Our Spiritual Relationship with Language

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

Someone once asked how I could have prepared better for the temple. My response was bluntly honest: Nothing anyone said or taught me could have altered my initial experience, because the words I found inside the temple felt wrong.

Those words have now changed. Whether something more than words has changed is debatable. Over the past twenty-four hours, I have heard people say that nothing has changed and others that everything has changed. I’m with those who think everything has changed, because for me it has. That’s because I am a woman who learns primarily through words.

I want to suggest that our differing experiences of the temple are in part a function of how we relate differently to words and textuality. To paint in broad brushstrokes, the responses I have seen to the changes fall into or overlap with roughly three categories:

    • Truth as Platonic Ideal: In this group, truth is a platonic ideal that we see through a glass darkly. Words are inherently unable to fully articulate this truth, and change of words is thus welcome but immaterial to a meaning that must be grasped beyond language.
    • Truth as Words: In this group, words mean what they say. Doctrine is composed of words, and a change of words thus changes the doctrine. People in this group may be more likely to value their interpretation of the scriptural or temple text over authorities interpreting the text.
    • Truth as Social: In this group, words mean what people tell us they mean. The meaning of the text is at least in part a function of its social and historical context. How friends or authorities tell us to interpret it is as important as (and sometimes in conflict with) what the words actually say.

Debates about how to read—whether to give weight to text or context, to authorial intent or reader response, to intermediary interpreters or to our own readerly voice—are longstanding in the humanities, religion and law. We know that how we read texts has consequences and that people often read instrumentally to promote their politics, preferences or beliefs.

We rarely talk about how we read as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We should, because how we read can explain some of our conflicts. For now, let’s set aside the urge to decide which way of reading is best and simply acknowledge that we often “read” differently from one another. Some of us don’t read words for what they say so much as look at visual symbols, observe social cues or think mathematically. To focus on reading is my own preference coming through.

Those who prefer to process the world verbally are more likely to focus on what the words say than those who are less verbal and more inclined to process information through other means such as what authorities teach the words mean. This is important, not because we should value one way of experiencing over the other, but because it can explain in part why people can hear very different messages from the same experience, such as the temple. It can explain, for example, why two women can attend the temple and one find its portrayal of gender troubling and the other not. Why someone can be appalled at what the text says and another say, “But no one really thinks it means that.”

I see the world through language, and I cannot easily ignore or explain away what words actually say. This doesn’t mean my way of processing is more accurate – often I am verbal to a fault and clumsy at discerning social cues. But it does mean that the words I hear in the temple matter more to me than visual cues or how authorities have construed the text. Someone less focused on language might have a very different response.

Understanding that our differences are in part a function of how we relate to language–in addition to factors like gender that position us to interpret language–can help us see where we are talking past each other and attune us to how we can improve experiences for people who might process experiences differently than we do.

Of course, this insight can also be abused. The wrong response is to say, “Your feelings don’t matter because you are reading wrong. You don’t understand the text. Just read my way.” The right response is to ask how this insight can make each of us more comfortable. If a word bothers some people, can we change it without hurting something else? If people struggle verbally, can we add visual cues? Sometimes, how we read will lead us to fundamentally different conclusions and value judgments. Even then, it helps to be aware of the different modes of reading we are collectively deploying—and the different weights we give to texts—and to understand how they influence arguments.

It can also help us be more generous with our own feelings. A few days prior to the temple changes, I wrote that I have come to accept that I often experience conflict in the temple rather than happiness. That does not make me unworthy, because God can teach us through feelings of conflict, too. Looking back, the message I first heard in the former temple ceremony was that women were secondary to men. It seems obvious now that my feeling that this message was wrong is perhaps exactly what God wanted me to feel, even if it is not the message other people heard or took. This is where personal revelation matters. But I am looking forward to what else I am able to discern now that the words have changed.

BCC editorial note: in light of requests from the First Presidency, please be respectful in discussing the specific content of recent temple changes in these comments.

