The family altar

And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.

The altar is a sacral edifice in Mormonsim. Kneeling at the temple altars, men and women are sealed in the new and everlasting covenant. Moreover, as Elder Packer described in the The Holy Temple, the altar of the temple is used for prayer. Speaking of the leaders of the Church:

Here, dressed in the proper way for temple ordinance work, they approach the altar in the true order of prayer to seek divine guidance and inspiration as they consider these matters. (pg. 4)

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states:

The prayer circle is a part of Latter-day Saint temple worship, usually associated with the Endowment ceremony. Participants, an equal number of men and women dressed in temple clothing, surround an altar in a circle formation to participate unitedly in prayer. (Prayer Circle pg. 1120)

Before 1978 (1), prayer circles were held outside of the temple, with many Stake Centers having altars that adjoined the High Council room. Extra-temple prayer circles can be traced back to their foundations in Nauvoo. George Albert Smith preached in the completed Temple in 1845:

When we come together * * and unite our hearts and act as one mind, the Lord will hear us and will answer our prayers…Said that whenever they could get an opportunity they retired to the wilderness or to an upper room, they did so * * * and were always answered. It would be a good thing for us * * every day and pray to God in private circles. (2)

It is, perhaps, from this focus on the quotidian ritual that a fixture emerged among the saints that is generally forgotten: the family altar. The idea of walking into somebody’s house who is Mormon and seeing an altar in their living room borders on the absurd or apostate. However, for the Saints of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the family altar was consistently preached from the pulpit and in Church periodicals (3).

Joseph F. Smith preached in 1881:

…it is absolutely necessary that the Latter-day Saints should come together in the family capacity, and kneeling around the family altar, call upon God for his blessings morning and evening. And they need not confine themselves to morning and evening prayer, for it is their privilege to enter into their closets and call upon Him in secret, that He might reward them openly. (4)

Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal Brigham Young’s understanding of the family altar:

I attended the prayer meeting in the evening. President Young said the family Altar was the same as an Altar in the prayer Circle. It is for parents and Children to Join hands over the Altar and pray. (5)

Brigham had previously preached in public:

Again, suppose a family wish to assemble for prayer, what would be orderly and proper? For the head of the family to call together his wife, or wives, and children, except the children who are too small to be kept quiet, and when he prays aloud, all present, who are old enough to understand, should mentally repeat the words as they fall from his lips; and why so? That all may be one…There are times and places when all should vocally repeat the words spoken, but in our prayer meetings and in our family circles let every heart be united with the one who takes the lead by being mouth before the Lord, and let every person mentally repeat the prayers, and all unite in whatever is asked for, and the Lord will not withhold, but will give to such persons the things which they ask for and rightly need.(6)

It is evident from institutional preaching that prayer at the family altar became very regimented among certain circles. Men tended usurp the prayer duties, leaving women and children out of the ritual (7). President Cannon spoke in general conference on the matter:

I will say here that we should give our wives and children the opportunity to pray in the family circle. There are men who think that unless they pray the Lord does not hear the prayer, and they are in the habit of doing all the praying in their families…We should ask our wives and our daughters to pray. Let them do some of the praying in the family…Brethren, do not get the idea that the Lord will not hear your wives and daughters. He does hear them, and He hears our little children. I would give them the opportunity as soon as they are old enough, to ask a blessing, and to pray around the family altar, and to ask for the things that are in their hearts. (8)

More pointedly, John H. Smith preached:

Now, I am sanguine that there are many who call themselves Latter-day Saints, who have neglected their duty in this respect, and many a son is permitted to grow to manhood, whose father has never asked him to bow with them at the family altar. This is a serious neglect upon the part of those who have named the name of Jesus, who have come up to these mountains to be taught in the ways of the Lord. (9)

It is not certain when altars waned in the Mormon home. The 1926 Improvement Era included instructions for M.I.A. Home Study that included reference to the family altar but noted that the kitchen table is more prominent (10). Gordon B. Hinckley was one of the last to mention the family altar in public discourse at a 1966 BYU commencement (11). His remarks may, however, have been metaphorical.

Despite the oddity of the contemporary idea of a family altar, our progenitors’ focus on their use for family prayer is inspiring. Personally, my family prayers revolve around meals and bedtime. Perhaps, I should be taking some more formal time to pray.

Lastly, in 1905, Elder Hyrum Smith promoted the use of the family altar as a means of spiritual self sufficiency:

We ought not to complain if our stake conferences come and go and we do not have in our midst one of the brethren known as the authorities of the Church…You should not feel to complain, even though one of the Twelve, or the First Council of Seventy, or even the First Presidency, find it impossible to be with you. You should read the word of the Lord from the books, and kneeling down around the family altar, you should commune with the Lord and ask Him for wisdom, judgment and enlightenment. You should depend more upon Him and less than some of us do upon those who constitute the authorities of the church. (12)

Perhaps our modern forms of prayer can fill the same purpose.

___________

  1. On May 3, 1978, the First Presidency announced that all prayer circles outside the temple were to be discontinued.
  2. Helen M. Kimball, Woman’s Exponent. 15 July 1883. vol. 12, no. 4, pg. 26; reprinted in A Woman’s View pg. 299. See George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 221 for full transcript. For more information on Prayer Circles see D. Michael Quinn (1978) Latter-Day Saint Prayer Circles. BYU Studies, vol. 19 No. 1 pg. 79
  3. e.g., Improvement Era (1901) vol. 4 no 12; Contributor, vol. 7 no. 3 pg. 97, vol. 10 no. 10. pg 377 & vol. 11 no. 7 pg. 270; JD 2: 366-367, 17: 291-292,President Anthon H. Lund Conference Report, April 1910 pg. 10; Ballif, Conference Report, April 1920 pg. 60.
  4. JD 22:47-48,
  5. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, vol. 5, pg. 184
  6. JD 3: 53-54
  7. It should be noted that the family prayer circle was viewed as a patriarchal duty. See, e.g. George Teasdale, Conference Report, October 1903. pg. 97:

    The family altar should be in every man’s house; he is the patriarch of the family, and everything should be done under his direction. He should offer prayer; his wife and children also should offer prayer in turn around the family altar. You cannot be a Saint without the fellowship of the Spirit of God;

  8. Conference Report, October 1899, p.73
  9. JD 22:272
  10. The Home a Study for the Advanced Senior Class, M. I. A., 1925-26, Improvement Era, 1926, vol. 29. no. 4
  11. Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley pg. 416:
    There is no supervision like a good mother’s supervision. Every child is entitled to grow up in a home where there is warm and secure companionship, where there is love in the family relationship, where appreciation one for another is taught and exemplified, and where God is acknowledged and His peace and blessings invoked before the family altar.

  12. Hyrum M. Smith., Conference Report, October 1905. pg. 97

Comments

  1. Wow. Just, wow. So what did they do with the stake center altars, then? I’ve never heard them mentioned before.

  2. I’ve never seen them, but (for what it’s worth) I’ve been told that the prayer circle rooms are still there on the old buildings. I haven’t the faintest idea what they’d be used for besides a closet for the scouts or something.

    Fundies tend to make a big deal of the official dropping of extra-temple prayer circles in 1978. They see it as a sign of apostasy (as opposed to a sign of continuing revelation…)

  3. Wow J,
    Just when I thought our religion couldn’t get any weirder…

  4. Edward Kimball’s latest biography of Spencer W. Kimball mentions the halting of prayer circles outside of the temple.

    Thanks for the Brigham Young quote about mentally repeating the words.

  5. SV, they were used for the Stake Presidency/High Council prayer circle. Much as the General authorities still have thiers.

  6. Thanks, J. Stapley. Did the participants wear regular clothes, or temple clothes?

  7. There were frequently rooms with lockers and a place to change into temple clothes.

  8. Mark Butler says:

    What is wrong with an altar for family prayer? Ultimately it is a symbolic piece of furniture with the very practical use of being a place for family members to rest their hands during prayer.

