A Temple Heart

Twenty years ago today, I was endowed in the Idaho Falls Temple. This temple was where my parents and grandparents had been endowed and sealed. My parents drove to Logan where I was attending Utah State University and brought me to Idaho for this mysterious rite. I was nervous about this for two reasons. First, I had no idea what was going to be required of me. The last thing I wanted to encounter was some silly activity that would somehow spotlight me. In other words, I dreaded that the temple would be like every youth activity I had ever attended. I am an eight-generation Mormon, but I grew up outside of the Mormon culture region. I spent my entire childhood moving all over the world in support of my father’s career as an Air Force officer. Church, for me, was just another gauntlet of unfamiliar faces and names and stares. Being an introvert, I came to loathe church. When it didn’t cause my anxiety levels to spike, it left me bored. So as I ran my hand along the icy railing of the ramp leading up to the temple’s entrance, I was expecting to be either humiliated or bored. Perhaps both.

Courtesy CHL, PH 7358

Courtesy CHL, PH 7358

As soon as I was in the temple, however, everything in my life changed. I know that sounds dramatic and clichéd. But it is true. In the temple experience I immediately recognized an ally. It was a space where I could just be. I could think. I could marvel at the strangeness of it all and draw comfort from its paradoxical familiarity. In the temple, I found that I could map my life onto a mythos that was simultaneously cosmic and atomic. It spoke to the grandest of realities and to the seemingly banal elements of my life. I became part of the mythos. When I was sealed to my wife in the Manti temple, our family joined the play.

After I finished my undergraduate degree, I earned a Ph.D in the History of Religion from Indiana University. This experience shook my faith. I found myself having to make concessions and compromises. My view of nearly everything related to my ancestral faith had changed. Nearly everything became smaller and smaller. Nearly everything. The temple, which I never abandoned, continued to expand for me. It challenged me constantly. It empowered me. It made me believe, against every natural inclination in soul, that the world was not a pointless, cruel joke. The temple has ever been for me a fountain of living waters in a life that has often been, thanks to major depression, a desolate hellscape. I’m awful at missionary work, I will never be a leader, I hate home teaching. But I have a temple heart. It is, perhaps, the only thing I have—that I have ever had—that I know is genuine.

I know that the temple poses difficulty for some. There are sexist elements to the rituals that I hope with all my heart will be smoothed out and done away with. Others are bored, or disinterested, or confused. In the meantime, I want them to rest on my temple heart. Every time I attend the temple, I think of these brothers and sisters of mine. I dedicate a part of my temple heart to them. I go for the dead, but also for the living. And I pray that I can rely on their missionary hearts and their leadership hearts, and their home teaching hearts to buy me enough time to get better at those things. I rejoice in my God, who gave us each a new, but different, heart. I understand, to a small degree, what He meant when he said of these spiritual gifts that “To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.”

Comments

  1. Thanks.

  2. In the temple, I found that I could map my life onto a mythos that was simultaneously cosmic and atomic.

    That is a truly wonderful description of it — thank you so much for this reflection!

  3. It would be difficult to overstate how strongly and deeply this post resonates with me.

  4. I’m very pleased that the post had some meaning for you all. Thanks.

  5. Thanks, Taysom.

  6. Tears. Me, too.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    This is one of the most moving things I’ve experienced in some time. Deeply resonates.

  8. Marvelous stuff here. So powerful.

  9. So, until those sexist elements are “smoothed out and done away with,” I will rest on your temple heart. Thanks for this.

  10. This is wonderful. Thank you. I’ve had the blessing to be an ordinance worker in a couple of temples. I’m currently serving in the Salt Lake temple, and I love it. Even though my service will end very soon, I too have a temple heart. To me your post speaks to the core of the Gospel, that we do what we can, trust in the mercy of God, and help each other. I was needing this today, thank you.