Comments

  1. Words change with time. Look at the word “literal”. Today, its most common usage is literally the exact opposite of what it once was. And so it goes with the language in the temple. When wives were looked at like property, it seemed fine to have all their interaction with God via their owner (husband). We now have a very different view of how wives are to be treated, even from our church leaders with injections for husbands and wives to be equal in their relationship. So just like the EOD finally recognized the new understanding of the word “literal”, the LDS church has recognized the archaic words used with women in the temple, and have made the change.

  2. I have always been astonished that so many women don’t seem to have a problem with the words that were used in the temple. Thank you for helping me understand these women better.

    I, too, am grateful for the struggle that I have had because of the difficult words. But I don’t want my daughters to have to go through it.

  3. I really appreciate your taxonomy of interpretations — it helps me make more sense both of how I have managed to understand the temple heretofore, and of why others may have such a different experience of the same presentation. But I do hope the church can continue to seek greater congruence between the ineffable truths our ceremonies attempt to represent and the literal words chosen to capture these meanings.

  4. [This is difficult to write about in the first place, and the overlay of respect for the temple doubled by instruction not to talk about changes makes this near impossible. Please moderate accordingly—meaning quickly and decisively.]

    Context and genre also matter to me. I hear the words of a sermon differently than the words of a statute. And the words of a song or poem differently than the words of a covenant, oath, or contract.

    Taking the endowment as a particular example, in my loyal and believing days I always heard the presentation portion like a sermon or a stage play, and other parts like a statute or contract. (Not distinguishing by likes or dislikes, but by how I treated or heard the words.)

    My distinctions by context and genre don’t solve the differences among us. I know people who view the entire proceeding, from first word to last, as though written on stone tablets at Sinai. And others who have a loose figurative approach to the whole. We are necessarily going to react differently to change. That amounts to a YES to the OP.

    However, my distinctions do affect my reaction to change:
    >In the case of [my category] a dramatic presentation, I’m going to listen to individual words, but I’m going to care most about the overall story line, the message. [This discussion quickly goes to topics like structural and beneficent sexism, which would get me quickly modded.]
    >In the case of [my category] a statute or contract, I’m going to study every individual word and its relationship to every other word.

    Finally, let me note that change itself is a different topic for different readers. I find it critical to meaning to explore the why and wherefore of change. I suppose that’s a “social” reading. Someone else might take all the meaning there is from the words themselves, not caring whether the change happened in the 19th century or the 21st century (for example).

  5. Natalie Brown says:

    These comments make me wish I had divided category three into two categories in which context weighs more than text in one’s understanding of meaning: (1) Meaning is what people currently alive say it means (friends, family, teachers, manuals, current leaders); and (2) the language must be situated historically as a product of its times, which can explain where texts conflict with our current values (which we usually assume are superior to past understandings). Of course, all the categories I am creating overlap and conflate a lot.

    I also strongly agree with people who think that which kind of reading we are doing depends a lot on what document we are “reading.” The temple is really complicated, (1) because of how its positioned as both historical and eternal and (2) because of the lack of ability to speak about it and work through collectively how we understand it (not saying that’s a bad thing — I think there is good reason to keep it private as the FP has asked — just diagnosing).

    Thanks for all the comments so far. My desire in writing this post was to see if thinking about these issues could help us understand where others are coming from.

  6. Thanks for this insightful post, Natalie, which I think nudges us all toward greater charity with our fellow members in the body of Christ.

  7. Thanks for writing this Natalie. I’m a word person. I am more apt to give the benefit of the doubt to meaning intended by historical writers due to context, etc., but am highly scrutinizing of what is said in real time. Overall, I don’t doubt the good intentions of church leaders and the words they say\write\authorize, but I’m not always persuaded they are actually good words to use. It’s not a big deal for the people you discussed that don’t expect the words to literally reflect truth, but when an organization claims to be speaking for God, that’s a pretty high standard.