    As long as we do not act like they have some metaphysical power, sounds like a pretty good idea to me, although I would probably refrain from calling it an altar in mixed company.

    The current alternative is everyone ends up facing away from eachother, typically facing the couch and the walls, or the darkness underneath a kitchen table. An “altar” would be much better. We would not exactly be burning offerings on it.

  9. Mark, I actually think it sounds pretty neat.

  10. It isn’t that the idea is a bad one, I just think praying around family alters would make the LDS church look even more cultish. I can just see the SNL skit now…

  11. I have a family altar – it’s called a “coffee” table (although I guess we really should invent a better term).

    I was helping a Wiccan friend and his family move a few months ago, and one of the boxes was labeled “altar”. I didn’t look inside, but ever since, I’ve been curious…

  12. Jothegrill says:

    I have some Hindu friends that have an altar in a closet in their apartment. It’s really not as weird as it sounds. They are devoted to their god just as we are to ours. They found a way to worship when they are far from their religous center (and they are pretty far.)
    I love the idea of praying in a circle at home. We’d need a few more people though, now it’s just a triangle with a little baby in the middle. =)

  13. Where do you come up with this great stuff I have never heard of????

  14. A common thing these days is for a family to have a special “temple room” in their homes. These are often decorated white with pictures of the Savior, prophets and biblical scenes adorning the walls. The room is dedicated to study, prayer and formal family meetings. For some reason I feel uncomfortable when I see such a room. (I do not feel uncomfortable in the temple.). If the room includes an altar, by what authority is it dedicated. Would an altar or “white room” create a feeling of mimicry rather than the true sacred nature that can be a home.. Do we need to be in a white room to feel the spirit or study or pray? The Savior’s great intercessory prayer took place in a garden. Where was Enos’? Need I paint my closet white?

  15. Common? How common? And where do these people live?

  16. jns, I wouldn’t have much problem with an altar–we have an established tradition of altars, though lately lapsed. On the other hand, your point about the efficacy of prayers being independent of place is well taken. Family altars do seem extraneous. Perhaps that’s why we dropped the tradition in the first place?

    The white room thing is downright creepy. And besides, it seems to me that the room the family spends the most social time in as a group, be it kitchen or family room, is the best place for family prayers and religious activities. Such a location helps reinforce the centrality of our religious practice to our family life.

  17. Antonio Parr says:

    First, kudos for an absolutely first-rate piece of research/scholarship. This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your discovery.

    Second, as I read your piece, I found myself pining — absolutely pining — for the wisdom and insight to bring about such a thing in my own home. I don’t know about the rest of the parents “out there”, but I find it astonishingly difficult to create a sense of reverence/holiness for my children. In spite of its oddities, the Temple almost always brings at least flashes of this sense of the divine. It is so much harder to create this sense in a home filled with X-Boxes and computers and cable tv and ipods and who-knows-what-else. I would love to be able to find a greater sense of spiritual peace for my family and children, and will try to find at least a facsimile/metaphor of the family altar in my own home.

    And since we are talking about altars, below please find the lyrics to a haunting, inspired song by the superb singer-songwriter Bob Bennett, entitled “Altar in the Field”, which has always moved me deeply:

    I build an altar in the field
    so I’ll remember
    Back to the time when its so real
    that I am loved and not alone

    And if I pass by here again
    I’ll be able to see
    My life was scattered like these stones
    Until the Lord began to gather me

    I build an altar in the field
    so I’ll remember

    I build an altar in this field
    in honor, in memory
    of the many graces I’ve been shown
    and the ones I’ve yet to see

    And so I leave this symbol
    fashioned by my hands
    the marker of a love
    that I will never understand

    I leave an altar in the field . . .

    And when I’m lost inside my sorrow
    overtaken by my fear
    when I am wandering in this wilderness
    Perhaps the Lord will lead me here

    To this altar in the field
    where I’ll remember
    Oh, I will remember

    [Bob Bennett, “Altar in the Field” from “Small Graces”]

  18. I honestly don’t know what I would find wierder: an altar in someone’s living room or their own personal celestial room. I haven’t seen that trend personally, but it is an interesting idea.

    As to why altars at all, well, I think that goes back to the begining of the post. There are types of rituals that we are taught require them, some forms of prayer included. That said, I think that many people (myself included) could get some benifit out of a more formal approach to prayer.

  19. ..and thanks for the kudos. :)

  20. Rosalynde says:

    A member of my family has a “prayer square” in the family room—a big upholstered ottoman where the family kneel for family prayers. It’s also used for cartoon-watching and snack-spilling and story-reading, of course.

  21. jns, I’ve never even heard of such white rooms, but I agree that they would make me uncomfortable (or, in my slangy vernacular, “majorly weird me out.”) I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s just that I’m not much on ritual in general, as I recently confessed at FMH. In most non-church contexts solemnity gives me a fit of the giggles. I’m just more of a put-my-stocking-feet-on-the-coffee-table type, I guess.

    On the other hand, I have to admit that there’s something appealing about centuries-old enormous houses with their own chapels. A chapel down the hall wouldn’t bother me; it could be a nice place to meditate and pray. A white room–no way.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    This is terrific, J. I had never heard of family altars before.

    My father used to talk about extra-temple prayer circles. I know they did them overseas when he was in the service.

  23. queuno-
    Per your curiosity…
    Mind you Wicca has about as many Traditions as Christianity has Denominations. Each is a little different, but more or less, the altar would most likely contain:

    Some kind of altar cloth, maybe different ones for different seasons.
    Statues or figures of the God and Goddess
    Pentacle (basically a flat surface adorned with a five pointed star)
    Athame (ritual knife, usually with a black handle, but not always)
    Some kind of censer for burning incense
    Candles of the appropriate colors
    Chalice
    Cauldron (no, they’re not just halloween decorations)

    That’s pretty much the idea; if course, it’d be their own variation thereof. Basically, something representgin God & Goddess, and items representing the four elements (earth, air, fire, water).

    Nothing too scary. ;)

  24. I have a family altar in the middle of my living room, yes it looks similar to a Temple altar, and yes I refer to it as the altar even in mixed company. It often excited inquiry as to our religion which I see as a good missionary opportunity. We are actually willing to build altars like this for others and I have a photo of ours up on http://store.lds-light.net

    J. Stapley: I’m almost curious if your post was inspired by seeing my altar, since I had only just posted about mine a day or so ago? :)

  25. Whoa, dude. I had a couple of the quotes floating around for some time and Ed’s Altar Call post this week got the wheels rolling….but, whoa.

  26. J. Stapley,

    Well, it was great to hear what you had to say on the subject. I’ve read a little on the subject here and there in the past, and if I find time I may pull up some of those sources and add to your discussion here. I do want to point out something: As far as I know, it has never been forbidden to HAVE a family altar in the home. There is nothing to me that indicates that this practice being “stopped” was intentional, but rather that it drifted into obscurity. And also, if someone chose to practice the True Order of Prayer (Prayer Circle) at such an Altar, I can think of no doctrinal or historical reason why they would not be fully entitled to do so — the letter in 1978 was specifically stopping Stake special prayer circles because there wasn’t opportunity enough for everyone to participate in them and it was felt to be unfair, but by a natural interpretation of the Endowment ceremony it seems to be teaching people specifically to pray and how to pray for a reason, and I can see someone walk away from that with the distinct impression that such is the thing to do, and the thing the Lord is instructing them to do. After all, the full quantity of information used in the Prayer Circle itself is not required at the vail, so it must be for use during this life, not after.

    Btw, do you like the design of my family altar? Also, I forgot to mention, that in addition to family prayer, I use it to rehearse parts for the degrees of Freemasonry with my Masonic brethren as well, when one of them comes over to study with me. Quite convenient.

  27. This is off topic, but something just occurred to me: This is a good post and a neat thread, with a lot of people saying insightful things. Why doesn’t Daniel Peterson or Lou Midgley ever show up to make a contribution to a thread like this?