  11. Let me throw my “thank you” in as well. This touched my heart.

  12. Alvaro Lopez says:

    I miss the temple. Thanks for this post. It has only furthered my desire to do all that I can to go back.

  13. Alvaro, good luck, in all sincerity

  14. Steve, you have said something simply profound here. Thank you for enriching my day and quickening my own heart.

  15. I’m one of those for whom the temple is difficult, but I am touched by how it has been meaningful and strengthening for you, and I especially appreciate your dedicating part of your temple heart for me and others. Thank you for writing this post.

  16. I appreciate your kind words. Thank you.

  17. This struck a chord in me today, Taysom. Thanks for sharing.

  18. In the meantime, I want them to rest on my temple heart. Every time I attend the temple, I think of these brothers and sisters of mine. I dedicate a part of my temple heart to them. I go for the dead, but also for the living. And I pray that I can rely on their missionary hearts and their leadership hearts, and their home teaching hearts to buy me enough time to get better at those things.

    Wow. Mormonism at its very best.

  19. Bam, a winner. Nice job Steve.

  20. I went to the temple with a friend who was going for the first time – to one of the small temples. As we were leaving, he said, “It looks so small from the outside, but inside it feels like I’m part of eternity.”

    Thanks for this post. I love the temple and its core theology, even as I hope it continues to evolve.

    Also, fwiw, I really like the newest film. Adam and Eve are much more “real” in it – and Eve is much more of an active, central figure than she was in the previous versions, even though she has no more spoken lines. The difference is obvious, and I appreciate the progressive step, even as I hope more follow.

  21. This post really filled my heart. Such a beautiful and sincere prayer in the form of a blog post.
    I did want to share that in my own journey to understand the temple, I felt for a long time that there were sexist elements of the temple. However, in recent visits, I no longer feel that way. I think because it was a struggle for me, I have been led to study certain scriptures and through my greater understanding of the scriptures, continued visits to the temple, and knowledge of my own worth and importance to making the Lord’s plan work I was able to see things in a new way. I think the new film helps in that regard. I cried through the whole thing the first time I saw it. It validated so many beliefs I have always had.

  22. This was a nice quiet moment of reflection in my hectic day. Thanks for that.

  23. Thanks, Steve. I wish I loved the temple like this; you’ve certainly given me something to aspire to, and something to make my Mormonism more real and more compelling.

  24. Brilliant. I have only been once since my own Endowment but somehow there was something even more special about it. Maybe because, like you, I was initially quite worried that I would be put on the spot or forget something I was supposed to remember.

    Thanks for writing this post. I really do believe that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses that correctly frame the Body of Christ when we all work together. I will lean on your Temple heart, Brother.

  25. A. Reynolds says:

    Thanks, Steve. It was much needed this evening.

  26. Thomas Parkin says:

    I can so relate. If it weren’t for my Temple experience, I don’t think there would enough in daily Mormonism for me to stick. I was instantly at home in the Temple. It was everything I expected. Over the years it had fed me and fed me.

    I wish you had been early enough to get the 1980s Endowment that I got. Don’t take reading the scripts as meaningful – you would have dug it. (I know some of the changes were for the good, some of these I’m very grateful for, and possibly even those that weren’t for the good were necessary – but I miss it many parts of it terribly.)

  27. The whole thing resonates, but especially this: “I could marvel at the strangeness of it all and draw comfort from its paradoxical familiarity.” Thanks, Steve.

  28. “I go for the dead, but also for the living.” And the dead and the living profit thereby. It’s like the temple is in you and by writing this, you’ve invited us in too. Thank you. God bless.

  29. Thank you, Steve. Beautiful doesn’t quite seem to cut it.

  30. This makes me glad that I’ve maintained my recommend, and inspires me to use it more often. I understand.

  31. Left Field says:

    That’s awesome. Were they still doing live sessions in Idaho Falls at that time?