    I’ve only done sealings since the change but am pretty I sure I know what the major changes in regard to women are in the endowment. If I say too much here, please delete. I was relieved to note the change I had hoped for in the sealing ceremony as well as some nice shared language about cooperation, but was perplexed by the added emphasis on men presiding. For me, “preside” is probably the most problematic word used in the religion. First of all, I’m not aware of a precise definition, and even if there is one, it is isn’t clear enough to at least the people around me who interpret it in a myriad of (and sometimes utterly awful) ways. I’m stumped because I really can’t come up a with a single good definition of the word when it concerns equitable partnership, so I currently can’t mentally insert a personally tolerable meaning whenever it’s used (like I do with lots of words at church). I would have been on board with language about men being primarily responsible for providing for and protecting their families, because I think those terms encompass enough to highlight important responsibilities of men. I don’t see any benefit to adding presiding, because what can it mean besides that men are still seen as having greater authority than women in terms of decision-making in couples and families? Even the qualifiers used in the ceremony suggest to me that my understanding of the intended meaning is accurate, because why else would it be needful to remind men to essentially rule nicely\benevolently?

  8. Thank you, Natalie for your insights. As long as I have known you, you have been generous ——with care and respect listening to the words of others. You have also been honest, loving and have tried to do and act upon those things which you felt were right and good. It is not surprising to me that you would recognize how differently we all read, interpret and internalize what we experience in language. It seems almost impossible to expound the infinitate in the finite abilities of any language. Yet, it is what we have. That is why I am immensely grateful for the work of the Holy Ghost in our lives. I think the Heavens understand our differences in understanding/learning/experiencing even more that we do. So, I am grateful that the Spirit, if we ask, can teach us individually and very personally how to temper the limitations of language and more fully understand what the Lord would have us realize in the course of our personal journey. Sometimes, for me, that has been simply to feel that He understands my confusion and pain and to hold on with faith until someday I see the whole. No answer, just encouragement to hold on. I have struggled and wept over much that I didn’t/don’t understand, yet in the conflict these past 45 years, I have felt of His faith in me and in all of us. The struggle has brought me some patience and with the perspective of time a faith in the perspective of eternity—even if at many moments my vision is so limited. It is not a blind faith, but that which is based on very real s significant experience personal to me. Thank you for the analysis of how we read. It was fascinating and I hope I can learn from the way others read and discover “truths” I have only barely glimpsed. Diversity of thought is compelling and so much more interesting, don’t you think?!!!!

  9. Kristin V Brown says:

    Nice work Natalie. You have an exceptional gift for writing.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    CJ: “what can it mean besides that men are still seen as having greater authority than women in terms of spiritual teaching and decision-making in couples and families?” Does preside mean they have greater authority or does it mean they should take the lead in teaching and decision making? I ask this because a widow friend in her 80’s made the comment how wonderful it would have been to have a husband who would lead out in scripture study, who would say, “come on lets do this.” Her husband would not, she always had to be the one to begin things.

  11. Natalie Brown says:

    A friend suggested that another useful way to look at these questions is to ask which text is the lens we are using to read the other. Some people might use the context of the (relatively egalitarian) teachings they hear in church to interpret the temple, concluding the temple means largely what they are taught at church. Others (like I did at first) might understand the temple to be THE primary text through which we are supposed to understand the rest of the gospel, privilege it over what they hear in church and thus struggle with how reconcile what they perceive as differences. I hope this friend adds his full thoughts here, but they were too good not to share!

  12. This was very thought-provoking, Natalie. Thank you.

  13. I’m happy to out myself as the friend Natalie mentioned in her comment. I think she summed up my thoughts well. I’ll just add some more from a comment I made on her facebook post, springboarding from my appreciation for her separating out the first and third categories she identified in the OP:

    “I think I conflate the platonic ideal/social truth types because, when pressed, I think a platonic ideal-ish argument is often made by those who interpret the temple through the relatively egalitarian language the church usually uses outside the temple. It’s the idea that we shouldn’t get hung up on the temple’s symbolism (a perspective that I can’t help but see somewhat ironically, coming as it does from people who insist, for example, that we have to believe in a global flood) and focus on the truths it’s pointing us to, aka the ones the church is teaching about the temple and marriage and heaven in public.

