I attended the temple for the first time on February 26, 1994. It was an icy day in Idaho Falls and I was home for the weekend from Utah State University in order to “take out my endowments,” as my tribe is wont to phrase it. Although I was raised in the church and have church ancestry going back to 1830, I never liked attending LDS meetings. Never. Every Sunday I would endure the three hour experience and, as I went home to consume the Sunday roast, breathe a sigh of relief at having made it through one more gantlet of boredom. When it came time for me to attend the temple for the first time, I was anxious, but not expecting to enjoy it. Much to my surprise, I was completely enraptured by the experience. The richness of the mythology, the mysterious movements, the utter strangeness of it all appealed to me. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I had actually had a “spiritual experience.” After that first experience, I made a habit of attending the temple as often as I could. I frequently made the walk down the hill from my dorm at USU to the Logan Temple. I read everything I could about the temple because I had this feeling that there was a lot going on in there that I was missing. But I found only hints in the books that the church produced. I vividly remember watching General Conference that April, thinking “Those guys know what the temple means. They know the mysteries.”
I continued attending the temple as often as I could, and began to find meanings in the symbols. But I also noticed that the symbols were multivalent. They conveyed different meanings to me at different times. One day, as I was thinking about this phenomenon, I happened across an interview with Quentin Tarantino. Someone in the studio audience asked him what was in the infamous briefcase from the movie Pulp Fiction. With his usual goofy enthusiasm, Tarantino responded that the briefcase contained whatever the viewer needed it to contain. Not what the viewer wanted it contain, but whatever she needed it to contain. I didn’t hear the rest of the interview, because my my mind turned immediately to the temple. Suddenly it struck me that, in a church that correlates everything, that tells us what everything is supposed to mean to us, that disseminates a curriculum that actively delimits theological speculation and scriptural exegesis, in the midst of all of this dictation, the temple stands as the glorious exception. There is no manual that tells us what the temple means. Its symbols are there for us to interpret as we need them, when we need them. Occasionally, I will hear well-meaning temple workers or others attempting in the Celestial room to explicate the symbols and the mythology of the temple to the less experienced. On these occasions, my heart breaks a little. I say a silent prayer that this newly endowed fellow saint will resist the urge to reify, concretize, and ossify the temple experience. I pray that they will learn to let the temple mean what they will need it to mean, over and over and over again.