    Often I’ve heard people say that the endowment should just be the covenants, and that they should just do away with “all that unnecessary story about the creation and fall.”

    Please, no! And take away our connection to the cosmic and atomic, to the grandest realities and the most banal elements of our lives? The path that leads us as prodigals back to the Father? What are the covenants, but steps along that redemption? It’s not just a story. Every time I go to the temple, I stumble and fall, and yet in the end, I am redeemed and am physically and personally embraced by my Father.

    Thank you for this.

  32. Jack Hughes says:

    Thank you.
    I too am an introvert who struggled for years to find my place in the Church, but eventually found comfort in temple worship. Sometimes, though, I feel like its a little mechanical and repetitive, and losing the personal emphasis. I avoid initiatories because that process is too “touchy-feely” and makes me uncomfortable. I detest ward/stake temple nights because they take a sacred, personal form of worship and turn it into a social event. I suppose some people need that kind of motivation (social/peer pressure) or they wouldn’t go at all, but that’s not me. I go to the temple for the specific purpose of getting away from people like that, so that I may commune with Heavenly Father in peace. And on the rare occasions that I have done sealings with my wife or assisted with youth baptisms I have thoroughly enjoyed being there.

    One thing I wish for, though, is for the Celestial Room to be available by itself, without having to sit through a full endowment ceremony first. Oftentimes, the only thing I really need is about 30 minutes or so of quiet contemplation in the Lord’s house, without the prerequisite of a 2-hour movie I’ve seen a hundred times before. Most days, that’s all I have time for. And I really don’t enjoy being rushed out of the Celestial Room by my wife trying to get us to a social event/dinner on time, or by a well-meaning temple worker trying to make room for the next crowd. I’m not sure about other temples, but mine doesn’t seem to have a “Celestial-only” option, from what I can tell.

  33. Jack, you can get dressed and go directly to the celestial room.

  34. ^ yes. I’ve done it, when I needed exactly that. Get properly dressed, and head directly there.

  35. Mother may I says:

    Amen,

  36. This is what I would like to see in the Ensign (referencing an earlier post).

    I go to the temple but feel no deep connection with the place but love the connections to people I feel there. I’m glad for people like you who serve like this.

    Post of the month for sure.

  37. Paul Reeve says:

    Thanks Steve. Much appreciated.

  38. I wish we could all meet in the Celestial room and have a quiet talk about the ‘sexism” that seems to exist for many within temple ordinances. From my perspective (and many women I know) there simply isn’t any. Could the language stand clarification? Yes. But such a dialogue would be inappropriate for me if it took place outside the temple.

    For those who perceive it, please doubt that perception just a little. Give the temple experience a chance to speak to your souls. And sctaysom, thanks for this beautiful post.

  39. I knew you could go to the celestial room after doing initiatories, but I had no idea you could just go straight there. Thank you for telling me that. The sexist elements Steve mentions bother me to the extent that it’s just been better for me not to participate, so I haven’t been in some time. But I have missed the peace I used to feel in the celestial room as well as the opportunity for meditation and prayer in such an uplifting place. That’s the one thing I feel like I would want to go back for. Maybe I will.

  40. For one who is struggling with the temple I appreciate your heartfelt comments. When I came back to church after some 20 years I had not realized how much thinking and sou searching I would have to go through. You have given me more to ponder. Thanks

  41. This is pretty much the coolest thing ever. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts. It makes me more excited to go this weekend.

  42. Apparently the celestial-room-only option varies by temple. In the temple in my area, you aren’t allowed to go to the celestial room without being escorted there by a temple worker, and even then only after you’ve done an ordinance. So I will rest on Steve’s temple heart a while longer.

  43. The Other Clark says:

    Great post. Love the pre-Moroni photo of the temple. I also went to the temple for the 1st time in Idaho Falls, 20 years ago this May. The temple prep class covered the endowment, but I was completely unprepared for the initiatory work and mode of dress. Hopefully, the preparation is more comprehensive now.