    “But this is all quite ironic again because people like you were *privileging* the temple! It’s like the problem is that you made the mistake of taking it too seriously, in a sense, acting as if the temple should be the lens through which you understand all the rest of the gospel. And given how much we build up the temple, that’s a very logical way to take it!”

    ——-

    On a more general note, I’m also fascinated by the role of texts (in the broadest sense) in Mormonism and how we privilege and interpret them. I think David Holland’s fantastic essay in the recent Expanded Canon book does some great work on this, from perhaps a slightly different angle (the temple is not mentioned, for example). I’m always struck by how sometimes we treat certain words as sacrosanct (e.g., how many men in the church have stories about being nervous as priests blessing the sacrament and having to say the prayer over if they messed up a single word?), and others as pretty easily interpreted away by later policy (e.g., the WoW explicitly saying beer is ok to drink).

    Anyway, great post, Natalie. Definitely got me thinking (and helped me organize and express my thoughts).

  14. This is the best commentary I have read about “the change” since it became public. Thank you for that. I apologize if this was already said, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that our relationship with language is always a choice and one we are capable of changing if we desire, or if appropriate to the genre or context.

    For instance, in casual, everyday circumstances I also tend towards “truth as words,” but personally in the temple (and most gospel contexts) I assume “truth as platonic ideal,” because I see truth as something independent of our inescapably imperfect and culture-influenced language. Having said that, I am not claiming that is necessarily the “correct” way; I think the way we view and interpret language will and should always fluctuate according to context. I also think it is dangerous to think it can’t—to be unwilling to see it from one of the differing views.

  15. @Elizabeth: I kind of think I understand where your friend is coming from. I have often wished that my wife would lead out in these things, too. This might be an example of the big tension between “presiding” and “husband and wife are equal partners”. It is a common thing and it is seen as okay for your female friend to complain that her husband won’t lead in this. But I need the anonymity of the internet to admit that I don’t really want to preside. Why should it be the man’s sole responsibility to lead in family prayer and scripture study? Why can a woman not simply assume that responsibility if her husband does not? Why can a husband and wife together not simply decide that “she is a better presider than he is, so she will preside over [whatever they decide she is presiding over]”?

  16. Natalie Brown says:

    @Austin: “It’s like the problem is that you made the mistake of taking it too seriously, in a sense, acting as if the temple should be the lens through which you understand all the rest of the gospel.”

    This strikes me as exactly right. We can take the words too seriously. And the implications are fascinating. (We can also not take them seriously enough.)

    Another example of these problems: Today many people discussed the story of the rich man who wants to get into heaven. Every time I hear this discussed, the debate is always about did Christ actually mean that? Are we supposed to take these words at face value? [Consensus answer is usually always no, though we can find lauded historical examples of those who were asked to give away everything and did.]

    I feel it’s important to add that another friend reminded me that the purpose of all of this is to know God. I think she’s right, and everything I know about God is ultimately a product of personal revelation. I think discussing how we approach language can clear up our misunderstandings with each other and help us reflect on if our own approach is productive for us, but I am completely with her that the spirit ultimately teaches us what we know. Sometimes, though, our relationship with words becomes a barrier to feeling the spirit.

  17. I like this post because it maps on fairly well to what I wrote a month ago about the word of wisdom — somehow what the social “word of wisdom” is has morphed into something completely separate from what the text says, and parsing out why that is and which one is “more” valid is an endlessly fascinating conversation.

  18. We are not a very textualist religion. We’re much more about the general spirit/purpose of a given text, and whether/how it fits into our established doctrines as interpreted by church leadership. We mostly don’t fuss with the literal meaning all that much.

    We’re also not a very originalist religion either. But Christianity hasn’t been very originalist ever since Matthew reinterpreted so many bits of Old Testament prophecy as prophecies of Christ.

    I think Natalie’s comment above about how we prioritize the various texts and teachings is really important. Where teachings seem to actually conflict we have to make a choice about which is right and which is wrong, or at least, which is right and which is properly understood to mean something different from the apparent literal meaning. Similarly, when teachings are in tension, we have to make a choice about which is the default background rule and which is the exception.

