Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 2:15, Part I

1 Nephi 2:15

And my father dwelt in a tent.

What does it mean he dwelt in a tent? I’ve never dwelt in a tent. I’ve stayed in tents many times while camping and once, while in the Army, I lived in a tent on the parade grounds of an Army base for six months while our barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany was being repaired. But ‘dwelt’ seems to carry more heft, more significance, than does ‘staying’ or ‘living’ in one.

In French Philosopher, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, 1he suggests that the spaces in which we dwell define our nature and our place in the world. Our dwellings reach deep inside and give meaning and structure to our sense of self and become a place that contextualizes the relevance of our past and future. He says,

For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, our real cosmos in every sense of the word. p. 4

he then adds speaking of the images by which we construct ourselves,

. . . whereas the real beginnings of images, if we study them phenomenologically, will give concrete evidence of the values of inhabited space, of the non-I that protects the I. p. 5

We could make a list of the benefits of such protected spaces, and I will return to this when I talk about how climate defines such spaces, but the list would include things like their being places of safety, protection from elements, dangers, privacy, a place to take meals, and sleep. But Bachelard sees a more profound purpose, a poetic purpose,

. . . if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths. p. 6

Daydreaming, pondering, thinking, these ‘poetic’ activities mark for Bachelard the play of memory that structures human meaning and depth. The images we deploy in the broadest sense of experiencing the past, and using these to structure the present and the future is how we frame and color our world.

And my Father dwelt in a tent.

Several times Lehi is called a “Visionary Man” both as complaint and honorific.

That we ‘dwell in’ a home, as opposed to ‘live in’ a place, as I did in Schweinfurt, is important. A proper dwelling provides what he calls a metaphysics of well-being,

Being reigns in a sort of earthy paradise of matter, dissolved in the comforts of an adequate matter. It is though in this material paradise, the human being were bathed in nourishment, as though he were gratified with all essential benefits.

In this space we have a chance for a wholeness. When we dwell, we bring with us those things that define and bring us together—the things that integrate us and complete us. It takes the moments of duration from our past and integrates them into our being. Our spaces are essential for this,

We are unable to relive duration that has been destroyed. We can only think of it , in the line of an abstract tie that is deprived of all thickness. The finest specimens of fossilized duration concretized as a result of long sojourn, are to be found in and through space. The unconscious abides. p. 9

That Lehi dwelt in a tent is significant. He made a home. A vertical structure on a sea of wilderness. A place to elicit his visions and imagine his and his family’s future. To also remember his past and to frame his memories. A place to make of his life a poem and artwork to his God. A space carved out in the desert into which he poured all that he was and could be.

So let us pause. We see the space he carved out, and we must do the same lest we lose our daydreams, but remember he pried this dwelling out of a personal apocalypse. His family’s Ragnarök. And ending so profound and so utter that it is worth a close study in our own Anthropocene, for which, as I’ve mentioned before, I believe the Book of Mormon was written.

Continued in Part II of 1 Nephi 2:15

Let us leave disagreement until the end of this meditation in Part II and for now explore the following, If you had had to carve a ‘dwelling’ out of the wilderness, what memories would you bring? No need to be personal or specific, but gesture to the kinds of treasures you would bring to decorate your daydreams.

  1. Gaston Bachelard. 1994. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, Boston. (Originally Published in 1958).


  1. I love this, Steve. It reminds me of the way that classic sermons often dwell on a word, pulling out its richness. Making our homes the sites of revelatory dreaming is a beautiful idea.

  2. Could this be why I get some of my best and most profound thoughts when I’m feeling safe in my home at my most vulnerable moment; naked and alone in the shower?

  3. Proof that Reading in the Anthropocene is more than a frolic.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve always thought it significant that Nephi repeats his statement that his father dwelt in a tent from 1 Ne. 2:15 in 1 Ne. 9:1, 10:16 and 16:6. That kind of repetition is not an accident; it suggests that the observation that his father dwelt in a tent is important.

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