  44. This is a nice post. I am also an introvert with significant social anxiety who sucks at pretty much everything in the Church–I’d like to see someone write about that, incidentally: how there are constant expectations in the Church that people be “people-persons,” and those of us for whom that is extremely difficult are made to seem lazy or unfaithful. Anyway, I’ve unfortunately never felt the kind of affinity for temple worship that you describe. Perhaps it’s because all I can think about during the film is “This is sexist!” and “This is anti-science!” and even “This is boring!” But perhaps I should give it yet another try…

  45. Yes, why not give it another try? That sounds like a good plan.

  46. JS, I wrote the following on my personal blog last month. It’s short and not an in-depth treatment, but it is about the general issue you mentioned:

    “Struggles with a Joy-Focused Church: The Plan of Salvation vs. the Plan of Happiness” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2014/01/struggles-with-joy-focused-church-plan.html)

  47. David Elliott says:

    Full of hope and grace. Thank you.

  48. yes. I love this. Thank you!

  49. Please pardon the interruption of this praisefest. Despite trying for nearly 20 years and enduring hundreds of trips to the temple, I still don’t get it. I fail to see any of the depth; I only see the shallow. Either I have failed to resonate with it, or it with me. It is something that I endure out of percieved duty–there is no joy found therein. It likely isn’t that I fail to see the big picture or to have the immensity of creation opened to my mind’s eye. I’ve blown my mind many, many times trying to contemplate the size, width, breadth and depth of the know universe and how small we really are. But I’ve never felt the same within the temple. To me, it rings hollow and contrived.

    I’ve tried, to my detriment, relying on the heart/testimony of others for far too long. Reliance upon others generally serves to delay the inevitable (and healthy) maturation process that most people eventually progress through. At some point, we all have to go our own way. Inviting others to rely on an anonymous internet stranger’s heart is about as helpful to those of us that struggle as telling us to doubt our doubts, read the scriptures more often and pray constantly.

  50. I usually work with the youth in the baptistry when I attend the temple. When I do visit the celestial room, I go through an endowment ceremony. It seems to me that if I want to feel the peace and spirit of revelation in that sacred space, I need to sacrifice a couple hours in behalf of someone who is dead. Service before blessings, even if some of that service time is only half awake

  51. Thank you. I’d say this is an answer to my prayers, but really, your words are an answer to the feelings in my heart that I have been too afraid to put even in a prayer.

  52. The last two times I’ve attended the temple I’ve had upsetting experiences that left me depressed and questioning my faith. The ‘sexist elements’ in the temple are a minor quibble for some. For me, they are deeply troubling revelations that throw into question my participation (as a woman) in the entire Plan of Salvation and my relationship with God. I’ve decided not to participate in any more endowment sessions until I can reconcile myself to it or until it is changed. (I’ve heard that the new video is a slight improvement but my beef is more with the covenants portion than with the video anyway.) I suppose you could say ‘well don’t let Satan influence you like that’ but that misses the mark entirely.

    I’m happy for those of you for whom the temple brings peace. It brings me nothing but anguish.

  53. ” Inviting others to rely on an anonymous internet stranger’s heart is about as helpful to those of us that struggle as telling us to doubt our doubts, read the scriptures more often and pray constantly.” We all do what we have to do. I was speaking metaphorically (and not, incidentally, anonymously) and, first and foremost, to people who I know personally and who have struggles. If that strikes you as somehow insulting or useless, then I assume you will ignore it with no harm done.

  54. Joni: I would hope reasonable people wouldn’t claim that satan was trying to influence you. That’s just nonsense. Your honest grappling with real issues is, in itself, a righteous act (in my opinion).

  55. One time I was in the celestial room when a bunch of Pentecostals suddenly showed up. Instead of wearing weird jumpsuits and mumus they had T shirts on; they had cornbread and mashed potatoes and chocolate cake and some guy had a guitar. And they kept touching me on the arm and shoulder. it really made me ponder how poor a job we do with this whole temple thing.

