Why no official guide to the temple?

September 17, 2004 | 34 comments

I lurk on LDS-Phil. Mainly I read the discussions with that faint air of incomprehending condescension and superiority one feels when smarter and more educated people get passionate about something. But a recent discussion caught my interest. Why, the question was posed, don’t we Saints get more help in understanding the symbolism of the temple?
Sure, we don’t want online chat room discussions with acronyms and emoticons, because pearls before swine and all that, but why not organize some serious and reverent discussion in the temple itself, or have temple lectures, or get keys and interpretations from the prophets? Let’s grant that the member interested in the meaning of the temple ceremony and temple symbolism is not entirely without resources but let’s also grant that much more could be done.

The LDS-Phil consensus was that the symbolism of the temple is left undefined because the symbols are, by divine design, susceptible to a number of different definitions. As it stands, attending the temple and meditating on the symbols and ritual is a major vehicle for revelation, precisely because the symbols and rituals have no prior defined meaning. So as we meditate on the ritual and the symbol, God can reveal to us a meaning that fits our current circumstances. Thus the Church would close off revelation if it specified one particular meaning either through official revelation or through the unofficial consensus of discussion.

There is much to be said for this reasoning. But because I can, I would like to propose a compatible or additional explanation.

In one translation, the Taoist sage states, “The Way that can be said is not the true Way.” We can see that this is so in our own tradition in which Christ is the Way. He is not reducible to any set of propositions or description. He is the Word. Words do not compass him. The temple ceremony, I suggest, may be intended to be the same. Not a vehicle for teaching meaning but meaning itself, not a pointer to life, but life itself incarnated and enacted. The symbols and the ceremony do have a meaning, then, but one that defies explanation and discussion. Inevitably, any explanation takes one further from the mark.

Something similar may be at work with marital union. We Saints have retained our reticence despite all. The inadequacy of words may be a reason why. I know that when I try to talk about the highest experiences of my marriage–the unions, the childbirths–the talking seems like filth freckled onto a Faberge. Only poetry comes close to not seeming vulgar.

If we want an effective attempt to help us understand the temple it would have to be done, as the temple ceremony is itself done, through poetry and ritual. Music also.

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34 Responses to Why no official guide to the temple?

  1. Jack on September 17, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    As we’re not able to find words to adequately describe what it means to live, it is very unlikely that will have the faculties to describe the “Life” – in its various stages – that maybe obtained by following the course proscribed in the endowment.

  2. Julie in Austin on September 17, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    C’mon, do you you really want high councilors saying, “In the Temple, X means Y?” It would ruin it! Any other interpretation would become unorthodox, and even if their interp were correct, it would still be overlimiting. (The whole point of a symbol is to have more than one interp.) I think the non-interpretation of the Temple is one of my very favorite things of the Church.

  3. Lisa on September 17, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this today. Thank you. It has given me much to think about. I also like the wondering and the mystery that surrounds the symbols of the temple — and my responsibility to figure it out as I go through my life.

  4. Rosalynde Welch on September 17, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    I know it can be annoying to start “When I was at BYU….”, but nevertheless when I was at BYU I took a religion class on ancient temples from Don Parry. I wasn’t yet endowed, but studying the symbol and ritual of ancient temple worship provided me a very useful context for interpreting our own temple worship when I was endowed. I felt none of the bewilderment and strangeness that others I know have felt at first. I know an in-depth course on ancient religious ritual might not float the average person’s boat, but at least it could provide useful context without compromising sacredness and without enforcing orthodoxy.

    Also, I’m not so sure that “the whole point of a symbol is to have more than one interpretation.” I think it would depend fully on the intent of the maker and the ideological work of the text in which it’s found.

  5. ronin on September 17, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    I think something ought to be taught, becasue, otherwise, it sometimes can be difficult to counter the misinformation that one is confronted with. Now, for a lot of people, going to the Temple on a regular basis might be a very feasible option, but, for many, like me for example, who cant, due to limitations imposed by health issues, it sure would be nice if I could learn more about the symbolism, and other Mormon doctrines regarding Temple Work either at an Institute class or at Gospel&Doctrine class. Just my thoughts

  6. clark on September 17, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    “I know an in-depth course on ancient religious ritual might not float the average person’s boat, but at least it could provide useful context without compromising sacredness and without enforcing orthodoxy.”

