Embarrassing confession time: sometimes, it makes me uncomfortable to leave my scriptures sitting on the floor, to put garments in with the dirty clothes, or to throw out issues of the Ensign. Why do I feel this way?
Mormons aren’t much for icons and representational items: no saints or crucifixes adorn our chapels. That said, I think it a mistake to suggest that LDS culture has no room for revering holy objects in a mystical way. And yet, I can think of little doctrinal reason for this behavior. Let me cite a few cultural examples:
- We’re instructed never to remove the temple garment — formerly, members took this literally, never completely removing their garments at any time. The garments were washed separately, never left on the ground, and their eventual destruction was a matter of elaborate ceremony. Many of these cultural elements remain in practice. The ceremonial clothing of the temple is handled even more carefully, and eventually is to be our burial attire.
- Bibles and other scriptures are sacred books, placed prominently on the shelf and treated with respect – no doodling or ripping of pages!
- Sacrament trays are treated gingerly, passed — with the right hand — in a careful manner. Sacrament bread and water, once blessed, must be used in the sacrament or disposed of. Similarly, consecrated oil, once blessed, must be used for purposes of anointing only.
- Many holy objects, imbued with spiritual power, are found in Church history: seerstones, golden plates, swords, etc.
In other words, even though we have no crucifixes or rosaries, holy objects are as commonplace in the LDS faith as any other. Is it fair for me to draw comparisons on this level? Doubtlessly one would argue that for mormons, there is nothing intrinsic to the objects that makes them holy; rather, we treat the objects with respect because of the message or covenant they represent. However, I don’t find this to be a meaningful distinction between mormonism or catholicism or other mystical approaches to holy objects. It is very rare that an object is consider magical or powerful in and of itself. The Kaaba comes close, I guess, but the Black Stone of Mecca isn’t that different in my mind from a Urim and Thummim.
It doesn’t take much of a semiotician to analyze holy objects and say that they are objects that receive signification through their use and their users, but to the believer, holy objects are more than signifiers: they somehow possess importance that is more immediate and broader than the concepts they represent. As much as we love the words of the New Testament, when we hold the Bible gently in our hands and turn its leaves gently, it begins to mean more than just the words it contains — it represents many different concepts, including inexpressible reverence.
I’m clearly out of my depth here, but this is my point: we should embrace the concept of Holy Objects, rather than reject all physicality of our faith. However mystical or Old World it may seem, we can come closer to Christ by letting these objects work upon us. A single stumbling block remains for me: we have little doctrine, outside of the Sacrament, to help us in this approach. Likewise, we run the risk of placing the objects ahead of their representations, leading to idolatry.