Ten years ago, while preparing for my own marriage, I was also looking into Judaism. I had taken some Hebrew classes and attended temple at my local synagogue, and found the traditions and history especially rich and fascinating. As an artist and a soon-to be bride, I was especially drawn to the tradition of the Ketubah. In ancient times the Ketubah was a marriage agreement written up as protection for the bride. As part of the wedding ceremony, it was read under the chuppa, and was signed by the Rabbi and by witnesses. It is still done today.
Ketubah are quite beautiful, and often are seen framed in Jewish homes. The artwork can be elaborate or simple, modern or archaic and the wording, with a few exceptions, reflects personal choices of the couple. I found this a lovely tradition and decided to make something similar for myself and my husband.
This was very serious to me, and I carefully researched and prepared before beginning. Gathering supplies, I ordered the best thick cotton paper, new sable brushes, watercolors from England, and made a vial of strong walnut ink. At the antique oak dining table of my childhood, I laid out my compass, triangle and square, determined to make this as perfect as humanly possible. Saying a prayer for guidance, I gingerly set tools to paper.
Two days later, I had a piece of art that was deeply personal, yet beautiful enough I would want to display it in my home. With great care, I had laid out a perfect square on my paper, and within the square, using compasses and 24k gold ink, a perfect circle. Within the circle was a smaller circle and between the two was a string of moons, depicting the phases from full to new and back again. Around the outside were stars, illustrating the constellations as they would be in corresponding phase of the year. In the middle was the sun.
On our wedding day, my new husband and I carefully signed our names under our walnut-ink vows, which said, in part, “…nor shall death part us, for in the fullness of time we shall meet and know and remember and love again.”
This was more than three years before we joined the Church, or knew anything about it’s doctrines. We joke about being more Mormon than Mormon (hummed to White Zombie)- even before we knew it.
Now years down the line, I’m a temple-attending faithful Mormon, and deeply interested in our history, our symbols and our faith.
Last week, that interest took me for the first time to Nauvoo where I was able to meet up with some friends. Some of us decided to attend the temple. It was a somewhat a spontaneous decision, and not all of us had our recommends or were prepared with what we normally consider temple appropriate clothing. The workers at the front desk didn’t look twice, helped us get our verification on the phone, and sincerely welcomed us to the temple, jeans, flip-flops and all. Yes, really.
Upstairs, we rented our clothing and made our way to change. It was my first time in this temple, and the architecture and beauty of the building, even from the outside, is splendid. From the inside, it defies description.
Now dressed in white, we made our way towards the flying spiral staircase, and I found myself towards the back, able to watch the procession as my friends ascended. Through the western windows, the late afternoon sunlight landed on glowing faces, on friends nodding and whispering to one another, joyous to be together.
Unexpectedly, hot tears spring to my eyes, and I blinked quickly, fighting them back. A friend put her arm around me, squeezed, and we walked up together.
During our ceremony, we were able to kneel together, to hold hands and make promises for loved ones passed beyond this life. We were blessed to link parents to children and loved ones forever. It was my first time doing so; the magnitude, gravity and sheer love of what sealing actually means left me tenderly rent and in awe.
After our ordinance work, we were able to rejoin and quietly visit in the celestial room. Entering the grand room, my eyes were drawn up, as is likely to happen- in the middle of the ceiling, a beautiful stained glass medallion window commands attention. As I looked up, my breath caught in my chest and tears spilled down my cheeks.
There, in the Temple of the Lord, in a faith I adopted almost seven years ago, was a glowing window with a golden circle of moons through all it’s phases, surrounded by stars, with the glowing sun in the middle.
I’ve never felt more at home, more encircled in love, more beloved of God, than I did standing there that moment. I’ve been a Mormon for a very long time.