    I’ve often recommended some of Mircea Eliadi’s writings. Many of them are very approachable by a lay audience. I think they really give some cultural clues to how things were perceived by the ancient world. I’ve long thought that the temple Sunday School class would do well to have at least one lesson on that sort of thing.

  7. Grasshopper on September 17, 2004 at 3:00 pm


    How does “explanation and discussion” with someone else differ from “reflection and pondering” individually, trying to understand? What you say seems to imply that the value of the temple is in the unmediated temple experience itself, that it cannot teach us anything understandable in an intellectual sense. Is that what you mean to imply? Or do you think that I can understand something intellectually about the temple, but that understanding cannot be communicated?

  8. Matt Jacobsen on September 17, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    ‘C’mon, do you you really want high councillors saying, “In the Temple, X means Y?â€?’

    Yes. Actually, I don’t really want church leaders to say these things, because I agree with others that this would make members scared to form their own opinions. If the Church were to make a guide, it could offer several interpretations of various parts of the temple, and then end with “We believe God has yet to reveal many great and important things about the temple.”

    I regret the lack of a forum to be able to discuss the meaning and symbolism of the temple. There is very little in the endowment that we covenant not to divulge, so I don’t understand why the rest is so off limits. One of my pet peeves are comments by members along the lines of, “Those of you who’ve been to the temple will find this interesting”, or “If you really listened to the endowment you would understand where I’m coming from.” Sure, this wink-wink attitude is similar to “He who has ears to hear…”, but does it always have to be that way when talking about the temple? Does it make us feel good to belong to an inner circle and point out to others that they are not a part of it?

    Maybe talking about the endowment over the pulpit or in class would make people too uncomfortable, but even in private many members are reluctant to talk about the temple in detail. The few times when I have engaged in real conversations were very meaningful and spiritual. I learned how others approach certain aspects of the temple and expanded my own knowledge, and without any pressure to adopt what they thought as my own working interpretation.

    As far as the temple being akin to life itself, I would agree. Certainly experience and inspiration are hard to replace when it comes to living a full life, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to write (and write and write) in an effort to better understand it. While some of that writing has been regrettable, on the whole I think it’s been a net win.

    Another random thought. Let’s assume that the Church doesn’t say much about the meaning of the temple because it doesn’t want to shut people off from receiving revelation themselves. Personal revelation is good, and not just about the temple, but about many aspects of our lives. Yet the prophets are not too shy about giving us direct commandments about all sorts of things, even though we should be receiving revelation to do those things ourselves. Presumably this is because the negative consequences of breaking those commandments outweighs the need for us to receive revelation about the commandments ourselves. Maybe the silence about the temple is attractive because at least here personal revelation trumps everything else. No one can tell me I’m right or wrong, only God. It’s a little playground where we can experiment with revelation without actually hurting anyone. I can see something positive in that. Does it really even matter, then, what we believe about the meaning of the endowment?

  9. a random John on September 17, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    I think that part of the problem is that some people don’t understand what can be discussed and where. Alonzo Gaskill taught intitutue where I went to college and when he would discuss the temple he would make it very clear where the boundary was (things you had covenanted not to reveal) and then discuss anything else. It was very informative. I agree with Matt that we don’t need instruction from the GA’s as much as a forum in which members can feel comfortable asking questions and exploring possible answers. I know that many people in my family feel the same way.

  10. Matt Jacobsen on September 17, 2004 at 3:21 pm

    random John -

    I’m surprised Alonzo would refrain from talking about anything. He has the ability of delivering a 2 hour lecture in 20 minutes. You were lucky to have him as a teacher.

  11. anonymous on September 17, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    I have an unpublished talk from a current apostle, given in a General Authority training meeting, 1988. Summarizing briefly- Certainly, there are some things we covenant never to discuss. However, there is much we can. Anything in the scriptures is fine. (There’s much more of the temple in them than the average member knows, especially the Old Testament.) The criteria basically boil down to the question, What is the context of my discussing these things? (Is it public or private? Debate or preparation? Academic analysis or spiritual growth? Is it for financial gain? Is the person a member or nonmember? Antagonistic or friendly?) D&C 63:64 is appropriate “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, [Without that spirit] there remaineth condemnation.â€?

