|Print | Back||August 9, 2012|
In The VillageA Spiritual Man
by Orson Scott Card
Every now and then, people who are interviewing me because of my books or my political commentaries begin to talk about my "spirituality." They assume, because I'm an active member of the Mormon Church and a genuine believer, that I'm "spiritual."
Well, I am. But "spiritual" means something very different to Mormons than it means to people outside our faith.
The way others talk about it, being "spiritual" means that you move through the world in a sort of luminous fog. Or perhaps you never fully engage with reality, being off in some alternate realm where you meditate and/or commune with the All.
Mormons just aren't spiritual that way. Well, maybe some of us are, but if you talk like that, the other members kind of tune out in vague embarrassment whenever you speak up in church.
Because spirituality, for most of us, means something entirely different. I think it springs from the radical materialism of D&C 131:7: "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes."
But maybe it's just part of the absolute practicality of Mormon life from the beginning of the truth. We didn't retire from the world and live a life of contemplation. We saved up, bought passage on a ship or in a stagecoach, or paid for a wagon and oxen, and we moved to wherever the Saints were gathering.
Then we dug ditches, built houses, farmed, made things, traded. We made the desert blossom. (Later, we paved it over and parked on it, but that's another essay.)
We didn't wait for visions of blossoming deserts. We drew up plans, formed teams, and worked our brains out.
Even today, Mormons hold down jobs in the real world. Our spirituality consists of putting our family before our job, and making our faith a part of our daily lives.
No one exemplifies this more than Elder F. Enzio Busche, one of the first two General Authorities for whom English was not his native language (the other was Yoshihiko Kikuchi).
I was an assistant editor at the Ensign when Elder Busche was sustained as a Seventy in the October General Conference of 1977. It was my assignment to interview him and write an article about him based on that interview.
At the age of 26, I was a hotshot young writer, very full of my own nascent success (my first published science fiction story, "Ender's Game," had appeared in Analog magazine only three months before).
It took only about fifteen seconds for me to realize that this interview was not going to go the way I expected. Because Elder Busche was the opposite of me -- not at all full of himself, but rather full of a sense of humility, if not outright inadequacy, at the idea of serving as a General Authority.
He was so emotional at the beginning of the interview that he could hardly speak. As a theatrical director and quondam actor, I was quite familiar with fake modesty. This was nothing of the kind. Elder Busche's emotions were quite close to the surface, and one of the strongest of them was a very keen sense that he did not measure up to his own idea of what a General Authority should be.
But by the end of the interview, he certainly had measured up to mine. No, he had actually moved that standard, for me, to a higher plane. Because the strongest impression I got during that interview was that Elder Busche was utterly, absolutely, deeply truthful.
He wasn't guarding his words to control the image he created. He wasn't trying to create any image at all. In fact, I had to remind him several times that, while he didn't think there was anything interesting about his own life, the members of the Church were going to be very curious, and rightly so, about his life.
"This magazine is an instrument of the First Presidency to communicate to the Church. I've been assigned to write an article introducing you to the Saints. I have a day to turn it in. If you don't tell me about yourself, I really don't know how I can fulfil that assignment."
Out of pure charity to me, then, he tried to think of something remotely interesting about his life. He told me about growing up in Hitler's Germany and serving, at the end of the war, as a teenage soldier who, to his great relief, never killed or even fired at anybody.
And he told me about meeting his then-future wife when he was seven and she was a rambunctious two-year-old. And he told me about his father. And a few observations about life in general.
Actually, it was kind of a terrible interview, because he wasn't skilled at presenting himself, and I had thrown all my interest in being the Boy Reporter out the window.
All I really cared about was being in the presence of a man who was truly a spiritual giant. A man who, like Nathanael, was "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" (John 1:47).
Thirty-five years later, Elder Busche, now an emeritus Seventy, has finally given us all the interview that he was too humble to give back then: Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the Life of F. Enzio Busche.
He's still humble now -- and, more to the point, every bit as practical and even skeptical as a spiritual Latter-day Saint should be.
This is not an autobiography; it is not even a memoire. Or perhaps it's halfway between a memoire and a book of scripture: an account of God's dealings with him, and with the people he has known.
The book opens with the powerful story of his pre-war and wartime experience, but unforgettable as those opening chapters are, they don't hold a candle to the account of his experiences with God.
His first vision came before he ever heard of Mormons. He was a patient in a hospital, dying of a liver disease, with only weeks to live. But God intervened clearly and directly in his life. He was healed.
Yet this powerful experience didn't make him an instant Mormon. He tried to engage with an evangelical church, but, like most good Mormons, he didn't let his spiritual experience turn off his brain. He was skeptical; he saw how things worked in his new church, and measured everything carefully.
In fact, that's one of the distinguishing marks of Mormons -- one of the reasons I laugh when people call us a "cult." Mormons don't become the willing slaves of a new faith. We join (or stay with) the Mormon Church precisely because we ask all the hard questions and don't settle for easy answers.