  28. It might just be coincidental, but I’m aware of a few LDS families & there are probably many, who conduct their family prayer while kneeling around one of the beds, which is a little bigger but otherwise about the same size and shape as an altar.

    I’m inclined to read most of the quotes in the original post as metaphorical. Remember, that camp meetings often had “altar call,” even when conducted in a tent or somewhere that didn’t have an actual physical “thing” there at the front. This language about the “family altar” would be common in Victorian America, including 19th/early 20th century Mormonism, and would be of a piece with other similar domestic devotional practices.

    Aside, my parents had traveled throughout the Middle East in the 1960s and had, instead, adopted a prayer rug similar to those used in Muslim prayers and bought at one of the outdoor markets on their travels. Though we weren’t fussy about the 5 times a day or which way we were facing, we used it as a prayer gathering spot for the family. As a kid I thought this was extremely exotic.

  29. Since my true god is the internet, if I ever get an altar, it will be through buying it on eBay. An eBay altar has to be cooler than a non-eBay altar.

  30. I remember hearing rumors many years ago about LDS families who had altars in their homes. Of course, the folks that shared this info with me were the types who were into getting one’s calling and election made sure and receivings one’s second endowment and what-not. Being much younger and naive at the time I took the “altar in the home” (with the mental image of it being sequestered in a back room) as a sign of being in touch with “higher” laws or what-have-you. Though I was young and gullible I should say in my own defense that this info came to me without any reference to 19th century mormon culture. Little wonder it had the galling influence of causing me to believe that I was on the wrong side of the gospel “tracks” as it were.

    Jerks.

  31. Tona (#28), you may read them as metaphor, but in actuality Brigham Young gave very specific dimensions after which to pattern your own family altar. I cannot see how these dimensions could be considered metaphor, or how this could be taken in any other way than an indicator that the patriarch of the household was to construct an altar according to these specifications at which the family was to pray regularly.

  32. re DKL # 27, from my observation, DP ususally shows up on Bloggernacle threads in which he is being bashed. It seems natural to me that he would be interested in defending his name and work.

  33. It seems really unnecessary to me – do we need a special room to talk to God?

    My BIL and their family have a dedicated room only used for prayer and scripture study. They wouldn’t even let us touch the handle of the doorknob when we visited their home after they moved into it. It would have defiled it I guess. They are very fundie in a lot of ways – BIL quit his job and lived the law of consecration for a year, he wouldn’t have any of his brothers in the blessing circle for his baby because they were not righteous enough (even though they were completely active, good, TR holding guys with testimonies, etc – they were not his type of mormon I guess), he feels that he has more of a direct line to God than the rest of us. It’s a little scary and creepy. I try not to talk religion with him, EVER.

    He is always coming up with some new thesis or theory and he shares it with all of us and tries to get us involved and/or excited about it, but it’s just… cultish. The basics of the gospel are never enough for him, he is always looking for something higher and deeper, and ironically, it seems to get him further and further away from one of the most fundamental principles – love thy neighbor – because everything he does is to live the gospel better, more, higher – apart from everyone. He wants to buy 50 acres and move his family onto it.

    He is always looking past the mark. The altar thing feels like that to me.

  34. Cool post, J. Awesome.

    I actually have a book written anonymously called Further Light and Knowledge in which Brigham Young gives details on how to build one’s own altar for use at home… pretty cool stuff. It can be purchased at Benchmark Book in SLC. Ask for Anne.

  35. Sue (#33),

    You said: “The basics of the gospel are never enough for him, he is always looking for something higher and deeper, and ironically, it seems to get him further and further away from one of the most fundamental principles – love thy neighbor” I firmly believe that the Gospel is intended to put us on a spiritual journey. Endure to the end does not mean sit still, it means keep doing what you’ve been doing – seek, and gain more knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom. Love thy neighbor? To the contrary, it sounds like your BIL is trying to share and fellowship with you in the most intimate way, and you are rejecting it as cultish and staying away. From your description, it appears that he at least could be loving his neighbor, and you are interpreting it in a different way.

    Just my thoughts.

  36. Jeff, thanks for your thoughts, I understand what you are saying, but I’m afraid you are pretty off the mark.

    He is a fanatic. He takes basic principles of the gospel and twists them into things they are not. He claims to be interested in finding a close connection to God and yet he is mean spirited, without compassion, and unforgiving. He uses his gospel ideas to form divisions and separations between himself and others. He is usually judging in very offensive ways. He would not participate in giving my 11 year old niece a blessing because he’d heard her say a bad word the week before.

    When another SIL was diagnosed with a debilitating chemical imbalance, he gave her a 53 page paper he’d written up, complete with scriptural quotations, about how if she would repent of her sins, she wouldn’t need the medication they’d given her to balance her brain chemistry because she would be cured, and he continued to tell her for the next year that she needed to repent of all of the dark sin that was causing her problems.

    We’ve been warned not to have gospel hobbies, and from what I’ve experienced over the last 10 years, he’s the worst kind of gospel hobbiest. The prayer room and the year of consecration (at the expense of his parents, who supported his family that year, which resulted in his parents going bankrupt) are just examples.

    A few quotes that say it better than I did:

    Quentin Cook, Ensign: “Today there is a tendency among some of us to “look beyond the mark” rather than to maintain a testimony of gospel basics. We do this when we substitute the philosophies of men for gospel truths, engage in gospel extremism, seek heroic gestures at the expense of daily consecration, or elevate rules over doctrine. Avoiding these behaviors will help us avoid the theological blindness and stumbling that Jacob described.”

    “Another sign of spiritual immaturity and sometimes apostasy is when one focuses on certain gospel principles or pursues “gospel hobbies” with excess zeal. Almost any virtue taken to excess can become a vice.”

    “Certain members have wanted to add substantially to various doctrines. An example might be when one advocates additions to the Word of Wisdom that are not authorized by the Brethren and proselytes others to adopt these interpretations. If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.”

    “Some who are not authorized want to speak for the Brethren and imply that their message contains the “meat” the Brethren would teach if they were not constrained to teach only the “milk.” Others want to counsel the Brethren and are critical of all teachings that do not comply with their version of what should be taught.”

    Dallin Oaks said “Another strength Satan can exploit is a strong desire to understand everything about every principle of the gospel. How could that possibly work to our detriment? Experience teaches that if this desire is not disciplined, it can cause some to pursue their searchings beyond the fringes of orthodoxy, seeking answers to obscure mysteries rather than seeking a firmer understanding and a better practice of the basic principles of the gospel.”

    Sorry, that was way too long.

  37. mullingandmusing says:

    Yup, Sue, you hit it on the head. We don’t have to make up our own gospel. Look to the prophets. They will keep us on course. We don’t need family altars or special rooms or 50 acres. We just need to follow the prophets, live the simple principles of the gospel daily, be true to our covenants, and try to be more like Jesus.

  38. BTW, here’s something that purports to be a scanned image of the actual letter sent out by Kimball putting an end to prayer circles.

    Elsewhere on the site is the text of the purported letter:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Office of the First Presidency
    Salt Lake City, Utah

    May 3, 1978

    TO ALL STAKE PRESIDENTS AND BISHOPS:

    Over the years special permission has been given from time to time for special prayer circles to be held either in the temples of the Church or in special rooms designated for that purpose in stake, ward, or other buildings.

    Because of the increasing number of requests for such prayer circles, viewed in light of the rapid growth of the Church, and because of the complications that holding prayer circles in temples on Sunday have created and their tendency to take the participants away from their families and their other Church responsibilities, the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve has decided that all such prayer circles, whether held in the temples or outside the temples, be discontinued immediately.

    However, recognizing the value of these prayer circles in developing spirituality, commitment, and unity among those participating in them, we suggest that in lieu of such prayer circles, stake leaders may wish to consider the following: (1) that periodically stake leaders and their wives attend a temple session together in connection with which arrangements be made with the temple presidency for the prayer circle held during the endowment session to be composed of several stake leaders and their wives; and 2) that periodically stake leaders and their companions be called together in a special meeting where opportunity be given to those present to express themselves by way of testimony or exhortation.

