I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone who, despite feeling deeply Mormon, has more recently felt disconnected from the Church. Without going into too much detail, my friend was on the verge of tears explaining how s/he had come to be seen as a danger by certain members of the ward due to political views perhaps-infelicitously shared on Facebook. This feeling led to deeper online engagement with people who have likewise felt they didn’t fit in at Church, whose activity had lapsed, and some of whom had turned bitter against a Church they feel had rejected them first. They looked to my friend for some measure of solace, she was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but in good Mormon fashion recognized the significant influence our communities of choice have on our emotional and spiritual lives. In such cases I typically refer people to Eugene England’s classic essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel,” while recognizing it’s not a silver bullet.
This morning on the train I came across a passage that reminded me of yesterday’s conversation. It’s from Invisible Cities, a novel by Italo Calvino, an Italian, a disillusioned communist, a writer and editor. Calvino himself was agnostic at best, impatient with religion in general. Like many good communists of his era he was bothered about the way that belief in heaven and hell seemed to distract people from thinking about day-to-day actualities in the present, where our feet touch the ground and our stomachs sometimes growl. Ironically, Calvino concludes the novel with a description of hell anyway, as though he believed in it after all.*
Calvino’s description seems to me like a sort of Mormon hell, the sort of place which looks a lot like the present, a place and time where we’re supposed to learn to endure together. In darker moments, our vision of eternal life sometimes appears before us like the inferno Calvino describes–a place where people–God included–still weep. Perhaps my friend can consider this selection alongside Doc. and Covenants 130:2, looking for space in the pew on Sunday:
“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
*The excerpt is from Martin McLaughlin, trans., Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), xiii.