    Aside from the temple, another example is with the Godhead. Our scriptures forcefully proclaim that the members of the Godhead are one god. Our teachings forcefully emphasize that they are three separate and distinct personages. Do we think of the Godhead as being primarily a thing of unity and one-ness, with the exception that the three members retain their own individual identities, or do we think of the Godhead and primarily separate, and explain away the oneness teaching as something limited to unity of purpose alone? Those choices about priority often say more about us and our own preferences than about the texts we are interpreting.

  19. I deeply appreciate the OP and comments. While we “are not a very textualist religion” we most commonly pretend to be, both creating and purporting to resolve differences of opinion or doctrine by proof-texting and/or appeals to authority (merely another sort of text or textual record). It often seems that most of the members and leaders I commonly interact with do not understand this. Have I misunderstood them?

  20. My problem is that the words may sound appealing and appropriate (ie, hearken v. obey), but the fact that the woman promised in the temple ceremony to listen to her husband was not a promise reciprocated by the husband to his wife. Not sure how any amount of poetry or doctrinal exhortation could have made me comfortable with this structure. I’m glad the words have changed, and hope to witness more positive developments in this regard with this new administration. Thanks for this post.

  21. Natalie Brown says:

    All the excellent comments here make me think the general question of how Mormons treat language, authority, text and context is worthy a full seminar or conference: Which texts do we consider primary? When are we textualists (e.g., sacrament prayers, correctly performing the language of ordinances) v. contextualists (e.g., Word of Wisdom)? What does it mean to treat the Book of Mormon as a history but also a message written for our time and a corrective to The Bible that contains transhistorical truths? What does it mean to “translate correctly”? When do words matter if what we feel personal revelation or the Spirit is often overriding? Do changes to the wording or ordinances have doctrinal meaning? What does it mean to say a book is “true,” and what makes that a viable question in religion but not in academic studies? What is being proved or disproved when we argue a book is true? Are we supposed to treat commentaries by general authorities on the temple as having a status equal to what we hear there? But then what if they themselves say we aren’t supposed to to discuss the temple, implying that what we hear / feel there ourselves is the main message? How do we think about the role of every day members in deciding the meaning of text via what they quote and talk about it in church?

    I strongly suspect that the differing emphasis people place on text v. context or what words say v. what people think they “really mean” is also at the heart of many of the political differences we see in America.

  22. Very fascinating post and follow-up discussion–such an enlightening perspective on gospel teachings and inevitable discrepancies in interpretation/implementation! Thank you, so much, Natalie and the thoughtful comments for these ideas.

    One small thing that I want to add: My perspective is that the ultimate “text” in current LDS teaching is what the current First Presidency and Q12 are saying–full stop. In other words, the “Truth as Social” category from Natalie’s post is the “correct” perspective in modern LDS life. Deviations from that truth construct (even if we focus on something seemingly so sacrosanct as the actual text from temple ceremonies) imply a distrust of the most important text, which are the words of the modern-day prophets. If the GAs say something shouldn’t bother us, then the fact that we’re still bothered by it is a personal problem (and that that may be your first step on the road to apostasy–which means you’re no longer one of us).

    My personal view is that this is a morally deficient construct that we find ourselves in currently, and I have consciously taken steps to distance myself from this construct to see truth in alternate ways. Though it may be counter LDS culture, I find it as a position where I can keep my personal integrity intact.

  23. Natalie Brown says:

    Another question: If we accept @Harry B’s frame that in recent history what the FP and Q12 say is the primary text (which I think we can find many examples of), I wonder how the new Come Follow Me program might change that dynamic as it prioritizes personal study? In our Sunday School, for example, we discussed how the program might be in part a response to younger generations who prioritize personal spirituality and resist hierarchy. How might they change how we approach texts?

    Again, thank you all for the fabulous comments. You are each giving me much to think about.