    Sincerely yours,

    Spencer W. Kimball

    N. Eldon Tanner

    M.G. Romney

    The First Presidency

  39. Antonio Parr says:

    Ridiculous or sublime? Sacred or profane?

    When I first read this fascinating entry on “family altars”, I found myself moved by the concept of creating a sacred place in one’s home. Those feelings were accompanied by my sharing in Comment 17 the lyrics to Bob Bennett’s “Altar in the Field”, who gives an account of building an altar to help him remember that his life was “scattered like these stone until the Lord began to gather me”. Bennett further hopes that this tangible marker will help him remember that he is “loved and not alone”. In this spirit, the notion of an altar as a physical symbol of one’s faith and dependency on God seems both sacred and sublime.

    And yet others have commented on the “creepy”/”cultish” aspects of such an edifice. Which makes me wonder . . .

    As someone who has had spiritual experiences in LDS temples that are of the deepest possible personal spiritual importance, I am able to perceive great value in the notion of bringing the best of Temple worship into our daily lives. And yet I am someone who also understands the “creepy”/”cultish” comments completely (and who himself has cringed from time to time over these attributes). Which makes me wonder . . .

    Where is the line between the riciculous and sublime, the sacred and the profane in LDS temple worship? How is it that a rote ceremony can evoke such contrasting feelings in people of good will and sincere intent?

    And how does one create their own real/metaphorical “altar in the field/home” that uplifts and inspires while minimizing the “creepy”/”cultish” factor identified above?

    The answer to this question, and to all of the other mysteries of life, would be appreciated . . .

  40. Antonio, you raise a very important ambivalence that I have felt during this conversation and I very much appreciate both of your comments. At once, I am very much moved by the dedication of these early saints. The idea that they brought their families together to formally supplicate our Lord is beautiful. I find that I want to recapture a bit of that in my family.

    …but, seeing a picture of Jeff’s altar makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps because it is so anachronistic. Perhaps because I associate similar activities with fundies.

    I think that there is a certain demographic that does tend to seek after the “mysteries” in such a way that isolates them from the average Mormon. Sue has a sad example of this in her own family. I do believe that we can recapture the spirit of our progenitors in a way that isn’t off-putting or anachronistic.

  41. That’s such a great question, Antonio, and I share your deep ambivalence. Somehow ritual–by its very sacredness?–always seems to border the profane, the ridiculous, and the downright evil. Maybe there are some anthropologists among us who can provide more insight on why this might be.

    Part of my concern with Jeff’s altar is the price tag, which strikes me as very steep for most Mormon families in the U.S., let alone worldwide. Even if someone really feels the need to have an altar, I don’t see why he or she couldn’t create or acquire it much more inexpensively. I think there are much better ways for an LDS family to spend $2500–getting out of debt, building savings, acquiring food storage, contributing to humanitarian causes, or financing a mission or an education.

  42. rleonard says:

    I thought the link for the alter was a joke. He also has listed a Bible, Rock, and hat.

  43. rleonard, I hope you’re right :> Surely the day of seerstones has passed?

  44. rleonard says:

    Nah,

    Did’nt you get the memo from Jeff Day? You can find a seerstone on the internet.

  45. Good to know–might come in handy during some dull meeting or other…

  46. in hiding says:

    A rant in defense:

    It is fascinating to me that so many readers here have not heard of the family altar, prayer circles conducted in special meeting house meeting rooms, and rooms set apart in homes. While they aren’t widely talked of, and they are some what buried, but certainly do come up in deep LDS reading now and then as we STUDY.

    Now, on the topic of Celestial Rooms:
    We have a Stake Presidency member that has a celestial styled room in his home. It has the white furniture, carpet, moulding, scripture table – the whole bit. Actually I think we have two Stake Pres. members that do this, but I haven’t felt the need to confirmed it as it’s really not uncommon to design a formal scripture room in the C-room style in these parts.

    Why? With the abundance of new home building especially in the western US in the past 10 years, many Saints are taking time to design their new and existing home to accommodate the unique needs of the Mormon family, and the next Mormon family to move into the house, and the next, and so on.

    I can see where such appointments appear to be self serving for the mainstream Mormon not familiar with these trends. I can see where these accommodations might be talked of as cultish for the Mormon that appears a bit more radical or peculiar. But think of it this way – we designate special areas for the provident/temporal living we are counseled to follow (out of simplicity, we have special bookshelves for church lit, we have food storage closets, shelves in the garage for camping/72 hour “stuff”, kitchen appliances for emergency use, 55 gallon water jugs, etc.). We don’t think twice about including these temporal items in our home design.

    We are also counseled to include spiritual items prominently in our homes – it ALL starts at HOME. And our home is a holy place – we stand in holy places. We are counseled and often have the obligatory FP, LC, and pictures of Christ, Joseph Smith and the current prophet prominently displayed. True, these can be as simple as a screen saver or refrigerator taped picture – but our society affords us the possibility of appreciating these items as works of art too. The problem is when this art becomes an idol – meaning the idol worship of temporal objects – as in “Jane has one, we should too” or, “I just have to have the original white porcelain sculpture of the First Vision with the artist signature”. Places like Deseret lead those tempted, to think that simple displays are not enough. The non-provident overspender or the person with a tendency to value greed, might be easily tempted into making a purchase to beautify their home by using the objects as idolotry.

    You probably won’t find “Deseret Art” in the humble spirit filled Tonga home necessarily. Instead you may find carefully selected pictures from the Ensign in a scrapbook on a table. A Saint from Guatemala might marvel at a Salt Lake home and think it is overly appointed. When they get to know the owner, they will hopefully find that that the owner does not take excessive pride (a form of idol worship) in having and displaying such art. It’s all relevant and cannot be generalize all, to the level of sinful idolotry. Afterall, many of us may ponder and ask, “What might our Celestial home include? What could a celestial home be like and how should I move for that here on earth?”

    So, we have rooms for our temporal “stuff”. We have access to temples that are finely appointed. It’s not the appointments that bring in the spirit – it’s the fact that they are formal appointments that help set the tone. Increasingly, people are making their homes a holy place as well – mixing the temporal and spirtual. Truthfully, that is where we are to start – by making our home a holy place. Soem will jump and say, “Aha, it’s we aren’t suppose to take the literal interpretation!” but the literal interpretation will vary greatly from the idol interpretation with spiritual guidance.

    A home is a sanctuary. It can become a place of idol worship as easily as a place of spiritual learning. Just as we can make a media room and find it take over our lives as we veg out to movies, music and downloading, we can instead prioritize what we worship – and designate a room for that activitiy. The spiritual room often has has formal appointments that set the tone for that purpose, just as the media room is designed with slouch furniture that is easy to clean.

    The people that I know that have celestial styled room in their home, do not have a celestial room – and they would never say that they do. Instead, they have a room in the STYLE of a celestial room.

    They understand that people learn by their senses. They play upon that knowledge and go to sources (Celestial room designs) to invite in that same idea into their home. Their design included the senses: seeing (scriptures and pictures displayed, a soothing monochromatic palette of color punctuated by monocromatic touches), hearing (silence, or hymns in the background), feeling (sitting on comfortable furniture that commands formality – lighter color palettes are more formal which is how we are when we address HF and Christ – the tone is different in a white room, than a room with dark leather furniture), smelling (fresh flowers, candles, not stale food in the couch cushions), and tasting (serving ice water for example). The tone for visiting and home teaching, receiving church news and visitors is immediately set in such a room.

    Actually, a popular rennovation in our neighborhood is to wall off your living area for a separate “special” room – much like an old fashioned parlor. Knowing trends around here, these rooms will probably evolve into formal “Celestial” styled rooms down the road by current homeowners, or immediately by the next homeowner.

    These rooms are, and will continue to rise in popularity among LDS. Just as older “Mormon” homes around here are joked about because they are characterized by having a large pantry with shelves for food storage (which was an excessive appointment 20 years ago…) modern homes are being designed by or for “Mormons” with contemporary appointments that may appear excessive in the context of what we have today.

    Call it “New Mormon Design” – whatever, it’s a change with the times, and it’s being done. Many of us are moving away from the traps of television – and are moving toward having places in our homes for “odd” Mormon activities: family scripture study and lesson/talk preparation in a computer room; kitchens that accommodate our unique view of food storage and movement toward storing and living foods closer to the heart of the WoW; storage areas that protect stores of food, clothing, and emergency amenities; and rooms set apart specifically for exclusive church “business”. New home building couples now actually consider and include the following options (and we have homes in our neighborhood with some or all of the below choices considered and accommodated in home building):

    ~ special closets near an exit door to house 72 hour kits, a fire proof safe for documents and CDs holding photos and documents – ready to go

    ~ humidity, heat/AC cooled food storage closets (often tucked inside garages)

    ~ side yard water storage and collection areas; pools with seal tight pool covers

    ~ carpet, paint furniture, art and molding selections for “Celestial” styled rooms

    ~ large kitchen islands and island storage for emergency canning (for quickly adding meats, fruits and veggies that could spoil in a fridge or freezer in a power outage); extra counter edging to accomodate hand crank grinders; generators; and other “survival equipment” that can be stored conveniently but still out of sight

    ~ large kitchen tables with book shelf area for scripture study, homework, games and entertaining

    ~ a separate shower, mini-stack washer and dryer and changing area outside the home (built in the garage again – that 4th car garage comes in handy…). This is radical to me – and talked of as necessary in case of bird flu. It’s built as an area that can be used to try to decontaminate husbands coming home from work and visitors you’d like to see face to face. This area also has a freezer to freeze germs on mail and packages prior to their entrance into the home.

    ~ cellars (built in back yards, or off of basements

    ~ extra rooms with computer hook up that can quickly accommodate a planned or “emergency” home business (hair, physical therapy, child care, consulting, net based business, law, transcription, nurse case management, education via web, and so on). This is a popular home building option for families that foresee the bread winner’s company moving toward more employees working from home, and for people that want to give up the practice but can still consult from home (these jobs are virutally any job that can be outsourced – radiology review, peri-natal ultrasound reading, surgical consultation via web link, software design, and so on).

    Crazy? For those that this is a new concept and cannot get past an initial judgement of idolotry – yes.

    For many others, it’s part of an evolution toward a more meaningful spirtual life that has temporal and provident living counsel taken care of through well planned home design.

  47. Mark Butler says:

    In hiding (#45), Many of those things sound worth while, but I think many are embarrassed to mention them in a Mormon context, because the ability to have them is a blessing that so very few have, and which is strictly not required.

    There are people that are literally called bu the spirit into professions for which pecuniary reward will always be in short supply, and those people and many others will have to operate under a rather different rule – that of “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

  48. Eve (#40) said: “Part of my concern with Jeff’s altar is the price tag, which strikes me as very steep for most Mormon families in the U.S., let alone worldwide. Even if someone really feels the need to have an altar, I don’t see why he or she couldn’t create or acquire it much more inexpensively.”

    I would like to explain the construction of my Altar a bit. My own Altar is the result of a Family Home Evening project. We didn’t realize the project would take us an entire month worth of spare time to complete. I am not a carpenter or furniture builder. I have never worked with wood tools before. This was a very difficult task for my wife and I to undertake. The reason the price tag is so steep is twofold: 1) If we made one for someone else, we would have to make it up to a higher standard of quality. If you could see ours close up, you would see imperfections and minor problems with how it was built. If someone buys one from me, I would design it with extreme care so that it is beautiful for them and they have no reason to complain about it. 2) It took an entire month of spare time to build. This means that if I intend to do a better job, I will probably have to take three weeks off of work to get the job done properly, not to mention traveling to stores and purchasing fine materials to make a great product. I won’t sell something shabby. If people are interested in making their own: Go for it. To be honest, my own is built with a plethora of old 2×4’s and some thin rectangular boards that I purchased at a yard sale for a few dollars. The kneeling pads are the most expensive part: 2 or 3 inch foam purchased at the fabric store, upholstered with some nice fabric, and bordered with decorative golden rope. The front panel is fitted with an unfinished foot/pedal area from an old piano that we finished carving, sanded up, and cut down to fit. The panel is removable making the inside like a chest, which also has a padded surface matching the kneelers, bordered in rope. Because of the 2×4’s, my Altar weighs about a tonne, something I will try not to duplicate. The back and side kneelers are detachable, so that the altar can also be placed against a wall, if desired. If I build one for someone else, the front will need to be a much simpler design unless we can look around and find something similar to those piano fish carvings, or if we spend an enormous amount of effort reproducing it, by carving it by hand.

    All of this, to me, is surely worth $2500 to compensate for the time I will have to be away from my usual vocation to do this, and still make enough money for it to be worth the manual labor. If you go to http://heavenlywood.com and look at “Communion Table #1072″, the closest item I can find, it is priced at $4325. #424 altar, although not of the Masonic style, is probably more comparable as far as size goes, and it is $2725. This leads me to believe my pricing is more or less standard for such a piece of furniture, however, I must admit, their woodworking skills are superior to my own.

    The whole Christian world considers LDS Temples “Cultish”, so I don’t see any reason anyone would not think a family altar is equally “cultish” … this does not mean it is bad, it only means that people are unaccustomed to it. If you want to try easing into the idea, you might set up a couple of food storage crates with a foam pad on top and a nice tablecloth thrown over them, keep your scriptures there, and use it as a place to pray. You will soon realize that it isn’t such a bad thing to have a dedicated place for this type of activity. Also, the presence of the altar will remind you to pray (every time you trip over it), and for someone busy with work and other things, like myself, having a reminder to pray is important to me, because I don’t do it often enough otherwise.

    My home teachers found it to be interesting. They were sort of edgy about it the first time they visited, but after that they realized it is just part of who we are, and they are ok with praying around it, as well as other guests that come to my home (some not even Mormons). One lady that visited us said it was remarkable, that she thinks the Bible basically tells us to have something like that, but that she had never seen anyone before that had set apart such a place. This from a lady so superstitious, that she wouldn’t even use a computer mouse because it feels too much like a Ouija board to her, she was comfortable with the Altar, as far as I could tell.

  49. cchrissyy says:

    I really don’t know what to think about extra-temple alters.
    One one hand, like this site says, we have been taught how to pray, so shouldn’t we make use of this knowledge and power?
    But on the other hand, doesn’t reading that just feel nutty?

    Every fundamentalist story I’ve heard where somebody realizes they’re the prophet or they need to move to the desert and take a few more wives begins with a man and his buddies doing the TOoP at home. Every story.
    So my pet theory was that using temple robes and signs in an unprotected space was spiritually dangerous… but then, that doesn’t explain how home and stake center circles were OK before.

    Any thoughts? Because if it’s A-OK to do the TOoP at home, then I’d agree that any endowed member is missing out if they dont’ apply the instruction they got. Or maybe everybody else IS doing it and just not telling me? I should ask a temple pres or somehting… But seriously, I’m scared if I did this, before long there’d be demonic visions and nutty propehsies, because I’ve only ever heard of people employing this on the way to wacky fundamentalism, a destination I earnestly wish to avoid.

  50. rleonard says:

    OK,

    maybe Jeff Day was not kidding. Yikes.

    I am also familiar with the TOOP in private homes leading to apostacy trends on the Wasatch front. Probably why in 1978 the Bretheren tried to prevent the practice.

  51. cchrissyy,

    The home is not an unprotected place. Homes may be dedicated, and should be the safest place for your family both temporally and spiritually.