  56. That story is obviously ridiculous. Nobody wears jumpsuits anymore.

  57. Ha! That was funny! As was Steve’s response.

  58. I would encourage those who view the temple as being “sexist” or having “sexist” elements to study ancient temple rites more closely. Throughout history, men’s and women’s worship of God in the temple has been separate. I have come to believe (through a lot of reading of heavy Old Testament material–nearly all of it by non-LDS scholars) that there is more than just the cultural or even legal status of women anciently at play. There are specific reasons that have to do with our genders and their roles in life. Viewing such a statement from a 21st century paradigm, it is easy to overlook these roles, but the ancients’ views were more sophisticated than we realize. Our Father and Mother know and love us all equally, both male and female. Would they permit a ceremony (particularly those having to do with the Melchizedek Priesthood which are “the keys of the knowledge of God”) to be “sexist”? The Father and Mother I worship WOULD NOT!!! Give our Heavenly Father some credit and study more of the Old Testament rituals and you might see what I mean.

  59. You are, obviously, entitled to your opinion. However, I wouldn’t so quickly jump to the conclusion that anyone who disagrees with your point of view is deficient in the study of religion and culture in antiquity.

  60. “I would encourage those who view the temple as being ‘sexist’ or having ‘sexist’ elements to study ancient temple rites more closely.” Yeah, it is just too bad he doesn’t have a PhD in the History of Religion or anything, this post could have been so much better.

  61. Terry, I appreciate your invitation to take seriously the temple ordinances and study them rather then dismiss them because of sexist elements in them, but I don’t like the argument that God wouldn’t permit “sexist” elements in the temple ordinances, and therefore, if you see something that seems sexist, you must be wrong, because (the unstated assumption is that) God personally approves everything in the endowment ceremony and exerts total control over it at any moment. That argument could be used to justify anything. Brigham Young struggled for years to get the ordinances “right” after Joseph’s death, and I’m sure you’re aware of the more recent changes. If God were exerting the kind of control that your comment assumes, none of those changes would make any sense.

  62. @Terry: Please don’t try to correct my pain by telling me to study more. Many of us are highly educated. Instead, just say, “I’m sorry that you feel pain for the sexist elements of the temple ceremony. I will offer you my love and empathy as a brother/sister in Christ.”

    Just exactly as sctaysom has done with his original post.

  63. Terry, it’s interesting that you mention the Heavenly Mother that you worship. She is not mentioned once or even alluded to in the temple.

  64. Guys, can we please leave that alone? It’s not the point of the post.

  65. Relying on the testimonies of other people rather than gaining a testimony of our own is light years away from recognizing that we must all lean on each other where we may be weak and allow them to lean on us where we are strong. The former is an immature approach to spirituality, the latter is refined.

  66. Steve, thank you for posting this. For me, I suspect that I have gone more often than not from a duty/obedience standpoint, and I have struggled at times with it. On occasions, though, I do begin to feel more of the expansiveness you describe. In particular, I have wondered about the elements that some perceive as sexist, and I can understand that perception. The latest temple film, where Eve is so much more than a passive observer, was a revelation to me, figuratively and literally, even though none of the dialog had changed. It was my best moment in the temple since my marriage and endowment. And now you’ve given me some language to describe that.

  67. Really loved this.

  68. I want to go back to the praisefest for this praiseworthy post. I seek after these things.

  69. I used to be a regular temple attender and I loved to attend, but I’ve recently experienced a faith crisis, I just haven’t found the courage to go back to the temple. I miss the good feeling I would get when going, but I’m honestly so scared I’ll have a bad experience if I try attending again. The challenging things I’ve learned about the temple, and the way I used to look at things so literally, make me wonder how I’ll interpret going back again. I haven’t seen either of the two new temple films yet, so I’d like to use that as motivation, but again, I’m really scared I won’t have that same good feeling if I go back, and part of me is still just clinging to the church and trying to work through my relationship with the church and my beliefs in God. Any suggestions from someone who’s had a faith crisis?

