Big Echo

Critical SF

Ghosts of Salt and Spirit

by Wm Henry Morris

“Thank you for taking time to stop by this church historical site today. It truly is a rare treat to tour a decommissioned DCC Space Navy generation ship. I am Cousin Abia. And this is Cousin Kaidenn. We will begin the tour in just a moment, but first we would like to relate to you the significance of the name of this particular ship.

“Yes, thank you, Cousin. It is indeed a delight to have you with us. Our story begins almost two centuries after the founding of the Church. There had been many wars in the land. The Church had grown but was still in its infancy. This was a time of much turmoil among the nations of first earth. The Saints had sheltered together in Utah and various and sundry stakes across the Americas, but they still had much desire to spread the Gospel and so young people were called as missionaries just as they were leaving adolescence—”

“—and remember that adulthood arrived after only two decades back then—”

“—yes, thank you, Cousin Abia. If you did not already know, missionaries were quite young back then. And, of course, they had to physically travel to the land of their preaching. And so it came to pass that one young missionary traveled to a distant land to preach the gospel to a people who had only recently opened up their borders to emissaries of the Church. Borders existed back then, of course, because this was the great era of nation-state-ing. And as odd as it may seem to us now, the motivations for drawing those lines were often economic—”

“—the reds versus the blues—”

“—yes, thank you Cousin. The Reds and the Blues and the Purples and Greens. Or as you may recall from your schooling Communists, Capitalists, and various Socialists. It seems amazing to think about this now but although the Church was indeed the true and living Church back then, it was technically a corporation...

...You aren't the first visitors to gasp at the very notion. But we must remember that the Lord works with the tools at hand. This is the miracle of the Gospel is it not?—”

“—Amen!—”

“—yes, thank you, Cousin Abia. Amen, indeed. So this young man traveled from a Capitalist country to one that had recently been Communist. To his credit, he did so in all humility. Does anyone remember his name...

“...Yes, this was indeed Cousin Soren, although at the time he was called Elder Soren. Elder being the gendered title used back then. For our comfort and yours I will refer to him as Cousin Soren from now on. So one day this Cousin Soren and several of his fellow cousins decided to do a little sightseeing. They trekked to a mountain not far from the city they were preaching in to visit a salt mine. Cousin Abia would you like to relate what happened at the salt mine?”

“It would be my great pleasure, Cousin Kaidenn. This salt mine was used by the local population as a medical treatment. The salty dry air was considered to be good for lung ailments, you see. After purchasing tickets, these young cousins took a small elevator down into the mine, and in Cousin Soren's own words: ‘As we descended deep into the mountain, a feeling came upon me that I had never experienced before. At first I thought it was fear. I had never been fond of enclosed spaces and did not have the greatest confidence in communist-era engineering, but as the doors opened and we walked out into the mine, I realized it was something else. I claim no gift of prophecy. I had no idea what would lie ahead. Nor would I characterize this feeling as that of the Holy Spirit. Or rather it was a strange manifestation of it. One that would haunt me for years. Initially, I chalked it up to the oddness of the place. The mine had been finished into a four large halls that formed a square around a gargantuan pillar or column of salt, each side of which was the length of half a standard city block or so. The floor and walls were all of polished, unrefined salt. They glittered eerily, illuminated by naked fluorescent light bulbs dangling from long, thick black cords that hung from a ceiling so far up it was a dark gloom. The locals stuck to the west hall, resting on cots or sitting on stools around knee-high cubes of salt on which had been carved boards for the playing of chess or checkers. We passed the convalescents and turned the corner into the south hall. It was unfinished and littered with large gray chunks of salt streaked black and white and brown with other minerals. One of the elders tried to break a piece off of one of the chunks as a souvenir but it crumbled in his hands. We turned the next corner. The east hall was finished but completely empty. The other elders tossed a disc back and forth. It sailed straight and true in the still air. I barely paid any attention to them. It was as if I was on a different frequency from them. While they joked and shoved and capered, I tried to move as slowly and make as little noise as possible as if I were searching for something with no notion at all of what that something might be.’”