    Regarding the road to apostasy, I too have heard this. In fact, I have heard that people who do this are often given a type of spiritual test before they can proceed, which they must pass, and the ones who don’t pass end up as polygamists. Perhaps this has something to due with Polygamy being a true principle but currently illegal, and people come to a realization or comfort of the things they’ve been having hard times with, then they step over the line and assume the comfort was an instruction to act.

    If I did this and had a vision, I would begin by testing the Spirit in the way Joseph Smith prescribed in the D&C. “These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.” (D&C 129:9)

    I don’t think we should fear visions. That leads to Protestantism, which in my opinion is a worse fate than Fundamentalism.

    You said “maybe everyone else IS doing it” … in my seven years in the Church so far, I’ve heard of more than a handful of people in various locales who do it, either personally or as a family. Sometimes it will be implied subtley even in Elders Quorum, and other times I’ve had people explain it to me directly in connection with some or another spiritual tale they’ve shared with me.

    rleonard:

    If someone will read the 1978 letter concerning prayer circles, may I just point out again that it is addressed to Stake Presidents, and it stops the occurrence of Stake Special Prayer Circles, Circles done in Church buildings other than the Temple, specifically. As a member, especially a recent convert, I cannot imagine this letter being read over the pulpit, since it doesn’t seem to indicate that it should have been? (was it?) And anyone who joined and was Endowed since 1978 wasn’t aware of this unless they snooped around on the Internet and found it. It doesn’t seem to be directed toward home prayer circles at all. It also seems a short step to draw the connection and see this as what the Endowment is trying to teach, especially with everyone constantly admonishing you to ponder the Temple and try to figure out what it means to you, and talking about how great the teachings there are. Surely this is a conclusion that at least a few people reach during that pondering, as they go through the Endowment again and again, if they are thinking about what the wording tells them in any degree of consciousness. rleonard, you mentioned that they tried to stop it in 1978, so was there something other than this letter to stake presidents that also took place that we should be aware of?

  52. Wow Jeff, you must spice up the Elder’s Quorum.

  53. rleonard says:

    Jeff,

    I will check the GHI and get back to you. If I remember right there is a place in it that discourages temple rites being performed outside of Temples. In my view TOOP is a temple rite only to be performed in Temples. If somebody has the GHI handy and can comment please do so.

  54. Mark Butler says:

    I am all for altar-like furniture, as long as the style is sufficently subdued, but I think the TOOP being performed outside of temples is a really bad idea, for a wide variety of reasons.

  55. Am I the only one that is finding the use of acronyms with regards to temple ceremonies offensive?

  56. Steve, I’m distressed by it as well.

    Conversations about the doctrinal justification or lack thereof for fundamentalism also seem out of place here.

  57. Conversations about the doctrinal justification or lack thereof for fundamentalism also seem out of place here.

    Copy that.

  58. Taryn, I think you’re right on — anachronisms like the altar too often become excuses for us to talk lightly about things that are sacred, or conversely, to take oddities as sacred things. A fine line we’re walking here.

  59. When I have a serious subject to pray about, I often mentally take the steps through the True Order of Prayer, just visualizing it in my head, before engaging in the “meat” of the prayer. While doing this, I also think of the various covenants I have made in the Temple. Among other things, I find that this alone is enough to clear the mind of worldly concerns and to get into the appropriate frame of mind to come unto the Father in sincere prayer. I can do this quickly in my head, no matter where I am. Maybe it is more a form of meditative relaxation for me, but I don’t consider this to be performing a “rite”. For those who perform it physically, replete with robes, etc, I’m really not sure, but I don’t think I would consider it a rite any more than any other form of prayer. Performing an Initiatory or Endowment outside the Temple to me would be way over the line and represent Fundamentalism in the extreme, but the Prayer itself seems more along the lines of the giving of a blessing or anointing the sick: An odd thing that Mormons do (or have done), but not an “ordinance” in the strictest sense of the word. For me, the fact that there was a time in Church history when this practice was prevalent puts it in a category of special consideration. I’m really not sure. I suppose I should do more reading on this subject, but to me, other people’s fears and feelings, no matter how sincere, don’t constitute a valid reason to shun a practice or the people who engage in it. Were that so, I would never have become a convert to Mormonism, because Mormonism – to me, required individual determination, as well as a willingness to receive criticism and condemnation of both friends and family. In spite of all this, I saw it as a good step because I came to know that it had the Truth to offer me, or at least some critical portions thereof that the rest of Christianity was lacking. I valued the Truth over “popularity”, and I still do.

  60. Jeff, this isn’t an issue of popularity, nor of shunning. The issue here is respect for community norms as concerns the sacred nature of our temple practices, especially how and when we speak of them.

  61. I agree that the acronym being used here for the Prayer Circle is easily perceived as giving it less respect than is due. I hope I have spoken in a proper and respectful manner in all of my comments here, and I apologize if I have offended anyone by my candor, but I think this is a deep and important subject, and that frank and respectful discussion can be of benefit (and has been, to me, so far here) I have tried not to speak lightly of these things, but given them the most serious treatment that I am capable of. My curiosity is genuine, and I feel it is a shame that we are not able to explore our peculiar history more often and in more depth. Stopping a discussion when it has just begun to get interesting and spiritually helpful is the type of thing that makes me feel the need to turn to Blogging as a sort of supplement to Sunday School to begin with.

  62. Jeff, I sense that your desires are good. My take on this is that we need to look at history through the lens of current doctrine and practice. There is nothing of this sort even remotely taught by our leaders. That should have more consideration than any historical practice, as interesting as that history may be to some.

    Also, we are encouraged to stay in the mainstream — not in a “follow the crowd downhill” kind of a way, but in a “follow the prophets” kind of a way. With that in mind, I wonder about this potential need you feel to “stand up” to fellow members (comparing it to your need to stand up for your decision to join the Church). I see the two as very different situations. Kudos to you for following your heart to join the Church, but I’m not sure you need to “stand up” to other members. After all, we are supposed to be unifed to some rather significant degree on how we practice our religion, are we not? Please consider and remember that a good chunk of us had never heard of family altars before this post (and that is ok; we don’t need to know about them today or we would have heard about them from our leaders!). With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that you have gotten some raised eyebrows. :)

    I think this from Elder Oaks might be relevant:

    “Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current, lest it lead to the spiritual downfall that comes from rejecting continuous revelation. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.”
    Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 11

    You said the fact that the use of family altars was prevalent in historical teaching and practice is worth special consideration. What Elder Oaks’ quote suggests to me is that “consistent and current” teaching and practice is worth a lot more consideration. And current teaching doesn’t even put this on the radar screen. It is clear you value your membership and the temple and such. That’s commendable. But I’m always concerned when someone comes up with something that is clearly not taught by our current leaders, even if it shows up in our history. In my mind, the only real way to know what of our past we should embrace now is to look to our current leaders. I see no other way to know with any degree of certainty if we are on spiritually-sound ground.

    With concern,
    A sister

  63. Mark Butler says:

    I used the acronym to avoid disrespect, not the contrary. There is a considerable precedent for this in LDS weblog discussions, and more so from scripture itself:

    Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.

    But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.
    (D&C 107:2-4)

    Just trying to keep sacred things sacred – it helps a lot if you avoid using the real name. Kind of like certain government agencies whose very name used to be classified. I do not want to speak of temple things either lightly or in detail, and I think an acronym helps serve that purpose.

  64. Steve Evans says:

    Well, Mark, you’re mistaken, both as to “considerable precedent” (???) and your use of scripture. The use of Melchizedek’s name isn’t an acronym.

  65. I assume that the altar was to be used mainly by those families where the parents had received their endowments. Then we would have 2 situations – one when the endowed members of the family would probably wear the temple clothing and sacred sings would be offered, and another when the whole family would get togheter without the use of temple apparel or signs.

