By Robert A. Rees
When Peggy Fletcher and Scott Kenney were contemplating starting a new Mormon journal in 1974, they came to see me in Los Angeles. I liked them and I liked their energy and imagination. Being the editor of Dialogue at the time, I immediately offered to help by sending them any manuscripts I thought would be more appropriate for their publication. As we discussed the title of their journal, I suggested “Sunstone.” When they asked why, I said it would connect their work to some powerful archetypal symbols
Most ancient cultures considered the sun to be the source of not only light but also life—the embodiment or personification of God. Thus, their deities were often associated with it. The sun is, in fact, the central focus (and locus) of most religious traditions, and thus one of the most powerful and ubiquitous symbols in human history.
According to A Dictionary of Symbols, “Stone is a symbol of being, of cohesion and harmonious reconciliation, . . . unity and strength.” In ancient scripture, “living stones” were said to have fallen from heaven, thus becoming a connection between heaven and earth. “Stones which fell from Heaven are . . . ‘talking’ stones, the channels of oracles and messages,” reads the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. It further says that dressed (carved) stones “subjected to heavenly and spiritual action . . . [represent] the transition of the soul in darkness to the soul enlightened by divine knowledge.”
Combining the two symbols, we create quite a powerful synthesis—the sunstone. In Icelandic mythology, sunstones or solar stones were used to locate the sun on overcast days (when the heavens were obscured). Viking tradition suggests that sunstones were also used as instruments of navigation.
In our own scriptures and in Christian tradition, Christ is symbolized by the sun and by stone. He is the “stone cut out of the mountain” (Daniel 2:45) and the “chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). And, according to the Doctrine & Covenants, “he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made” (88:7).
And, of course, there are the sunstones on the Nauvoo and Salt Lake temples. Thus, Sunstone/Sunstone can be thought of as an instrument of navigation helping us through the maze and haze of twenty-first century Mormonism, always seeking the light.
For forty years, Sunstone has provided a lively place for discussion of all things Mormon. As an open forum that attempts to cover the whole of “Mormon experience, scholarship, issues, & art,” it has been at the center of many of the critical issues in Mormon religion and culture—the good, the bad, and the ugly—but also the beautiful. I think it is safe to say that Sunstone has published some of the most significant (thoughtful, provocative, inspiring) expressions on Mormonism over the duration of its publication, as well as some of the most controversial. Likewise, the Sunstone Symposium has provided a forum for an astonishing array of discussions, dialogues, and explorations that have both challenged the axioms and expanded the horizons of modern Mormonism. Beyond this, Sunstone (both the magazine and the symposia) has made possible a range of creative expressions (art, drama, music, architecture, design, poetry, and prose) that provide insight into the lived experience of Mormons at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Historians writing about this period will find in the Sunstone enterprise insights into Mormonism that cannot be found elsewhere.
As Sunstone heads into its next 40 years, it seems to me that the magazine and the symposia would continue to benefit from focusing on those things associated with both the sun and stones—things that are solid and foundational as well as enlightening and revealing; things of the heart, the mind, and the spirit—focusing on how to be mediating and unifying rather than polarizing and dividing.
My hope is that whatever else it does in the future, Sunstone/Sunstone will fully and passionately strive to reflect the religious culture of which it is a part: rooted in both the Church of Jesus Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ.