10. Brigham Young University, Provo UT. This may be a surprise but it was the first time in my life that I found myself surrounded by liberal Mormons who were not family members. These friends were students and professors and I learned a lot about thinking and feeling. And God. And, you know, other important things. It becomes a key Mormon history site because of its diversity. I was also told after being sustained as the RS 1st counselor that I would not have been chosen if the RS president knew I was a Democrat. “I’m not sure I trust your inspiration,” she said.
9. Mormon Island, Grand Island NE. In the words of the Motel 6 clerk from across the street, “there ain’t nothing going on over there.” He was right except that there was a picnic table in commemoration of the pioneer picnicking done there.
8. Temple Square, SLC, UT. When I was a little girl, I liked hitting each station–glass boxes housing scenes from Mormonism. I’d pick up the telephone, push the buttons and stare at these tiny dolls depicting martyrdom or death on the plains. The only other place I’ve seen like it was in Bombay India where they used the exact same ‘doll/action figures in glass cases’ idea to depict Ghandi’s life and mission. Temple Square is ranked 8 because now there are no glass boxes and I get ticked at the movies that manipulate me into crying. Jerks.
7. Palmyra, Palmyra NY. I did not actually go. I drove by the sign for Palmyra on I-90, but as I passed the sign I felt tenderness for this place where the Smith’s made a place for Joseph and this new religion. The religion that converted my people.
6. Carthage Jail, Carthage IL. The jail was a little too solemn for the wild west shoot out I knew occurred there, but there’s nothing like being in a place where people you cared about (and deified a bit) died. I went to the jail after having hung out in the Groves in Nauvoo, just below the newly built temple. I thought about the sermons preached there and was sure they were my kind of Mormons. Except for that whole polygamy thing. Ick. But since that was secret, I have decided it wasn’t preached among those progressive trees.
5. Liberty Jail, Liberty MO. I was 19 years old, with a new fire for Mormonism that had gone out in my teen years. I sat in front of the little two-story jail and sang Praise to the Man with my Institute class. Electrifying. I felt so deeply and so purely that Joseph Smith was a prophet and persecuted for Christ’s sake. Unfortunately, the song creeps me out now but the memory remains sweet.
4. St. George Temple, St. George UT. I spent two weeks with my grandparents in St. George shortly before I was to leave on my mission. I went to the temple everyday for those two weeks, sometimes to avoid my grandparents, but mostly to commune in this new and sacred way. I wish I had a picture to show you how ugly I was at the time. I am 5’5” and at the time weighed 160 lbs and with a weird hormonal problem I have I had severe, cystic nodular acne (the doctor’s diagnosis). My mom lovingly said I had a face like hamburger meat. I was fat and ugly and I knew it, but mostly I felt defiant of others’ judgment. The doctor prescribed steroids and accutane, which meant that I looked even fatter and I was also red, dried out and peeling all over. I did an endowment and some other ordinance every day and the more ordinances I did, the more I felt like a goddess. I thought the temple clothing made me gorgeous. I wondered if the worn out pioneer women felt like goddesses there too.
3. Independence MO. I went to a ward there after hitting all the LDS and RLDS (Community of Christ) sites, and smack dab in the middle of the Midwest was a congregation of Pacific Islanders. With only smatterings of white people. We asked how come and an old Tongan woman said, “a couple of decades ago our stake president said we needed to come and build Zion. So we came to Independence.” Huh, I thought, they were building Zion. The 10 whities surely couldn’t have made much of the ward.
2. Spring City UT. I had a boyfriend from there, though that is not what makes it historic. It is now a bonafide ghost town but back in the Mormon day it was bustling. Full of artists and farmers, my favorites among Mormons. The chapel is built out of the oolite stone of the nearby mountains and the benches and stairways are magnificently planned and carved. Faith rarely goes into my art but I was certain that faith went into theirs, and it moved me. Orson Hyde is buried there and there is the only wood-burning pottery kiln in the West there, owned by a Bennion.
1. Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County MO. There’s nothing around but farms and open space. No church missionaries or tour guides. Most of the land is leased to farmers for soy. I have never been in a space that felt more sacred to me. I went when I was 19 and then the summer after I turned 20 I went 4 or 5 times. I had a vision in my imagination of Adam calling his loved ones there and his heart aching with love and hope for his children. Then I saw Jesus there. And his followers. And we were taking the people we loved to Him, to be healed. In my vision, I took my dad and my brother, both broken by mental illness more devasting than leprosy, and He laid His hands on them and healed them. And then, they turned and healed me and we worshipped together. I am certain the land is waiting for something to happen.
My faith hit major changes around my 24th or 25th birthday but the intense, visceral connections I have with these physical spaces make me suspect that I will never leave Mormonism. I love Mormonism for our beautiful buildings that we didn’t even have the education to build (the Kirtland Temple), for the wide open spaces that we know Jesus will visit and for a mythology tied to very specific, physical places.