Friday, August 23, 2013

Spiritual Sudoku

I recently worked my first Sudoku puzzle. If you’re not familiar, Sudoku puzzles have nine rows of nine digits each, organized into nine 3 x 3 squares. Each digit from 1-9 appears in each row, each column and each 3x3 square only once. The puzzle gives you a certain number of “known” digits to start, and you fill in the rest, using the given digits and subsequent “found” digits to determine placement of the remaining digits until the puzzle is complete.

(For a simple puzzle or two, you can go to lots of websites, including here.)

My first puzzle was very painful. It took me lots of trial and error to finally arrive at the correct solution. After some time, however, I’ve learned to look at the puzzles somewhat differently. I’m getting better at seeing the relationship of rows and columns and squares, and looking at all three simultaneously to discover which digit is missing from a particular sequence.

Of course the first puzzles are easier to solve. They have more digits given at the outset, so it’s a little easier to figure out what digits are missing and where they should fit. The harder puzzles have fewer digits, require closer observation and reasoning. Some of the puzzles I’ve done by making an educated guess and trying out a theory to see if it works, and when it fails I’ve had to unravel what I’ve done and try again.

Just like life.

In the early days of my testimony, I was concentrated on one row or one column, finding digits to fill in gaps and feeling pretty good about my progress. As I’ve matured spiritually and intellectually, I’ve come to see nuances I did not notice before. I don’t fault others for my lack of nuance. It wasn’t that I wasn’t taught about four first vision accounts, but that I first had to wrestle with the concept of the first vision before I could worry about different accounts. It wasn’t a question of peep stones in a hat versus “reading” the plates, but first the whole idea of divine “translation” regardless of the method.

As I have grown up in my spiritual understanding, I’ve also gotten a different sense over time about the relative importance of details compared with story arcs. When I concentrated on just one line or column, getting the right digit was easy, but it was also more important. When I’m looking at the whole puzzle, it’s more like fitting a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Yes, the detail (the digit) is important, but what really matters is how the whole puzzle looks, not just one row or column. In my testimony, a particular fact or detail is still important, but as a part of a whole.

As a result, I can view a volume of scripture like the Book of Mormon in a variety of ways. First and foremost it is what it says it is: a testimony of Jesus Christ. (Even before we printed that on the cover it was clear from the title page and from most of 1 Nephi that’s what it was.) It’s no surprise to me that the record begins with a spiritual account rather than a historical one. (Never mind what Mormon’s plates did; I can only examine what I have in the final product.) The spiritual witness trumps the historicity of the book. (I don’t doubt the historicity, by the way; I do not read the book as totally allegorical, but I also am less concerned with examing finer points of geography and history and comparing them to the archeological record.)

Another thing that is true for me about the Sudoku puzzles is that I can look at the same collection of digits and see different things at different times. In one review, I can’t figure out how to put the digits together, and the next time I work my way through the puzzle I suddenly see something I hadn’t before, and the next part of the solution appears. That’s true for my testimony, as well.

I’ve had significant moments in my development of testimony where items I’ve held on the shelf for years have suddenly found resolution. Sometimes it’s because of new information that I learn, or a new way of looking at old information. Other times it’s simply (like it’s really simple!) a spiritual confirmation that I had previously lacked. For me it often comes when I am not looking for it, but always when I am looking. That is, often long-awaited answers come in the normal course of my spiritual development, while I’m on the path, trying to move closer to my Father in Heaven. I don’t remember their ever coming when I’ve been defiant or angry or out to prove someone wrong.

I’ve written before that I’m on a faith journey, and it is far from over. I am not one of those who will lightly say that all is well. As good as things are (and many, many things in my spiritual life are very good), all is not well. I have plenty of concerns for myself and for people I love. I still have plenty of unanswered questions. Some, I suspect, will not be answered until I get to attend Advance Gospel Principles in the next life. Some will undoubtedly be resolved in my normal course of study and prayer. But the presence of questions does not prevent my moving forward along my path, mostly because I remember the tender mercies of the past; I remember answers I have received, some dramatic and some not so much, but answers all the same.

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