    The use of the original garments was also related to the practice of the prayer circle outside the temple:

    if we have the garments upon us at all the times we can at any time offer up the signs (George A. Smith, Dec 21, 1854, Sunday, Nauvoo Temple, An intimate chronicle, p. 221)

    The order of prayer practiced during the endowment ceremony had also the purpose of teaching people how to pray in the same manner in their homes:

    You have now learned how to pray. You have been taught how to approach God and be recognized. (Amasa Lyman, in the same occasion, op. cit., p. 226)

    Bathsheba W. Smith, wife of George A. Smith, said the following on prayer:

    …that we did not know how to pray and have our prayers answered. But when I and my husband had our endowments..Joseph Smith presiding, he taught us the order of prayer. (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 54)

    About the First Presidency letter on this topic, on May 3, 1978, I would just add that it discontinued not only prayer circles outside the temples but any prayer circle inside the temple too. The only opportunity to participate in a prayer circle would be during the endowment cerimony:

    …the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve has decided that all such prayer circles, whether held in the temples or outside the temples, be discontinued immediately.

  66. We have a nice, more formal living room. It certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for a celestial room, but it is nice, and is generally off limits except for family home evening and visitors. The real advantage of having such a room is practical. When people come to visit, this room is generally clean, so we can invite the visitors in there and not have to let them see the crayon-scribbled, toy-strewn rest of the house. I had doubted the utility or necessity of such a room, but my wife was vindicated recently. We had our fourth child a few months ago, and taking care of baby has decreased the amount of time my wife can spend chasing behind the other three to pick up after them. The Relief Society came to visit and she invited them to the living room. They commented on how clean our house looks. She grinned and told them that if they could see the rest of the house they wouldn’t be so complimentary.

  67. Mark Butler says:

    Steve (#63), What is the substantive difference in morality between an acronym and any other substitutionary name? As far as LDS web log precedent, I suggest referring to intensely theologically oriented discussions at New Cool Thang and Splendid Sun for examples. There are no doubt others that do not make as extensive use of such.

    MP = Melchizedek Priesthood
    RS = Relief Society
    HF = Heavenly Father
    AQ = Anointed Quorum
    HSoP = Holy Spirit of Promise
    MSW = More sure word of prophecy
    CES = Calling and election made sure
    MHG = Most High God
    2A = Second anointing
    A/G or AGT = Adam-God Theory
    Q12 = Quorum of the Twelve
    FP = First Presidency
    SP = Stake President / Presidency
    BP = Bishop

    And so on, as befits the occasion, …

    Of course the great irony here is that many biblical Hebrew words are symbolic abbreviations for a combination of ideas, one idea per letter, making Hebrew the ultimate acronymic system.

  68. Mark, I find that list of acronyms offensive and unfortunate. Some of them strike me as blasphemous. I haven’t seen most of them here or at other blogs I frequent, but they should be avoided. Hebrew words aren’t acronyms either; they elide certain sounds. Apples and oranges, as is the use of Melchizedek. If you truly don’t see the difference between acronymic usage and substitutive representational wording, I can recommend some language textbooks.

    Feel free to use your acronyms elsewhere.

  69. Mark, you cite Splendid Sun; perhaps that is call to repentance for me. I admit that using “RS” doesn’t bother me, perhaps because I view it at common, not sacral as our temple rites. Let’s just use “prayer circle” as is common in Mormon Studies circles.

  70. Would someone let me in on what TOoP is?

    Thanks

  71. Never mind, I figured it out!

  72. Mark,

    I think the simple rule of thumb is: Don’t tick off the people who run the blog you are commenting on with your acronymns.

    You are right that acronymns are often used in online theological/church discussions — mostly for convenience. RS, GA, SS (sunday school), PEC, SP (stake president), KFD (King Follet Discourse) and many more are all used for brevity. But surely you can see why creating acronymns for titles like “Most High God” would be offensive to some people can’t you? The same goes for acronyms for sacred rites I think. I like Stapley’s solution in this case.

  73. Mark Butler says:

    If Matt simply wants to make that a request, rather than opening a discussion on the merits, I have no problem from refraining from acronyms he does not like. Ask and ye shall receive. No explanation required.

  74. Mark Butler says:

    Sorry, I meant Steve Evans.

  75. Razorfish says:

    This thread has highlighted an issue that in some ways I find disturbing. The case advocated by “Jeff” is that by using a family altar and incorporating lessons learned from the temple, that his prayers will be more efficacious. In effect, God has a pecking order when it comes to prayer and he will listen or respond more favorably if the mode or manner of the prayeris consistent with some higher esoteric instruction or mode of application.

    While this may be the bargain one agrees to or accepts vis-a-vis the temple, it seems to cheapen the efficacy of prayer by the non-learned or non-endowed, or frankly non-member. In effect, prayer isn’t as powerful as it is marketed, but only for those who know the true manner and mode as revealed by esoteric sources.

    Here we see God layering one more level of discrimination between the “saved” and the infidel. I’m uncomfortable with that distinction, and that’s why I will never have an altar in my living room. I respectfully acknowledge others may see this point differently.

  76. Antonio Parr says:

    Razorfish —

    I had a similar thought during the months following 9/11, when I attended several temple of the sessions for the primary purpose of strengthening myself spiritually and drawing closer to God. To my disappointment, the prayers in the temple sessions that I attended were entirely rote, with no reference to the calamity that had just arisen in our beautiful land, or the suffering of our neighbors.***

    I thought to myself, if the true order of prayer is really found in the Temple, and if God somehow responds more purely to those prayers, then we have squandered the opportunity to bless others by failing to pray earnestly for the things that matter most.

    (Why is it that Latter-Day Saints so consistently ignore current events in our worship services. It is as if we have created a bubble for ourselves, and don’t want the unpleasantries of real life to invade our tranquil state . . . but I digress . . . )

  77. Antonio Parr says:

    [My lack of editing/proofing of my prior post has left me cringing. Here is what was intended:]

    Razorfish –

    I had a similar thought during the months following 9/11, when I attended several temple sessions with feelings of deep spiritual longing and the desire to strengthen myself spiritually and draw closer to God. To my disappointment, the prayers in the temple sessions that I attended were entirely rote, with no reference to the calamity that had just arisen in our beautiful land, or the suffering of our neighbors.

    It occurred to me at that time that if the true order of prayer is really found in the Temple, and if God somehow responds more deeply to those prayers, then Latter-Day Saints have squandered the opportunity to bless others by failing to pray earnestly for the things that matter most. Moreover, if prayer really makes a difference, shouldn’t we be praying earnestly about some of the more pressing social and moral issues of the day?

    Along those line, why is it that Latter-Day Saints so consistently ignore current events in our worship services? It is as if we have created a bubble for ourselves, and don’t want the unpleasantries of real life to invade our tranquil state . . . but I digress . . .

  78. Thomas Parkin says:

    “It occurred to me at that time that if the true order of prayer is really found in the Temple, and if God somehow responds more deeply to those prayers, then Latter-Day Saints have squandered the opportunity to bless others by failing to pray earnestly for the things that matter most. Moreover, if prayer really makes a difference, shouldn’t we be praying earnestly about some of the more pressing social and moral issues of the day?”

    It seems to me …

    Aye. I think we should pray both more specifically and much more deeply, with greater faith. Everything tends to rote and ritual, on one hand, and to dissolution on the other – and both, both Iron Rod and Liahona tendancies, unmoored from the other, tend to apostacy – or seperation from the Spirit (which is both the Iron Rod and the Liahona) which keeps us on the path. We do, naturally, squander the opportunity provided by the prayer circle – not to mention our personal prayers, fasting, etc. etc. But that speaks of our generally underdeveloped spirituality, both individually and collectively, and says little or nothing about the nature of the prayer circle, or personal prayer, or fasting, etc.

    But, I think, criticism needs to be careful. We are, after all, talking about imperfect people – the officatore, the guy praying in Sacrament meeting, muddling through,. Criticism should tend to edification in the spirirt of D&C 121 (and many other places) – if it does, I think you and I will be ok.