“Thanks, Cousin Abia. I will now relate what happened next: after a few minutes of play, the cousins grew bored. They walked to the end of the east hall and entered the north part of the square. It was not a large hall like the other three sides but was instead a wide passage back to the entrance. Thinking they had seen all there was to see the cousins headed back to the elevator, but on the way they passed a side chamber. This was also carved from the salt. It was also empty save for eight pillars of salt on top of which sat busts also carved of salt. All communist—”

“—Reds—”

“—all communist leaders. Marx, Engels, and so forth. These young cousins having been raised in a capitalist system made light of them, of course. For as we know cousins aren't always saints, especially when they are callow youth. But Cousin Soren had a different reaction. In particular, he found himself drawn to the carving of an intense looking man with a trim mustache and chin beard and eyes that were somehow both sleepy and penetrating. The names carved into the pillars were in an alphabet he didn't know so he wasn't sure which of the names that swam through his mind belonged to this particular statue. He was pretty sure it wasn't Marx because the one thing he did know was that Marx had a large, bushy beard—not quite Lorenzo Snow bushy but closer to that than the tidy goatee on this man. The other cousins were quick to move on. Perhaps they were uncomfortable in that room. Perhaps they were hungry for lunch. But Cousin Soren lingered.”

“That he did, Cousin Kaidenn. Again in his words: 'I knew I was supposed to see these men as failures—as total losers—because capitalism had won. The walls had fallen, the tyrants disgraced or shot, the factories privatized, the farms de-collectivized. I also knew that many people had died under the communist system and believed that the Lord would judge men such as these harshly at the last day. But I also found a measure of not quite pity, not quite sympathy, but rather an understanding of the deep dissatisfaction with a fallen world that had caused them to attempt such a solution. And as that feeling came upon me, I thought I saw something in the far corner of the room. A man or rather a faded version of a man—the man with the chin beard and the sleepy eyes. I walked quickly out, glanced back, saw nothing and thought nothing of it for the next few days and threw myself into my work, believing that what had happened to me could be tossed in a pile along with the other odd experiences that had happened to me while serving as a missionary. The next free day looked to be another one of those odd experiences: my companion and I decided to visit the museum in basement of the city hall where we also held Sunday services. My companion was delighted with the museum. It fell somewhere between science museum and freak show without managing to rise to the stolid rigor of the former or the garish prurience of the latter. There was a display case of various minerals that could be found in the region. There was a strange diorama that was either about evolution or costume design. There was a series of posters about the importance of fecund mothers to the success of the state. And, much to my companion's delight, there was an entire row of shelving filled with pickled fetuses—animal oddities such as a pig with an extra long tail or a snake with two-heads. It is fine for missionaries to indulge in the occasional diversion, but those that actively drive away the Spirit should be avoided, which is to say that I did not feel right being there, especially in that aisle. It was not because I was squeamish but rather because I felt that all of god's creatures deserved a certain dignity, especially in death. I sought a less troubling section of the museum and headed to another diorama—this one about mining—and there behind the glass standing next to a dusty mannequin with a helmet lamp and an iron pick was the man from the salt mine. He looked like what I imagined spirits to look like. He had the shape of a mortal man, but also had a faded light to his being that seemed to me like exactly the lesser version of how resurrected beings are described. I pressed my face to the glass and cupped my hands to cut the glare. He was pointing up and saying something, but I couldn't read his lips nor did I have the slightest idea what language he was speaking. I asked him to speak again, but then just like that he was gone. That evening I prayed to understand my experience. The next morning I searched the scriptures for every reference to spirits. But whether I had indeed seen a spirit or a ghost or a hallucination or some Soviet hologram technology gone awry, I could not determine with any degree of confidence.' Cousin Kaiden?”

