Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought


Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought


Article excerpt

George Handley's Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River1 practices theology the way a doctor practices CPR-not as a secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inf lating, life-saving intervention. The book models what, onmy account, good theology ought to do: It is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity-that pure love of Christ- as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance, and it is not afraid to speak in its own name. The book's self-description reads, in part:

People who fly-fish know that a favorite river bend, a secluded spot in moving waters, can feel like home-a place you know intimately and intuitively. In prose that reads like the flowing current of a river, scholar and essayist George Handley blends nature writing, local history, theology, environmental history, and personal memoir in his new book Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River. Handley's meditations on the local Provo River watershed present the argument that a sense of place requires more than a strong sense of history and belonging, it requires awareness and commitment. Handley traces a history of settlement along the Provo that has profoundly transformed the landscape and yet neglected its Native American and environmental legacies. As a descendent of one of the first pioneers to irrigate the area, and as a witness to the loss of orchards, open space, and an eroded environmental ethic, Handley weaves his own personal and family history into the landscape to argue for sustainable belonging. In avoiding the exclusionist and environmentally harmful attitudes that come with the territorial claims to a homeland, the fly-fishing term, "home waters," is offered as an alternative, a kind of belonging that is informed by deference to others, to the mysteries of deep time, and to a fragile dependence on water.2

Rather than responding to Handley's live theology with secondhand theory, I would prefer to respond in kind. The essays that follow don't review Home Waters so much as they give an account of what life-what thoughts, inclinations, sensations-its intervention pumped into me. My own meditations treat three themes: the soul as a kind of watershed, genealogy as a kind of ecology, and recompense as the way of creation.

Soul as Watershed

Spurred by Home Waters, I've been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: If the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret-but as you stand there, shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel.

Stegner's novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator's own version of this thesis. An aging father, writing about his pioneer grandparents, names the distance between himself and his son:

Right there, I might say to Rodman, who doesn't believe in time, notice something: I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I was. Heraclitus and I, prophets of flux, know that the flux is composed of parts that imitate and repeat each other. Am or was, I am cumulative, too. I am everything I ever was, whatever you and Leah may think. I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were-inherited stature, coloring, brains, bones (that part unfortunate), plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and not familial.3

Right off, Stegner fingers what is different about this notion of a soul: time. Thinking that souls are tucked away inside us generally goes hand in hand with thinking that they are untouched by time. …

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