  70. J. Stapley says:

    Hope. First, I’m sorry that this is painful for you. Faith transitions can be terribly difficult. A lot of us around here have had important and significant changes in our world-view and still find ourselves committed Mormons, but finding a landing place isn’t always easy. My recommendation for anyone struggling to integrate new information into their worldviews is to read more and not less. Try to empathize with those before and around us. Here is a thing I once wrote on the topic, that may or may not be useful. I know that for me, the more I’ve learned about everything (and the liturgical history of the temple specifically), the more meaning the temple has had for me. Try Sam Brown’s book, In Heaven as on Earth.

  71. I agree with what J. has said here. More, not less. Always

  72. Beautiful post. I am still trying to figure out what kind of heart I have. I am very grateful for all those who are willing to share theirs with me until I am mature enough in the gospel to identify my own.

  73. Third recommendation of Sam Brown’s “In Heaven as on Earth”.

  74. Lovely post, Steve.

  75. thanks M

  76. Steve, I used to love the Temple. Over the last few years I have lost some of that affection. This has pushed me to rediscover my ‘temple heart’. This, and your previous Tarantino post, are just about the two most important things I have read on the temple in the last few years.

  77. This post definitely resonated with me, but I struggled a little with putting it into words. I enjoyed the temple from the time I was first endowed, but over the past several years had become increasingly bored with it. I did not go to the temple for close to a year, not because of a conscious choice to take a break, but simply because it gradually became less and less of a priority. I even let my recommend lapse for a few months, again, not out of conscious choice, but because it just wasn’t a priority to schedule the interview. I recently went back again for the first time after being called to work with the youth, and knowing that I would need to help out with temple trips. In the past I have normally gone with my wife or not at all, but the counsel I was given by a wise priesthood leader when I renewed my recommend was that it is better to go alone than not at all. Due to my work schedule, my first time back was a 6:00am session, which meant that I had to get up around 4:30–very uncharacteristic for me to get up that early.

    The new film helps a bit with the boredom. And the early morning session actually was kind of nice because I was the only non-temple-worker there. I also find that I get more out of the temple when I focus on pondering the symbols themselves instead of on the things that I think the symbols represent, or just the surface narrative.

    I didn’t have the kind of epiphany that the post describes, at least not that I consciously perceived in the moment, but something has changed and I find myself wanting to go back. I realize how much I missed it without even knowing that I missed it. So I love the temple. Even though I don’t understand all of it and there are things that I’m not sure about, I love it because I love the difference attending makes in my life. I don’t have revelatory experiences in the temple, but I find that when I am attending, the Lord is generally closer in my life in general and I am better able to perceive the spirit. So I love the temple, even if I don’t always like it.

  78. Thanks Aaron. I’m glad you liked both posts. JKC, I get what you mean about loving/liking. I like how you phrased that. Also, I recognize my early affinity for the temple is unusual. I think it was God’s way of giving me *something* by way of religious experience. Heaven knows I haven’t had much else.

  79. Thanks for this, Steve. I find your offer to let those of us who don’t share it to lean on your temple heart incredibly sweet.

  80. “I also find that I get more out of the temple when I focus on pondering the symbols themselves instead of on the things that I think the symbols represent, or just the surface narrative.”

    I don’t think I phrased this very well. What I mean to say is, I get more out of the temple when I treat the endowment as a story instead of either (1) a history or (2) an allegory. Treating it as history just wouldn’t make any sense and treating it just as allegory I think is the wrong approach because if we are just sitting there saying, “aha, that represents X,” we miss a lot. There are certainly allegorical elements, but I get a lot more out of it if I try to just appreciate it as a story first, and only then see if there are allegorical lessons that I can draw from that. I suppose I take the same approach as Tolkien: it is “applicable” rather than allegorical.