    He also notes that total silence can squander teaching opportunities. I think that we are too silent with our children and friends regarding the temple, and consequently, they go unprepared.

    “Let us share with our children the spiritual feelings we have in the temple. And let us teach them more earnestly and more comfortably the things we can appropriately say about the purposes of the house of the Lord.â€? Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign February (1995): 88.

    “The temple is a sacred place, and the ordinances in the temple are of a sacred character. Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into. I believe a proper understanding or background will immeasurably help prepare our youth for the temple.â€?Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign August (1985): 8.

    “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. Who has received and understands such an endowment, in this assembly? You need not answer. Your voices would be few and far between, yet the keys to these endowments are among you, and thousands have received them.â€? Brigham Young on April 6, 1853, at the laying of the cornerstone of the SLC temple. This has been publicaly quoted -Boyd Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 153. Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1973), 140. Carlos E. Asay, Family Pecan Trees- Planting a Legacy of Faith at Home (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 221. ElRay L. Christiansen, “Some Things You Need to Know About the Temple,” Ensign January (1972): 66. LaRene Gaunt, “Finding Joy in Temple Service,” Ensign October (1994): 7. “Endowed with Covenants and Blessings,” Ensign February 1995 (1994).

    There’s also the story of David O. McKay.

    “In our day, instances of lack of preparation have been cited by our prophets. When the Los Angeles temple building program was commenced, President McKay called a meeting of the stake presidents of the temple district. During this meeting, President McKay took occasion to express his feelings about the holy endowment. He indicated how some years before, a niece of his had received her ordinances in the house of the Lord. He had learned that she only recently before that had received an initiation into a sorority at the local university. She had had the crassness to say that she found the sorority initiation superior in effect and meaning to her than the endowment. President McKay was open and frank with them about the experience of one in his own family with the endowment. He wasn’t worried about their audible gasps. With characteristic aplomb, he paused, and then said, “Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the temple. Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple. And so were you.” Then he said something incredibly important that should be engraven on all our souls. “There are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence.” Then he added, “If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!” -Andrew F. Ehat, “‘Who Shall Ascend into the hill of the Lord?’ Sesquicentennial Reflections of a Sacred Day: 4 May 1842,” in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1994), 58-59.

    There’s also the very blunt statement by George Q. Cannon.
    -”When the Prophet Joseph first communicated that the Lord had revealed to him the keys of the endowment, I can remember the great desire there was on every hand to understand something about them….How is it now? There is a complete indifference, it may be said, in relation to it. Young people go there stupid, with no particular desire only to get married, without realizing the character of the obligations that they take upon themselves or the covenants that they make and the promises involved in the taking of these covenants. The result is, hundreds among us go to the house of the Lord and receive these blessings and come away without having any particular impression made upon them. I think that this is deplorable.” George Q. Cannon and Jerreld L. Newquist, Gospel Truth (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1987), 178-79.

    In short, complete silence does no one any favors. There is much we can talk about, as long as we’re doing it appropriately.

  12. danithew on September 17, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    I think one of the reasons an official guide to the temple doesn’t exist is because the Church is relatively young and the membership demographics are still relatively low.

  13. Ben S. on September 17, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    My guess is that there’s no “guide” because the temple is similar to the scriptures- We have them, but they didn’t come with a manual:) I don’t think an official interpretation exists that could be published as some kind of guide. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of good stuff on the temple I also suspect that this is a case of letting people grow on their own, making their own discoveries, and getting out of it what they put into it (pardon the cliche).

    Ben S.

  14. John Scherer on September 17, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    ‘I also suspect that this is a case of letting people grow on their own, making their own discoveries, and getting out of it what they put into it (pardon the cliche).’

