Let’s acknowledge that beginnings are important. This is one reason why we care so much about history.
So let’s go back to beginning. Let’s go back to the origin, to the source, to what the Greeks called the arche.
But how? Where is the origin?
There are two ways to think about this.
Consider seafloor spreading. Molten rock wells up between two plates and pushes them apart. Exposed to ocean water, the rock cools and hardens at the lip of the crack. As more molten rock wells up, the process repeats and previously cooled rims of rock get pushed out and away from the live heat, from their point of origin. The more this process repeats, the farther the earliest layers end up from their point of origin.
Now, you can think of the origin as fixed in the past such that, with each passing year, the present moment gets pushed farther and farther away from the heat and light of the source.
Or you can think of the origin as fixed in the present such that, with each passing year, the past gets pushed farther and farther away from the heat and light of the source.
That is to say, you can take the point of origin to be either (1) past tense, or (2) present tense.
Is the origin a one time event locked in the past? Or is the origin an ongoing event that causes each present moment to be live and present?
In the first case, the best we can do is archeology. Everything depends on what happened back then, a time inaccessible to us except indirectly. The thing that matters happened a long time ago to someone else and now its past and our job is to enshrine it and ride the diminishing force of its wave.
In the second case, the past can teach us tangentially about the molten moment that is the present—the original moment that is ceaselessly irrupting at our feet—but the point of origin is not something that happened back then, it’s something that’s still happening here and now. The origin that irrupted in the past and made it matter is the same origin that is irrupting now.
If this second case holds, then the past matters but it’s not decisive. The past matters, if it matters, because it registers some connection to the point of origin.
But that origin isn’t fixed in the past, it floats along with us in the present. And our fate is not determined by the past but by the present.
Here, it is decidedly not the case that my connection to the point of origin is mediated by history. It’s just the opposite.
Here, it’s the case that my relation to history is mediated by my connection to the point of origin, by the source itself as it’s irrupting here and now.
(This is not a metaphor. And if there’s something abstract here, it’s the inferred past, not the concrete present.)
People might say: if Joseph Smith saw God a long time ago, that will decide for me if I’m a Mormon.
I say: if Mormonism connects me to God, then I’ll see what is given (or withheld) for me to infer about Joseph Smith and what followed.
My relation to the raw point of origin doesn’t depend on the past. Rather, what can be made of the past depends on what my exposure to the raw point of origin, here and now, compels me to do and think.
This raw point of origin is grace.
It’s the world pressing continually into my eyes, my hands, my heart, my mind.
And that’s why I’m Mormon—not just yesterday, but today.