When God pops your heart like a kernel of corn

Published: Saturday, May 10 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

If you look long and hard enough, I’m convinced you can eventually find a spiritual lesson inside of everything — stones, sunshine, the game of baseball, the flight of geese. Even, as I found last Sunday, kernels of popcorn.

(Note to reader: If you don’t like popcorn, or anything else “light and fluffy,” please exit now).

I’m a Sunday School teacher. And last Sunday we were studying Numbers 11 — one of two chapters in the Old Testament where manna is described.

Manna, we found, was white, chewy, could be ground into grain for cakes and had a slight oily taste. At one point, the children of Israel called manna “light bread,” or “bread for children.”

I told the class that manna, to me, sounded a lot like popcorn.

In fact, maybe it was popcorn.

I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time popcorn has shown up in a spiritual setting.

Although we've found kernels of popcorn that date back 4,000 years, the Aztecs of Mexico were the ones who introduced the Western World to popcorn.

They thought popcorn was holy.

They decorated their gods with it and wore strings of popcorn around their necks and on their heads in ceremonial dances (see popcorn.org for more on its history).

Perhaps, like some native tribes, they even thought a little god lived inside each kernel.

Popcorn pops because a tiny drop of water inside expands when heated. That’s what makes it pop. The water escapes as a puff of steam.

Maybe, like other tribes, the Aztecs thought heating the corn made the god inside it angry, until he fled heavenward — as that burst of steam.

Or maybe the Aztecs were more sophisticated than that.

Maybe they saw the popping of corn as a metaphor for the way a spiritual experience can soften the human heart.

The Lord told Ezekiel: “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." To the Aztecs, he might just as easily have said, “I will take the hard kernel of your heart and, in the twinkling of an eye, transform it into something light, pure and soft.”

In other words, when the time is right, God will pop open our hearts.

I found myself wondering if popcorn, in our day, had ever been used in a spiritual setting.

I decided it was very possible.

I know personally of times when Mormon missionaries have been unable to find bread for the sacrament and had to resort to soda crackers or cookies.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some resourceful elders and sisters, perhaps in the canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, have even turned to popcorn as a substitute for sacrament bread.

It would be a natural in Mexico.

In Mexican Spanish, pieces of popcorn are called “palomitas” — “little doves.”

Sounds pretty spiritual to me.

Makes you wonder if some of the Aztec reverence for popcorn hasn't filtered down to us today.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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