That was Elder Busche. Even after meeting the missionaries -- even after he came to believe that the gospel was true -- it didn't stop him from bringing his skepticism to church meetings, where he had no illusions about the members of the Church in Dortmund in the 1950s.
Of one member at the time, Elder Busche recalls, "He was able to bear a powerful testimony. But he was very insecure and was constantly striving to attain recognition in the Church. In many Sunday School classes he had verbal battles with others in an attempt to prove this or that point.
"In an unpolished and impolite way, he easily degraded others who did not share his viewpoint. Nothing could be done to change this man. We could only give him more love than he earned and try not to be offended by his uncouth behavior" (p. 98).
Years later, he ran into the same man and they reconciled with an embrace.
As I read it, I thought of a nearly identical situation I've been wrestling with in recent months and I realized that Elder Busche's response was the exactly right one: "We could only give him more love than he earned." And the principle he derived from it on the next page: "the people who have earned love the least need it the most."
I've been the man who earned love the least -- and I know how I feel now about the people who treated me as I deserved, and the people who treated me better than I deserved. I know how that man felt when he squeezed Elder Busche's hands and said, "I thank you. I love you."
That is the practical spirituality of Mormons: How we treat each other.
There are so many stories in this book. The tale of a rough young man named Gerd, whose conversion was heartbreakingly sudden and unexpected -- and how at once his example began to affect others.
He tells stories about how he worked to convert his own children -- and to convert himself into the kind of parent they needed to have. In fact, the reason I bought the book was because, standing in Deseret Book a month ago, I opened it to the story of his son, who came home long after curfew, and how Elder Busche dealt with it.
I wept there in the store at the generosity and rightness of his action -- and wept again when I reread it as I went through the whole book.
There are people in Yearning for the Living God who will break your heart, and people who will inspire you, and people who will absolutely baffle you. You'll see gifts of the Spirit that come to the most unlikely people, who remain humble all the same.
Through it all, Elder Busche had to run a business -- and he faced all the problems that any businessman faces. With the practical spirituality of good Mormons, he consulted the Lord, and got good advice. Which mostly consisted of one word: arbeite. Work. Which he did.
But he did more. He ran his business according to the principles of D&C 121. "Only much later, when I was in America, did I learn that this type of management was taught in universities and is called participatory management" (p. 156). It came to him, when he needed it, as promptings from the Spirit.
You will love Sister Maischt. You will love Brother Birkhahn. You will love sister Neuberg. You will love the story of the Nabrokzky family.
You will love the moment when, on assignment to reorganize a stake with Elder LeGrand Richards, he and Elder Richards both realized that the Lord had prepared a recently reactivated man to be a counselor in a new bishopric. The bishop kept getting the man's name, even though it was impossible to imagine him taking such a position.
"When I talked with Elder Richards, we both had the feeling, 'Why not? If the Lord is willing to call this man, why should he not be called?' He became a wonderful counselor and a strength to the whole ward" (184).
Again, as I read this I couldn't help but liken this man to myself, not in the particulars of his life, but in his unlikelihood for the calling he received. Those words ought to be engraved on the hearts of all Latter-day Saints: "If the Lord is willing to call this man, why should he not be called?"
As an editor and writer, I wish that Elder Busche's book at been given a more careful treatment by the publisher, or by editor and compiler Tracie A. Lamb -- there are errors of grammar that he would not have made in his native German, and they should have been corrected. But Lamb's work was otherwise seamless in bringing us Elder Busche's voice.
Yearning for the Living God is a powerful book, and it absolutely demonstrates what it means to be a spiritual person in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not for a moment is it mystical; not for a moment is Elder Busche's head in the clouds.
On the contrary, at every moment he is firmly rooted in the real world, fully engaged with it, coping with the foibles of human beings, seeing people as they truly are. And yet he is also firmly rooted in the equally-real world of the Spirit of God, following that Spirit in his dealings with people, treating them better than they deserve, and yet giving them exactly the forthright honest gifts that they stand in need of.
There are many miraculous events, and many moments of inspiration and revelation in this book. But there is not one of them that I question or doubt, for the simple, practical reason that while my life has not compared with Elder Busche's, I have had enough experience with the Spirit of God, and have heard enough accounts from people I trust, to know that all the things he recounts are not only possible, they're barely miraculous; they are simply the way God works in the world.
His has been a life of blessing others, and being blessed in his turn. He barely emerges as the hero of his own autobiography. In fact, he remains on every page the same humble man I met in that tiny office at the Ensign in 1977. He is unchanged. But I have changed.
And when nonmembers accuse me of being a "spiritual" man, I will try to explain to them that what they mean by the word does not really apply to me or any Mormon I know.
This book is a 278-page definition of what we mean by "a spiritual man." Forget that he held high office in the Church. He was already this man before he held those offices. It is something for us all to aspire to become in our own lives.
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