Studying The Endowment

Guest blogger Jamie Huston posts again!

Once, at an Elders Quorum Presidency meeting, I shared some of the notes I had scribbled in my journal the day before after going to the temple. I had gone looking for ideas for improving our work as priesthood leaders. I came out with a treasure trove of instruction. Some of the (obviously more generic) points that came to mind are: accept and cheerfully magnify all assignments, stay involved with those to whom you minister, and bring further light and knowledge into people’s lives.

One of my counselors at the time was blown away. A deeply spiritual man for whom I have the utmost respect, he had never thought of going to the temple with a gospel subject in mind and looking for guidance on it. This makes me want to share the idea, and hit you up for more ideas.

Not to say that we’re just passively going through the motions, waiting to be filled with the Spirit like third graders being drilled on their times tables, but as good as praying about our problems and fasting are, it seems to me that we can and should study the endowment very much the same way in which we study the printed scriptures: by looking for patterns, themes, symbols, and analyzing both the medium and the message.

We could well open up the Topical Guide and pick something. Perhaps the most fruitful gospel topic I’ve mined the endowment for and worked on in my journal is humility. I was overwhelmed by just how much the endowment has to say about humility. Although I worded my notes to remain oblique enough to not be inappropriate should someone else read them, I’d still be uncomfortable repeating most of them in this forum–most of the references to humility that I caught were tied into specific teachings and actions on our part–but some overall humility-related aspects of the ceremony include our being reminded of our imperfection and mortality; our being directed to seek out wisdom from others, to whom we should submit; our often perilous situation in this world; and our obligation to bring our will in line with that of God through lives of steady discipleship.

Most every important spiritual subject that I can think of has yielded meaningful insights from the endowment: marriage and parenting, finding joy in life, receiving revelation and maintaining our spirituality, etc.

No doubt this post is a big “well, duh” for most readers, but what I’d like to see come out of it is a reverent exchange of other ideas about things to look for in the temple, or other ways to study and apply the endowment. Thanks for the feedback!

Comments

  1. Bro. Jones says:

    Excellent idea. On one of my first times through the temple, my ward’s second counselor in the bishopric talked with me in the celestial room, saying much of what you said in your post. “For example,” he said, “I’ve tried to raise my kids based on the first part of the endowment. Rather than giving them orders on every little thing, I tell them to go and take care of whatever needs to be done, then ‘return and report.'” [I don't think this is saying too much about the endowment, btw.]

    There’s a lot there worth thinking about for life lessons–especially if one considers the whole endowment to be a vehicle for symbolically teaching God’s plan, rather than a literal play-by-play of the history of the early creation. (But that’s a topic for another thread.)

  2. Getting home-teaching stats can be a comdey of (communication) errors.

    Wrong way:
    ———-
    Quorum Secretary: Did you do all your home teaching last month?
    Home-teacher: Yeah.

    But Home-teacher crossed one inactive family off his list because they moved, but HT failed to tell anyone. HT didn’t realize he was the only person in the ward to know that that family moved, and he didn’t bother turning in that tidbit to anyone, because after all he was just a home-teacher, and not a secretary, it wasn’t his job to keep track of addresses, or so he thought.

    And HT crossed another family off his list because HT thought that their address was in the neighboring ward, and also didn’t inform anyone of his decision, nor his opinion of which ward that address was in (which was incorrect by the way.)

    Quorum Secretary also incorrectly marked an additional family as having received home-teachers, because they were on the list for HT that the 2nd counselor gave him, but the 2nd counselor hadn’t given the information on the additional family to HT himself.

    Right way:
    ———
    Quorum secretary: Did you visit the Adamses last month?
    HT: [answer]

    QS: Did you visit the Bakers last month?
    HT: [answer]

    QS: Did you visit the Carons last month?
    HT: [answer]

    QS: Did you visit the Dawsons last month?
    HT: [answer]

  3. I have been developing for some time now a theory of Atonement that draws much of its analytic rigor and overall premises from the endowment. It is an effort to formulate a model/theory/approach to atonement that is uniquely and specifically Mormon and not just a rendering of traditional Christian ideas about atonement in LDS language. I presented the results to a group of friends and colleagues last week and have been encouraged to publish something in a prominent Mormon Studies journal.

    I strongly agree that the teachings and narrative of the endowment is a fertile source of insights and information about wide-ranging religious, social, and ethical questions and problems. In my experience, the ceremony is on an equal footing as a sacred text and source of knowledge with the Book of Mormon and Gospels.

  4. The time that I learned and experienced the most from an endowment session was when I went with the dispensations in mind.

  5. I went once years ago trying to get ideas for teaching my early-morning seminary student, and felt like the heavens opened and I received so many amazing teaching ideas–unfortunately, not being able to take notes there, I only remembered a few by the time I got home… But I think this is a wonderful concept that could be more fully utilized by church members!

