Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Void

As I have been contemplating the interactions of narratives, both Queer and Mormon, I have been spending a great deal of time in the existential void. This has both its advantages and its horrors, to be frank. Yet this liminal position has aided in gaining new perspectives on old narratives.

It is difficult to explain what the void is. It is nothing, negation. At one point I brought it up in a discussion group, and a friend of mine scoffed at the idea. “Why would you want to believe that we’re just a bunch of monkeys flying through space of on a rock?” he asked. And I shot him down immediately. What he described is still a narrative, an affirmation of existence. It has its rules, its reasons, its spaces and dimensions. It is often placed in opposition to the Christian narrative, but both are human attempts to order the world into something comprehensible.

But that is not the void. The void is an acknowledgement that any attempts we make to create a world view are necessarily subjective, constructed out of our language, mind, and culture. It is to see that between the islands of rationality, of faiths and history and science, there is nothing at all. It is a gaping, yawning void that denies all creation existence.

It terrifies me.

My brother was consumed by it. He realized that all his faith was groundless, nothing more than assumptions floating in nothing. He sought solid ground, an absolute Truth on which he could build a world view. He searched through countless systems, but when he finally got to the foundation of each, he would find the void again, hungrily devouring any rational validity to his assumptions. He doubted that his family existed, that he existed. Crippling depression and emotional pain wracked his soul. And at last he jumped into that nothingness, a noose tied around his neck. Thus Nietzsche aptly wrote:

If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

Some people can go their entire lives without ever seeing the abyss. They remain carefully entrenched in the center of their beliefs, be it religion, science, or otherwise. All the world seems stable, orderly, sane. It is only when the cracks in a worldview start to show that the void peeks through from below. When most people feel their world crumbling, they jump ship to another. The Christian becomes an atheist. The queer woman becomes a humanist. The pacifist becomes a soldier. In this way we spend our whole lives running from the void, from nothing. Some wait so long in an old worldview, unwilling or unable to abandon it, that they fall into the void, into insanity and death, as it consumes everything. Others pass slowly into another worldview, walking through the liminal spaces between worlds, through the void itself. These are times of great stress and heartache.

Given all this, it is surprising to me that the void is of such great value. Joseph Smith said:

Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity.

There is occult power and knowledge in the void. From here I can see the strings of stories that keep humanity safely cocooned in narratives. I watch General Authorities weave the gospel and queer theorists wrap themselves in identity. It was here, ex nihilo, that God created the universe. It is Ginnungagap, the Deep, Chaos. Matter Unorganized. It is here, out of nothing, that humans create new stories, new narratives, new worlds. It is where we exercise our power as gods.

But it is too much for a mortal, for me. I am tormented with the same uncertainties that plagued my brother. I float purposelessly through nothing while anxiety for a nonexistent future make life a misery. I am reminded that humans were never meant to live in this liminal space for monsters.

I recently attended my graduation ceremony, an important ritual that marks the passage between student and working life. In our culture it also marks one of the final thresholds into adulthood, an appropriately liminal space. A friend of mine began to play the song “If You Could Hie to Kolob” on her cello, a favorite hymn of mine that allows the mind to extend into eternity. Its sublime words came to mind:

Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?
Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers,
"No man has found 'pure space,'
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place."
The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

The words belie the void and speak instead of an eternal, infinite, divine order. If Joseph commanded us to contemplate the abyss, he also raised our eyes towards heaven. It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). And as I heard the music, I realized that the abyss is beautiful. It is full of infinite potential, infinite creation waiting to happen. And I cried for that gentle administration of the Spirit, the great Unsignified Signifier.

While I exist in neither a Queer nor a Mormon space, I also exist in both. I see the cracks and the void, but the worldview holds. My brother struggled for Truth. I await Creation, Rebirth. I reach into the void and create a Queer Mormon space, and tend to it while it grows. And for now, this little island in the midst of nothing is enough.