lovely scenes reflect the glamour of the world or the glory of Zion? The illusions of Satan or the visions of God?


Phantastes

Phantastes

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass. . . . Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land. But how have I wandered into the deeper fairyland of the soul, while as yet I only float towards the fairy palace of Fairy Land! The moon, which is the lovelier memory or reflex of the down-gone sun, the joyous day seen in the faint mirror of the brooding night, had rapt me away. (Phantastes, by George MacDonald, Chapter 10)

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Classic Culture

Your Refined Heavenly Home,” by Douglas L. Callister (Devotional speech at Brigham Young University, September 19, 2006)

I don’t expect to comment often on speeches, but I feel compelled to write about this one since it so eloquently addresses the culture of heaven and gives ideas for how we can bring that more into our lives, a critical topic if we are serious about becoming a Zion people. This speech was given by a leader of my church to students attending the Church-owned Brigham Young University. He introduces his topic with these words:

The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined. In this great gospel of emulation, one of the purposes of our earthly probation is to become like them in every conceivable way so that we may be comfortable in the presence of heavenly parentage and, in the language of Enos, see their faces “with pleasure.” . . .

Today I would like to peek behind the veil that temporarily separates us from our heavenly home and paint a word picture of the virtuous, lovely, and refined circumstances that exist there. I will speak of the language, literature, music, and art of heaven, as well as the immaculate appearance of heavenly beings, for I believe that in heaven we will find each of these in pure and perfected form.

He goes on to encourage the students to pursue the best literature, music, and art the world has to offer.

H. Grimaud plays Rachmaninov

H. Grimaud plays Rachmaninov

I’ll have to say, if I had heard this speech when I was in college, I would have received it with mixed feelings. On one hand, I had been taught a bit of art history in high school and had enjoyed looking at the slides of classic art. On the other hand, my high school art teacher liked to listen to classical violin music, which sounded like screeching to me. I took a humanities class my first semester in college and failed the opera unit. I hated the highly-trained voices so much that I had trouble concentrating on the music. Instead of focusing on the melodies, I memorized the peculiarities of the voices. Imagine my dismay when the professor played instrumental versions for the test! Despite my distaste for opera at that time, I heard Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for the first time in that class and loved it, which gave me the motivation to seek out more classical music.

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Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens (British classic)

“A body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father’s will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.”


Our Mutual Friend details corruption and falsity in those “various corners of London society” to such a degree that a glimpse of Zion didn’t come easily to me as I read it. In this Babylon-like society, the altruistic mingle with the mercenaries, and distinguishing between them isn’t always simple. One thing that Dickens does well in this novel is show how these types exist at all levels of society and that it is possible for a person to change—sometimes for the better and, just as often, for the worse.

As I was thinking about this novel after I finished it, I became aware of profound themes that illuminated the novel for me in ways that surprised and awed me. I almost want to re-read it again right away so that I can delve more deeply into those themes. The twists and turns of this story are half the fun of it, and I don’t want to spoil that fun for those who haven’t read it by saying too much. For that reason, I will try to tread carefully. Continue reading

Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot (British classic)

“Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolen Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiritual and altruistic Daniel Deronda. But Deronda, profoundly affected by the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, is ultimately too committed to his own cultural awakening to save Gwendolen from despair.”


Daniel Deronda is one of several books on my list that was written to give readers a vision of Zion as a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine. (For others, see the Evangelical historical novels by Bodie and Brock Thoene.) One of the things unique about this particular novel is that George Eliot published it to promote Zionism before the term Zionism even existed. Here is an example of what I mean from the character Mordecai, who becomes Daniel’s mentor:

What is needed is the leaven—what is needed is the seed of fire. The heritage of Israel is beating in the pulses of millions; it lives in their veins as a power without understanding, like the morning exultation of herds; it is the inborn half of memory, moving as in a dream among writings on the walls, which it sees dimly but cannot divide into speech. Let the torch of visible community be lit! Let the reason of Israel disclose itself in a great outward deed, and let there be another great migration, another choosing of Israel to be a nationality whose members may still stretch to the ends of the earth, even as the sons of England and Germany, whom enterprise carries afar, but who still have a national hearth and a tribunal of national opinion. (Part 6, Chapter 42)

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