  24. Two thoughts: (1) I think it would be very helpful for us to develop a better sense of genre when discussing GA pronouncements. We understand that there’s a difference between revelation and policy and opinion, but I don’t think we appreciate very well the differences between, for example, revelation, doctrine, theology, policy, exegesis, homiletics/exhortation, etc. As a result, we tend to just sort of treat everything as revelation and take it at face value without considering context, which sometimes leads to unnecessary angst as we try to reconcile, for example, Wilford Woodruff’s possibly hyberbolic statement that God will not allow the President of the Church to lead the church astray, in the context of a homily urging members to trust the leaders of the church, with the doctrine that all men, prophets included, are fallen and fallible and that God generally does not intervene to prevent us from exercising our agency in ways that aren’t consistent with his will.

    (2) I actually think that, aside from statements presented as revelation or as at least an authoritative, unified doctrinal pronouncement, the apostles don’t consider themselves the last word on interpretation of scriptures. Culturally, there is definitely a tendency to treat them as the primary and final interpreter through which all scripture and doctrine is filtered, but I think that tendency actually comes from grassroots culture, with a heavy assist from CES, more than from the apostles themselves.

  25. @Natalie Brown–I sincerely hope the Come Follow Me program can help empower and support personal authority in LDS culture. Based on my early glimpses of the material, though, I’m not holding my breath.

    There is still a strong emphasis on correlated material–even though it’s personal learning, there’s an explicit expectation that we’ll all be learning the same thing at the same time (and classes on Sunday also reinforce these lessons).

    Also, in the first lesson on being responsible for your own learning, it offers three principles about seeking answers to questions that arise in your own personal study and the first one on the list is “seek understanding through divinely appointed sources,” namely the Holy Ghost, scriptures, and prophets/apostles. In my experience, when those three come to different answers in the church, the prophets/apostles are to be viewed as authoritative.

    On a related note, I noticed that in the first few lessons that I’ve read, the only outside sources that are referenced (beyond the scriptures) are current or very recent (Boyd K. Packer) members of the FP and Q12. There’s a wealth of biblical scholarship out in the world that could add insight to our study of the NT this year, but the implicit lesson here is that is all off limits.

    Combined, these early signals suggest that any changes in the balance of personal versus institutional authority through the Come Follow Me program will likely be evolutionary and not revolutionary.

  26. @JKC (11:43 comment)-

    I largely agree with your two points about not distinguishing between different types of GA statements, and the cultural tendency towards prophetic infallibility. Though, I disagree that it’s something created independently of church leadership, since these are frequent messages that we hear at General Conference and official church materials. I think one could argue that CES / church culture takes the “follow the prophet” messages of general conference too far, but the message certainly starts from the top.

  27. Of Natalie’s three or four categories, “truth as words” is the sturdiest and most resistant to personal or idiomatic differences in interpretation. Words abide, and their meaning changes more slowly than the identities of people in authority. There are limits to how far authorities can go in changing the meaning of words. That’s why the words of the temple ceremonies had to be changed; no matter how much some people wanted to claim that the ceremonies were not sexist, it wasn’t so. And no matter how much some people now want to claim that the changes are insignificant, it isn’t so. The changed words will abide longer than our current personal and political agendas.

    Compared to canonical scripture, the endowment ceremony is both more and less susceptible to Natalie’s “truth as social” category of interpretation. As christiankimball’s comment points out, the endowment gives us a mixture of genres that is unique within Mormonism. Ritual dramatic storytelling is a type of worship that does not occur in Mormonism except in the temple, so other contexts give us no interpretive conventions for this type of text. Our tradition not to speak about the temple text except in broad, vague generalities means that we can’t develop suitable interpretive conventions. So the temple text is pretty much wide open to any of Natalie’s types of interpretation. You can try to understand the temple entirely in terms of what current church authorities broadly, vaguely say it should mean, and there are no interpretive conventions to hinder you. Or, if you try to make sense of the text and the ritual experience on their own terms, you will find that the “truth as words” approach overlaps very little with the “truth as social” approach. The “social” guidance about the temple illuminates very little about the actual text because that guidance is so broad and vague.