“This is where I remind you all that the Lord works in mysterious ways even when—”

“—especially when—”

“—yes, Cousin Abia, especially when inspired, faithful believers are involved. As you might imagine Cousin Soren was quite troubled by what he had seen and continued to struggle to understand whether what he was experiencing was of God or the devil or his own mind. This unease continued for several weeks, but then one Sabbath day, he and his companion went early to clean up the banquet room in the government building where they held communion with the small group of believers the missionaries had attracted in their few months of preaching in the city. And now it's my turn to quote from Cousin Soren's account of this experience: 'The spirit I had seen was much on my mind as I collected the empty bottles of brandy and cans of beer the fraternal organization who met on Saturday evenings always left behind. I wanted to dismiss it as a trick of light or a byproduct of an overwrought mind but found that I could not. I could recall nothing of the shapes his mouth had been making, but it suddenly occurred to me that this room was two stories up from the basement where the museum was. I scanned the room half-expecting to see the ghostly figure appear again, but he did not nor did I see anything of interest and so I completed my cleaning. Then as I prepared the bread and water for the sacrament I kept having the feeling he was just behind me. But every time I turned around there was nothing. I grew increasingly agitated, which is not the state of mind one wants to approach a sacrament meeting with—”

“—a reminder that sacrament meeting is what the cousins in those days called communion—”

“Yes, thanks for that clarification, Cousin Abia. To pick up again with Cousin Soren's words: 'I hoped that I would calm down once the meeting started, but all through the opening hymn and prayer, the announcements, and the sacrament song and prayers, my agitation grew until I felt like my very being would explode in a burst of nervous energy. As the bread was passed, I ran the words of 'Because I Have Been Give Much'—which was and still is my favorite hymn—through my mind in order to help me stay focused and reverent. The tray was passed to me. I took a piece of torn bread, passed the tray on, and brought the bread to my mouth to partake. I have had many spiritual experiences in my life that match up with the way many other saints have described the workings of the Holy Spirit. This did not fit any of those categories. Even these many years later, I'm not sure what happened, but the moment the bread hit my tongue, knowledge flowed into my mind. It is the closest I ever got to what Brother Joseph called the flow of pure intelligence that comes to the pure in heart. I was certainly not the pure in heart then. Not so much now, either. And that's probably why it took many years for me to understand what had been revealed, but there was one piece of that flow that broke off and lodged in my mind, and I stood up right there in the middle of the passing of the sacrament and walked over to the podium at the front of the room and opened up the cupboard at the back of it and found at the very bottom of a stack of assorted reports and technical manuals a copy of Das Kapitel in the original language of composition. My high school German wasn't good enough for me to understand much of it in  the few months I had the book before I lost it in a transfer. But it was good enough to plant the seeds that bore fruit that we are just now beginning to harvest with the formation of the Deseret Cooperative Commune.'

“And thank the Lord for that fruit. Without it we would not be here today. And I would just like to witness that while God may work in strange and mysterious ways, his ways are always to our benefit, and it is up to us to be open to Him and His Spirit and to take what he reveals to us and live it as best as we can—”

“—Amen!—”

“—Amen. Well, you all probably remember the story of what happened from there. Cousin Soren returned to Utah to live what he thought would be a normal life as a wage slave working for a corporation that was not the Church, his only hope in life to still carve out enough time and resources to serve both his family and his community of fellow cousins. And so he did for many years. But then came the wars and destructions—”

“—the time of great tribulations—”

“—great trials and tribulations. And after the Church fled the deserts of Utah for even more remote parts of first earth, it was Cousin Soren who suggested that the church leaders consider asking the Lord to permit them to reconstitute the United Order and supplement those original ideas of the early prophets with those of the Marxists being as it were that as Prophet Brigham said, 'I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.'“

“Or as our beloved Prophet Joseph said 'One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.’”

“And that remains a fundamental and cherished principle of our faith many centuries later. Cousin Soren was a wonderful example of this principle which is­ why we're honored and delighted to be with you today to lead this tour of the DCC-SN Soren-L­­enin.”