by Walter Kirn, The New Republic, July 13, 2012
On down the river we drove, into Missouri. The buses pulled over in a parking lot overlooking a leafy summer cornfield bordered by a tangled hardwood forest. We filed out and were made to stand in silence before what one chaperone, balding, tall, and stern, declared to be Eden, man’s childhood home. It was also the spot where Jesus would return to rally the elect, he said. We were shown the broad rock where, according to our guide, the Savior would stand and speak. We were encouraged to stand on it ourselves. The boy who preceded me in line was crying when he stepped down off the stone, one hand pressed on his stomach as though it ached. As Mormons, we’d learned that a burning in our bellies meant we were in the presence of the Spirit, whose job was to confirm for people in doubt the truth of propositions their minds resisted. This was one of those. Eden in a cornfield? It had to be planted in something, I supposed, but then there was the matter of its size. For Adam and Eve it was spacious enough, perhaps, but could it hold all the Mormons who’d be left after the tribulations of the Last Days? Only if they packed in awfully tight.
As Carla and the others watched me, I mounted the rock in my untied tennis shoes and awaited intestinal confirmation of a story I suddenly found preposterous. Other tales from the trip had strained belief, but I’d strained back and managed to accept them. This one was different, though. This one hurt to think about.
What happened next surprised me. As I gazed at the field and struggled to imagine a sea of faithful saints gathered to take instruction from God’s son as nuclear mushroom clouds billowed on the horizon and vultures circled above the woods, my stomach cramped. Not a strong cramp, but a cramp. Was this the same as a “burning”? Well, say it was. What prompted it, though? I feared I knew: pure tension. The tension of glancing over at my friends and wondering if I could conceal the look of emptiness that comes from finally losing one’s spiritual innocence.