  28. “Our tradition not to speak about the temple text except in broad, vague generalities means that we can’t develop suitable interpretive conventions.”

    Or, it means that we must develop them for ourselves as individuals. That comes with both benefits and drawbacks.

  29. Yes, JKC. I intend that as a neutral observation. I’d add that if everyone develops their own private interpretations, by definition those interpretations can’t be conventional, because they are not shared.

  30. Fair enough. I’d say I’ve developed my own rules or principles of interpreting the endowment, but they’re not conventions in the sense you meant. I’d also say that the few places where we have incorporated explanations, it’s unfortunate to the extent that those explanations are interpreted as exclusive.

  31. Natalie Brown says:

    @ JCK – I agree with you strongly on the need to better understand the genre of GA statements (and newsroom statements), as well as how the grassroots culture is interpreting and potentially canonizing those statements.

    @ Harry B – Right. Outside scholarship and historical context is usually discouraged, which operates not so much to return us to the language of the text but to reinforce the idea that LDS leaders have the most authority to interpret that text.

    Another friend asked who we think is actually speaking in the temple script. Whereas someone might think the language comes directly from the Lord, others might see it as inspired but ultimately coming through the best efforts of GAs. Alternatively, there’s the scriptural reference to the effect of whether by the mouth of the Lord or His servants it is the same. But is it?

  32. For me, I look at the Come Follow Me curriculum similar to the way Loursat looks at the temple. I think the curriculum is so simple so as to leave it really open-ended. There are questions to study is thinking, and everyone studies a similar thing so we can get back together and discuss our ideas, but, we can take our studies and questions any direction we choose. The manual doesn’t say anywhere that we’re limited solely to the information in the manual.
    I also agree with Loursat about the temple as well. To me, the most beautiful thing about the temple IS that there are no “right” answers. We each determine the meaning for ourselves. Many are frustrated by the fact that you can’t go to the temple presidency for answers on what it means. I think that’s an implicit permission to determine and find your own answers.

  33. I pretty much feel free to “determine the meaning for [my]self” of the temple and anything else I experience in church, or anywhere else in life. What I long for with the temple is the chance to ponder and learn from and commune with the insight of others. It exhausts me to think that the breadth of possible meaning in our pinnacle institutional religious experience must be rediscovered from scratch by every individual. I wish we could more readily learn together.

    Great thoughts and topics for further rumination as the comments have evolved — thanks again to all.

  34. I guess I scratch that itch to talk and share with others by bringing people with me to the temple. We live a couple hours from the temple, so it’s generally easy to find a few people each month who are eager for a ride there.

  35. “Alternatively, there’s the scriptural reference to the effect of whether by the mouth of the Lord or His servants it is the same. But is it?”

    I think it’s important to note that that reference says “my word” shall all be fulfilled, whether by the Lord’s own voice or the voice of his servants. It doesn’t mean that everything his servants say is the same as if spoken by his own voice; it only means that what his servants say is “the same” as is spoken by his voice to the degree that what they say is his word. The nature of revelation is that it is always mediated through human understanding and language. It’s kind of like the spoken equivalent of “as far as it is translated correctly.”

    And the most important thing, imo, to understand about that is that correctly/incorrectly is not an on/off switch, it is a continuum. Prophets can have direct revealed knowledge and struggle to put it into words or make mistakes in their language, or confuse it with their own ideas.

  36. I would say it goes farther than what kind of reader we are. When I first went through the temple, I was insatiably curious to understand its meaning. I would beg friends to go with me so we could talk about it afterward. I was never so enlightened as when I took a friend who was a visual artist and one who is a dancer. The words were secondary to their visual and kinesthetic experiences in the temple. My dancer friend’s thoughts were particularly revelatory and fascinating to me. She was able to point out things to me about how we move through the temple that never would have crossed my mind. It was then that I realized the genius of the temple for all of us: for me, a highly auditory learner, for a visual learner, for a kinestheic learner. All of us were able to access beautiful symbolism and truth there.

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