    ~

  79. RE # 58:

    I am a little late to the ball game here, but if I remember correctly it was while engaging in precisely such practices (after being counseled not to by an inspired priesthood leader) that the self-proclaimed prophet/leader of the TLC had his “revelation.”

    Now he, and a group of followers in Manti, have separated themselves from the Church, claiming that the Church has strayed from the ordinances of the Gospel as taught in the early restoration.

    To which I say: Ecclesiastes 3.

  80. A lot of “bad” people pray in a lot of ways (including the standard ways of praying), come up with a lot of really bad conclusions, and cause a lot of bad things to pass. This does not mean that prayer itself is bad to engage in. It only indicates a need for discernment.

    It is only people who originally performed the ordinances (the leaders and priests) that led the early Church to apostatize from them. That does not mean the ordinances are bad, it does not mean that we should avoid the ordinances altogether — they (the ordinances) aren’t the reason of the apostacy, it is the people’s hearts turning from the things of God. It is their unfaithfulness, their willingness to trade integrity for comfort or popularity, or wealth, etc.

  81. Mark Butler says:

    God is most definitely not going to give greater honor to a form of prayer performed in conscious disregard of the counsel of his chosen servants. He is not an automaton you know.

    You could baptize a person a thousand times and it would do him relatively little good without the approval of someone who holds the keys. In this case the persons who hold the keys are counselling us *not* to do something outside the temple. Those who purposely disregard their counsel, are more likely to exercise their faith unto condemnation rather than salvation.

    And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

    For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

    And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

    And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.

    And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent. And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
    (1 Sam 15:22-28)

    A principle well worth remembering.

  82. Also, looking up TLC which was referenced in #79, I can only find that the Prayer Circle is the reason Harmston was excommunicated in his OWN account. It would appear that he was also engaging in Polygamy, and this seems to be the true reason of his excommunication. (I don’t know how trustworthy his own account is.)

    I have not heard any counsel not to pray in this manner, except the hearsay which Mr. Harmston details was the reason for his discipline. The 1978 letter has not been read out loud to congregations to the best of my knowledge. So I am hesitant to accept that “the persons who hold the keys are counselling us *not* to do something outside the temple”

    Can anyone show evidence that counsel on this subject has been given to members at large, other than Mr. Harmston?

  83. 82
    Isn’t it possible that the lack of proactive counsel to pray in this manner is evidence?

    Also, there has been counsel about keeping things in the temple, well, in the temple.

  84. #83, Some people would interpret the Endowment session, which we are so often encouraged to go through, as exactly that.

  85. A letter from the first presidency to all Bishops and Stake Presidents, which would surely have then been imparted by these priesthood leaders to their various congregations as they each saw fit, should suffice as counsel NOT to hold these things outside of the temple.

    Note- the link to the letters leads to a site which is not friendly to mainstream mormons (and it has links leading to even worse things) so beware.

  86. 84
    No, not outside of the temple.

  87. The idea that the prayer circle is to be held only in a temple is not the original objective of teaching people how to pray in that manner. In comment 64 above I quoted a couple references to the practice of praying in the true order of prayer outside the temple and there are lots of similar quotes refering to people praying in their homes, in the wilderness, etc.. This article by D. Michael Quinn can be helpful.

    It seems that all this discussion about the TLC and the prayer circles ignores the simple fact that divisions and “reorganizations” have been happening since the early days of the LDS church. Particularly in Nauvoo the role of the Holy Order and the access the members had or not to the temple ordinances was decisive to the sucession of Joseph Smith. Ehat’s thesis is a very good work on this.

  88. As I’ve read over this conversation, I am left with three perceptions:

    1) The original post was fascinating and an interesting glimpse into Mormon history (thanks, J.); at the very least, it seems to suggest origins of the LDS cultural tendency to kneel as a family (by the bed or sofa or table, or in a circle on the carpet) for family prayer.

    2) Outside of the temple, the edifice described as potentially the most sacred place on earth is the home. I don’t take that to mean that my home has to physically resemble a temple in order to be a sacred place. It has far more to do with the spirit felt therein, the way we treat each other, the love we express, the things we learn together. Prior to this conversation, I had never heard of or seen a “celestial room” in someone’s home, and I lived in Provo for 15 years. I just don’t see that such a room–or an altar–is necessary to create the spirit that can be found within a loving and God-directed home.

    3) I teach a class fulla squirrely nine-year-old kids right now. Each Sunday, as part of the Primary theme, these children repeat a sentence that seems of particular import to this conversation. It is this:

    “I can pray to Heavenly Father any time, anywhere.”

    It suggests to me that members of the Church in general–and children in particular–need to know that if they wait for optimal conditions to pray, they will find themselves praying too infrequently to make this a viable channel of communication between themselves and Deity. True, heartfelt prayer doesn’t require an altar in order to be efficacious. It requires a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and a desire to listen to God as well as speak to Him.

    That’s all.

  89. I don’t understand why someone would think an alter in a home would be cultish or weird. Many catholics, especially in latin american countries, have entire rooms added on to their house to serve as a shrine to either Mary or Jesus. The center piece is usually an alter where they kneel and pray. Instead of being weird, I think it’s cool.

    I don’t agree with doing prayer circles outside the temple though. I think Jeff and others have read too much in to the First Presidency letter.

  90. Josephine Dynamite says:

    I found it interesting that someone mentioned the bed being the place where people knelt to pray as a family. My husband and I often do this, as well — not surprising since morning and evening prayers usually take place after waking and before going to bed. But this thread is reminding me of a funny little exchange we had a few weeks ago when he was helping me make the bed. He always has ever since we got married (although that was a whopping 8 weeks ago); I ever had to tell him to. As we pulled the big white sheet up and straightened it I quipped, “You know, Elder Holland said that sex is a sacrament.”

    I’m truly sorry if anyone is offended that I made this comment here, but Elder Holland DID say that, and it struck me as half funny and half sweet that here we were jointly taking care of the space where we sleep together, the same way that the space for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is prepared and covered.

    This is an interesting discussion. Glad I could read all about it.

  91. I am way at the end of this conversation, but I agree with the last post.

    Also, take a moment to remember some things. Early converts to the church were former active members of MANY other religions. They brought with them into the church many other social and cultural practices that were parts of their former religions and interpretations of scripture.

    In the beginning of the church, ALL things could not be addressed at once. It was important to get certain things (like the Godhead and the Priesthood established) and then little by little other things were added. So, it is my belief, that not all practices of the early church were of divine inspiriation, but more that Heavenly Father didn’t find them important enough at the time to give direction one way or another as he had to direct the saints to do other things and get them safely to Zion.

    Fast forward to now. Our situation is much different. Now the Lord can fine tune his people. This is why we believe in and support continuing revelation.

    Anyway, Jeff, no one has said this directly, but brother, you need to seriously consider your comments/position. Your selling your “temple” altar is not to “compensate you” for your labor/materials, but is actually the selling of religious implements to get gain, which is blatant priestcraft.

    You have tried every way possible to justify your actions and not once have said to anyone who has opposed you, “hmmm…I’ll take that into consideration, you might be right”. Kind of thing…IF ALTARS IN OUR HOMES WERE ADVOCATED BY THE CHURCH FOR US TO PRAY AROUND, THEN the prophet and Stake Presidents / Bishops would NOW have them. You sincerely somehow think that your justifications are right? Yes, you can have one in your home, yes, you and your family can pray around it if you so choose. BUT, to advocate that others do it, and to persuade others that THAT is what the Temple, is *really* teaching us IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF THE SPIRIT OF APOSTASY.

    On another note, I am a little confused as to why some posters on this blog think that “formal prayer as a family” is a new concept? We have long been taught to “gather in a circle morning and night and pray together as a family”. A primary song begins, “let us gather in a circle, and kneel in family prayer…”.

    “Celestial Rooms” in homes are silly, a Celestial spirit is not.”

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