  6. Excellent thoughts, Jamie, although I would probably temper it with the obvious observation that the temple has a way of teaching us things we weren’t looking to learn.

  7. The most powerful experiences I have had occurred in two ways:

    1) when going in with something on my mind looking for answers;

    2) with nothing on my mind, trying to pay attention to whatever hit me, and having stuff hit me that I had not considered previously.

    My wife and I talk about our “insights” in the Celestial Room. It’s a great experience.

  8. Hugh Nibley once commented:

    If I went to the temple five times and nothing happened, I would stop going. But I’ve gone hundreds of times, and the high hopes of new knowledge with which I go up the hill every week are never disappointed.

    His son-in-law Boyd Peterson noted:

    [Nibley's] insights were not always earth shattering, but he always took away something new. He was such a common face in the temple that I even saw him get in once without a fully authorized recommend.

    Looking for “patterns, themes, symbols, and analyzing both the medium and the message” has become one of my life’s passions (see my blog). I think we all could use more study of the temple, like we study the scriptures. The temple is a treasure trove of light and intelligence if we allow it to be.

  9. For me, the power of the endowment was most fully unlocked in studying its history and context, especially in light of some ritual theory.

    Like Steve, the most powerful moments in the Temple for me have been when I wasn’t specifically looking for something.

  10. Perhaps the highly symbolic nature of the Temple allows it to be all things to all people. If the Temple were more specific, it would be diffcult to find application to such a wide range of people, circumstances, topics, cultures, etc.

    Thanks for the post Jamie H.

  11. Jamie, my reaction to this is two-fold. First, if the endowment is about communicating information, it seems to me that it’s vastly less successful than the scriptures. But that’s not a problem, because rituals like the endowment do many more (and much more important) things than providing us with new factual propositions. Such rituals create community, provide us moments of awe and mystery that open us to God more than the usual, and perhaps even have eternal consequences of other kinds. So the fact that the ritual seems to be a relatively poor cousin to other modes of religious discourse in terms of communicating information need not concern us too much.

    Second, as L-S Sue says, the temple rituals are such that they really can mean just about anything. The lessons I’ve seen people learn from the endowment are hugely varied and of course profoundly mutually contradictory. It’s a broad and largely blank semantic field that allows us to construct a divine imprimatur for our own personal (mis?)conceptions. This really means that we oughtn’t to blame or credit the endowment for the ideas we find in it; those ideas are probably mostly what we brought with us. That doesn’t mean they aren’t God’s ideas, but it does mean that the endowment connection shouldn’t make us more certain that they are God’s ideas. It’s worth recalling that tons of Mormon fundamentalists feel justification for their belief systems in the endowment ritual, for example.

  12. I find myself that the endowment ceremony itself is not so much the means for learning things, but instead, being in the temple at all is often powerful in and of itself. Reading the scriptures while waiting in the chapel for a session to start, or contemplating in the celestial room, seems to me to work best.

    I know our Stake Presidency goes to the temple for getting inspiration for major callings, then gathering in their regular SP meetings to talk about the insights and asking for confirmation. I also know several bishops who do the same thing.

    My biggest struggle in the temple is really being able to turn off the outside world and thoughts while there. I find that the more time I have to sit and think before going through a session, the better I am able to feel the spirit through the rest of the session.

  13. One thing I have noticed about the nature of revelation and the temple is that often it’s not the actual temple ceremony that provides the heavenly response, but rather the temple provides spiritual power which I can put into operation in my life. The scriptures become amplified and more clear as I study them. It seems as though some barrier is unlocked and I’m allowed greater access to the spirit.

    This is why I feel the Brethren have made such intense comments to the point that anyone who is regularly attending the temple won’t fall into certain sins.

    Also, I have found that the quickest way for me to receive light and knowledge is to really dig deep into the symbolism of the temple. It seems to me there is a shallow end and a deep end to the pool of temple-related revelation.

    We can gleam very simple yet true and useful information like administration and the Order of Heaven. The deep things I find really explain more of Man’s eternal destiny, the atonement, and the nature of God. The latter teachings, at least for me, take a lot more work to get out. For me it’s all in the approach. It’s easy to view the Endowment as a sort of allegory and play the match game of linking up parts of the endowment with every-day activities, but I don’t think that’s the point.

  14. Bookslinger,

    Both of your ways are wrong.

    The correct way would be for the home teacher to return and report, not be chased down by the presidency.

  15. #2 and #14 – Fwiw, I far prefer, “Tell me about the Jones family.”

  16. Insight I found buried under the oft repeated return and report paradigm (and its implied/hoped for [or also criticized] robotic obedience) is counsel to observe conditions (look, listen and learn), plus hope in the empathetically offered (but not instructed) “we shall probably visit you again.”

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