  81. Great clarification, JKC

  82. JKC, fwiw, I have gone for so long that I basically have the script memorized – at least to the point where I know what’s coming before it is said. Therefore, I tend to tune out the words, let my mind go to wherever it will go and just what hits me in the moment. Sometimes, my thoughts are triggered by something said in the presentation; sometimes, they aren’t.

    Also, Jack Hughes, I don’t know how recently you’ve done the initiatory, but it is FAR less “touchy-feely” than it used to be. Seriously, the promises and meaning are the same, but in actual form it is almost a completely different experience now. Personally, I miss the older form (since I don’t mind at all the touchy-feely aspect, but it might make all the difference in the world for you.

  83. Thomas Parkin says:

    JKC,

    I agree. Allegory is not symbolic, strictly speaking. Symbols do not point to specific things, but are situated before a whole range of potential meanings and insights. Allegories hold you still, symbols provide room to move into many areas of reality.

    For me, the words of the ritual remain very important, but sometimes I pay close attention and sometimes not. I like what Ray says about it. I never really tried to memorize anything, the words just stuck. So that I can think about them when I’m out alone, or whatever. I love that no one is going to dictate fixed meanings for you – no one is going to tell you what anything means. Revelation to the individual is even more important regarding Temple stuff than with stuff in normal Mormon space. We have been so oppressed over the last few decades that all spiritual communication is designed to tell us what to do, or less often how to think – but with ritual communication one is not contained in these ways, but one moves into increasingly open areas of being. But all this takes practice, and we want every answer now – even those that are still well beyond our personal horizons.

  84. Thomas Parkin says:

    I like the word ponder. It’s like meditation with content.

  85. Thomas Parkin says:

    And I like the word listen.

  86. So, when I went to the temple for the first time, I was set up for a huge letdown. I don’t know why or where they came from, but I had built up some seriously mystical expectations. Like you literally could not take negative thoughts into such a holy space, the rituals were going to be somehow forcibly transcendent, and I don’t even know what else. That somehow everything was going to make sense because of the new, beyond-top-secret information I was about to get. It was all very sci-fi/fantasy. Luckily I went with escorts I love and trust implicitly. That helped me feel more comfortable with something that otherwise would have just been weird. But what really sealed the deal for me and has kept me going through any number of doubts over the years was a conversation I had immediately afterward with a close family friend and college mentor. Basically what she told me was that ritual is a language (we were both linguists, although I didn’t know it yet) and that while we now operate in an environment of memorization, repetition, and exactness (plenty of obvious scriptural and church history justification for why that would the case), the underlying structure is creative. So why would I expect the temple rituals to be any more inerrant than the KJV, the BOM, or anything else inspired individuals have produced by the interplay of their own genius and revelation? I expect it not to be perfect and expect it to change so I can focus on the messages being communicated using an imperfect yet powerful means of communication. That’s not to minimize the concerns I and others might have–it’s just how I approach those concerns.

    The perspective of one of my escorts, a stage actor, designer, and director, was also helpful. He spoke of the ritual in terms of a participatory, didactic drama which, again, is now codified but is ultimately creative. It’s really a shame the road show is mainly a thing of the past in the church. We have such a rich heritage of creative expression that it’s a bit weird we’re so staid now.

    Ok, so both of those explanations are a bit intellectual, but what really connects me to Steve’s post is that my own testimony of the temple is deeply rooted in the relationships I have with the people I first experienced it with. I’m a very testimony-is-an-event sort of logical person, so it’s nice to have a reminder every once in a while that isn’t really an accurate description of my own testimony any more than it is of anyone else’s.

  87. I’m with you, Ray. I basically have it memorized as well (not because I tried to, but because I went so often for so many years), and it is freeing because you can stop and focus on a detail and ponder it without worrying about what you’re going to miss.

