Jul 7, 2013

Sunday Special: The Gospel is a Sonnet

You know how sometimes you go back and read a book, or watch a movie, or listen to a song from your childhood and it's not as good as you remember? This isn't one of those times. Last week while I was waiting for my holds to come in at the library, I picked up a book I haven't read for some years. It's a pretty classic book, most kids read it at some point in their life. I read it by myself first, then my sixth grade class read it. And I'm sure I read it after that once or twice. But when I picked it up this last week and read it, I was so surprised by how deep this 200 page book written for children actually is.

The book? A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It seemed like there was something in every chapter that could relate to the gospel, or just life in general. I really liked how L'Engle didn't take God out of science, but made Him part of it. She taught about good and evil and how to tell the difference, and the importance of love and trust. It's an amazing book.

The part of the book I wanted to talk about today in my Sunday Special comes near the climax of the story. Two characters, Calvin and Mrs. Whatsit, are talking about knowing the future, and Calvin asks if the Happy Medium (a seer of sorts) couldn't tell them what will happen. Here is Mrs. Whatsit's answer and the following conversation:

"Oh, not in this kind of thing," Mrs. Whatsit sounded surprised at his question. "If we knew ahead of time what was going to happen we'd be--we'd be like the people on Camazotz, with no lives of our own, with everything all planned and done for us. How can I explain it to you? Oh, I know. In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet."
"Yes, yes," Calvin said impatiently. "What's that got to do with the Happy Medium?"
"Kindly pay me the courtesy of listening to me." Mrs. Whatsit's voice was stern, and for a moment Calvin stopped pawing the ground like a nervous colt. "It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?"
"There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That's a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?"
"Yes." Calvin nodded.
"And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?"
"But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn't he?"
"Yes." Calvin nodded again.
"So," Mrs. Whatsit said.
"So what?"
"Oh, do not be stupid, boy!" Mrs. Whatsit scolded. "You know perfectly well what I am driving at!"
"You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?"
"Yes," Mrs. Whatsit said. "You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you." (186-187)

What I love about this speech is that it puts so perfectly what the Church is like. I think a lot of people look at the LDS (Mormon) Church and think that it's so strict, that we just follow blindly without any original thought, and "don't have any fun." But, to me, the Church is like a sonnet. We are given certain guidelines and rules, but within those we are given the freedom to create something beautiful. A beautiful life. And it's the strict form that make it all the more beautiful.

Think of Shakespeare. He wrote over 100 sonnets, just stand alone sonnets. All of them different, all of them beautiful. And then he took the sonnet form and used them in his plays, the most amazing example (to me), is when Romeo and Juliet talk for the first time. Their lines create a sonnet: 14 lines, iambic pentameter, ABAB rhyme scheme, ending with a rhyming couplet. And no one ever notices this until it's pointed at to them (at least, I didn't until my Shakespeare professor showed us).

The thing is, to make life good, there has to be "rules" but that doesn't mean that rules are really holding us back, they are creating a safe world, a world where we are forced to become more creative, to find the beauty in hard things. I've never written a sonnet, but I imagine it's a little difficult making sure it fits all of the criteria. But in a way, that makes it all the more worthwhile, yeah?

Here's another way of thinking about it: take a road. There are certain laws we have to follow, right? Speed limits being a big one. Driving on the correct side, not passing on the right, not crossing double lines, stopping at red lights, using our blinkers, no driving under the influence, etc. But if we follow those laws, we have the freedom to go anywhere. I could get in my car and head east on I-80 and go across the entire country. I could go south, west, north, northeast, southwest, westnorth, northsouthwest, where ever. I could drive up to Canada (if I have my passport), or down into Mexico. I could zigzag across the country and visit every continental state, or I could go straight to a specific destination. And as long as I follow the rules, no one is going to stop me.

Laws, rules, guidelines, "strict forms of poetry"; none of these prevent us from having a beautiful, creative, fun life. In fact, I would say, the freedom they give us, the freedom the Gospel gives us, within those rules, makes it even more beautiful, creative, and fun. God doesn't want us sad, nor does He want us to be carbon copies of each other, but He does want us to be safe, and to be able to return to Him someday. To do that, He has given us a plan, with certain things we need to follow, while at the same time, allowing us to choose and create our own life-sonnet.

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