More Mormon

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.

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  1. Absolutely beautiful.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Very nice, Tracy, you old Mormon you.

    When I consider the immigrants who arrived in Nauvoo after sometimes being disowned by their families, I think it must have been especially meaningful for them to have been adopted and sealed into the covenant.

  3. There are windows like this in the celestial room of the Manhattan temple. I’ve only been there once, but seeing those windows during my visit was an answer to prayer for me. Now I’m itching to go see Nauvoo!

  4. What Pete said. Tracy, do you have a link to either your Ketubah or the stained glass window in the Nauvoo temple?

  5. More than ever, I look forward to my trip back East to the Church sites. This was beautiful, thank you.

  6. The stained glass in the Nauvoo temple is exceptionally beautiful.

    They also have made a point of making one window clear so that you can see directly into the Sacred Grove.

    Tracy, I’m amazed at the wording of your ketubah and that you came up with that phraesology before you were Mormon or knew about Mormon doctrines. Do you remember where you picked up the ‘fullness in time’ line?

  7. Great.

  8. Picture! Picture!

  9. Ugly Mahana says:

    Click to access ENSN_2002_0700_Jul_Complete_22907_eng.pdf

    Go to the final page (Back cover of the July 2002 Ensign). But the image does not do the real thing justice at all.

  10. Thomas Parkin says:

    Awesome. ~

  11. Tracy, your posts are consistently among the very best in the bloggernacle — how do you do it?

    I loved this.

  12. So when they say we change out of our “street clothes” this really DOES mean jeans and flip-flops! First time I’ve heard of folks entering the temple (at least as far as the locker rooms) dressed casual. Great to hear you were able to attend on such a short whim.

  13. Tracy, I’m speechless. Thank you.

  14. Peter LLC says:

    We joke about being more Mormon than Mormon (hummed to White Zombie)


  15. Beautiful story as well. I went back and re-read it. Some people are prepared long before they know it! What a great experience to have as a ten year anniversary of your wedding!

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Simply an outstanding and lovely post, Tracy. Well done.

  17. aloysiusmiller says:

    Thank you

  18. I’m an investigator of your faith. I have been reading the bloggernacle for about 2 years now. When I think about my potential conversion, I look to your writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read your Road Trip post. And for a long time, it was my favorite post on the ‘nacle.

    Until now.

    I’ve marked this one, and I know I will come back to it again and again. This is such a beautiful post.

    Thank you. I truly can’t thank you enough.

    I’d love to read more about your conversion. Is that posted somewhere?

  19. Words fail me, but apparently not you, Tracy. Thanks.

  20. Love you Tracy. I’m so glad you wrote this up.

  21. Beautiful, Tracy.

  22. Wonderful post, thanks.

    I was intrigued by your comment that the Nauvoo Temple’s beauty from the outside is splendid. But, “[f]rom the inside, it defies description.”

  23. Gave me shivers. Thank you, Tracy.

  24. Tracy, this was wonderful. You captured something profound and meaningful in your description. There are deep things that happen in this world with roots in the eternities. Thanks for sharing one so beautifully.

  25. Aileen, I’ve emailed you…

    Everyone, thanks. Describing shining moments such as this always leaves me feeling ham-fisted. It’s like trying to paint the delicate veins of a sunlit leaf with a power roller. Thank you for seeing beyond my writing limitations and recognizing what I was trying to convey.

  26. Living only 5 hours away from Nauvoo in Indianapolis has been a treat for me. I’ve always had super wonderful experiences when I’ve attended that temple. It really is my favorite, far and above the SLC and other temples.

    The carpets are actually woven in the same England tapestry companies as the originals, with the same width and patterns used back then. You note the seams in the carpets.

    The murals are awesome in the various rooms. Pres Hinckley actually painted a small portion of one of the murals, IIRC.

    I dunno, but while I get a wonderful feeling in all the temples, Nauvoo’s spirit is just head and shoulders above the rest for me.

  27. I do not understand why Nauvoo has such a tremendous spirit about it, but it does, and it’s even greater in the temple.

    As I sat in the baptistry with my wife and daughters bathing in the glow of the moment, I was trying to understand why I should feel so much more strongly there than in other temples, and I couldn’t come to any conclusion.

    Maybe there is something to sacred ground. The sacrifices of the former inhabitants and the faith of their followers may have somehow sanctified that area.

    The missionaries there struck me as top notch, especially in temple. They were SO excited to have us there and wanted so much to show it off — they kept asking permission of the temple presidency to take my underage daughters to just one more thing. One of them appeared to have a bad leg, but he would carefully wipe the water from the wooden baptistry steps after each person with the same care one would use after washing a brand new car. I was very touched by the temple president’s comments prior to the ordinances, and seeing my expression, one of the workers made the off-hand comment that Pres. Petersen was one of the kindest men he’d ever known.

    My cynical side says maybe it’s partly the expectation (dare I say superstition?) the tourists bring with them. While Nauvoo felt glorious to me, Carthage jail did not. I could not bring myself to sing “I am a Child of God” with the tour group, even at the guide’s request. The feeling of that song did not match the feeling of the place, and just hearing it made me feel ill. I used my youngest child as an excuse to leave. Was it just me, or does some shadow still linger there?

    For whatever reason, visiting Nauvoo was a sacred experience to me as well. Thank you for your post.

  28. Tracy,
    Thank you for this — I’m eager to share this with my now-wife who was baptized two years ago next month. We look forward to our times in the temple.
    She and you exemplify Elder Oaks’ observation that Many who come in the eleventh hour have been refined and prepared by the Lord in ways other than formal employment in the vineyard. These workers are like the prepared dry mix to which it is only necessary to “add water”–the perfecting ordinance of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. With that addition–even in the eleventh hour–these workers are in the same state of development and qualified to receive the same reward as those who have labored long in the vineyard. — GenCon 10/200.

  29. Rick in Nashville says:

    Tracy, you learned and have demonstrated to many others by your story here, one of the great spiritual lessons to be learned while we are in this world. That insight is, there are fewer coincidences in life than we might suppose.

    As others have said elsewhere, life is like a tapestry in which we see only the back side. When we leave this world for the next, we are then allowed to see the front side that shows how all the threads that looked to have little rhyme or reason on the back, came together to create a beautiful work. Just as your experience recounts, from time to time, we are allowed to see glimpses of the finished side of this tapestry, while still in this world.

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