    I like to sit and think about the story, the characters, like I would think about a work of literature. Just take a moment to appreciate the irony, the tragedy, the nobility, the love, the order, the courage, the honesty, the ambiguity, etc., without worrying about “what gospel principle does this teach me” until after I have taken the time to just appreciate it.

    Thomas, I agree with you. This is interesting: “I love that no one is going to dictate fixed meanings for you – no one is going to tell you what anything means.” Yeah, except for that one part where certain symbols are explicitly explained; but even then, it is not stated that those are the *only* meanings of those symbols, and I prefer to think of that explanation as a starting point. Knowing a little about carpentry (or masonry) can help to unlock some of those additional meanings.

  88. Owen, I have heard that sentiment from many others regarding the mystical expectations. I don’t know why, but I was spared that particular let-down. Thanks for sharing your mentors thoughts with us. I think they are excellent.

  89. JKC, you wrote “Yeah, except for that one part where certain symbols are explicitly explained.” If we are thinking of the same part, that was something added by David O. McKay. So, ya, just a starting point.

  90. Bethany West says:

    Owen, my sister said something similar when I questioned her about the sexist elements, though her frame of reference included biology rather than language or drama. I am struck by how much in common her explanation has with yours, despite the completely different paths you took to get there. It’s nice to see those agreements for me; my science brain approves! Thank you for your comment.

  91. Agreed, Owen. Even at the highest level in the Church, there is lopsided disagreement over how to talk about the temple. I think we really do need better temple education in general (not just prep) so that people know how to talk about it, and don’t oversell the experience, which creates unrealistic and content-free expectations.

  92. Based on your comment, yes, we are thinking of the same part.

  93. Villate says:

    I am all for reducing the mystery and sensationalism around the temple experience. I worked as a receptionist in the Los Angeles Temple for about a year before going on my mission. Boyd K. Packer came in one Sunday and held a special fireside for all temple workers in the big upper room there, and during his talk he said in so many words that there is nothing we should not be able to tell about the temple except those things that we are explicitly forbidden to describe by the ritual itself (i.e., names and signs). He said we should explain that the initiatory is a special blessing and describe it in as much detail as we feel comfortable and that the narrative of the endowment is almost all in the scriptures. He also said that we need to discuss the covenants that we make in the temple, especially with the youth. As a result of hearing that, I have never hesitated to be very clear about what happens in the temple, even with non-members. In a YW lesson last year, I listed all the covenants we make in the endowment and we talked about them. A couple of the other leaders’ eyes got big for a minute until they realized that I was not sharing anything inappropriate and that the girls actually wanted to know what would be expected of them in a few years. There is nothing secret or weird or frightening about it when it is presented frankly and in a spirit of love and sharing rather than as some kind of sensational event.

    My escort was from the old school and didn’t think she could tell me anything, even when we were sitting there on the bench waiting to go into the endowment room. I was already kind of reeling from seeing women come into the dressing room fully dressed – for some reason I never saw my parents’ temple clothes, and I rented mine so I didn’t know what they looked like except for the garment – and I wish I had known what to expect. My confusion and bewilderment were somewhat abated by the grateful surprise I felt when I came into the celestial room and saw so many of my friends waiting to greet me – some I had not even known would be there. When I acted as an escort for a friend a few years later, I told her EVERYTHING before we went in. She said afterward that it helped her be less anxious and apprehensive and better able to process the knowledge itself.

    Just for the record, I prefer the older, more tactile initiatory, and although I do not have any abuse history I do not particularly like being touched. Different strokes for different folks, definitely, but I think that there is another example of how being prepared for what will happen would make a big difference in how the experience is perceived.

  94. Thanks for this, Steve. It spoke peace and truth to me today.

  95. sctaysom says:

    You’re welcome Nate. I’m glad you liked it

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