    I absolutely agree with Ben. My wife and I have gone through temple prep recently before recieving endowmwnts and having our family sealed. We were both somewhat frustrated beforehand by how little knowlege we felt we were recieving of the endowment and it’s symbolism. In hindsight now, I realize that if we had recieved any more instruction than we were given it would have created expectations rather than reliance on the spirit to testify of the wonderful lessons we were recieving for the first time. Although my wife and I were both overly nervous and excited(I actually fell down the steps on our way to purchase garments), the lessons taught by the spirit that day were pure and not in any way influenced by the understanding of another. I feel that the experience we had came because we spent a year preparing ourselves by following goals set for us by our priesthood leaders. For us, things are fine just as they are.

  15. Benjamin Huff on September 17, 2004 at 7:54 pm

    I agree that there should be more discussion, and also that there should not be a “guide”. In part I think that temple discussions should be a culture within families. Any attempt by the church to install such a culture wholesale would defeat the purpose of the temple — it is an occasion for very individualized learning, a learning that is rather similar to the sort of learning that goes on in a well-functioning family. That is not to say that what is learned is not universal in application; much of it is universal, but we are each to learn what God sees fit to teach us by means of the symbols (“He who has ears . . .”) etc.

    I am fortunate to have a family with many temple-goers, many of whom are also very thoughtful about it. When I went for my own endowment, I was initiated into a tradition of temple commentary, most explicitly by my mother’s sister (tho my father had helped set it up). I knew very, very little specifically about the temple before I went. There were certain things I was quite surprised that I hadn’t been told about, if only in the car on the way there, an hour’s drive to the Salt Lake temple from Utah Valley with my father. But I was not really caught off-guard by anything in the experience, I think because I had a strong relationship with the scriptures. I didn’t need to know much beforehand.

    My sister and I have accumulated together a list of scriptural passages that help us understand the temple; it is part of an ongoing conversation (tho sometimes years pass between episodes). I think she had me read her list before I went for my endowment; we have both since added to it.

    A strong relationship with the scriptures I think is the best preparation for appreciating the temple (that is, the best thing in addition to the essentials of obedience to the commandments, and a relationship with the Spirit).

    I think we need to talk about the temple more, but considering how much more we could do to appreciate the scriptures, I think our needs, as a people, regarding the scriptures are much more pressing. We don’t do a good job of reading them. We have been told again and again that we as a people are under a certain amount of condemnation for failing to appreciate what we have received, particularly in the Book of Mormon. Let’s work on that, and as we become good at that, we will also become much better at learning from, and discussing where appropriate, the temple. (Thanks again for your help with this need, Jim and Julie!)

  16. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 1:31 am

    Ben Huff. I think you make an impotant point about preparing oneself for temple worship by studying the scriptures. We really don’t need to look any farther than the scriptures to discover that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. For that matter, one need only read the latest article on some new discovery in one of the big science magazines to be reminded that the universe has a lot more going on in it than we usually care to think about.

    I think the “silence” that is expected on certain elements of the temple ceremony is crucial. Remember that some things are so sacred that they cannot even be spoken of *within* the temple itself. I believe the reason for this goes beyond the idea that people need the opportunity to discover truth through personal revelation. No doubt, personal revelation is key to understanding the things of God and therefore must be sought by the individual. But, I would add that it is the *only* way to understand these things (i.e., the most sacred elements of the temple rites) and that their meaning simply cannot be transmitted from one person to another in this world. And if we do try to convey their meaning it probably means that we really don’t understand them (as per Hugh Nibley). Remember that the abomination which maketh desolate comes as a result of defiling that which is most sacred by drawing it out of its sacred space for all the world to see. Fssst – the Spirit is gone and that symbol which held such special meaning becomes nothing but an empty shape.

    That said, I do believe there is much that can be spoken of. I think its good to touch on certain of the temple’s symbolism. Certainly, there should be no problem with looking at the temple as a whole and discussing its purpose in preparing those that go there to meet God. I like to use the design of Moses’ tabernacle with its distinct divisions as a model through which one may move from one glory to another. It’s also fun to talk about those things that are found in each division and how they relate to the covenants which we make today. However, sometimes even this example was too much for my adult sunday school class. I’m not trying to criticize those sweet people – many of whom were much more experienced in these things than myself – but there were times when it just didn’t feel right to talk about it except in the most general terms.

    One of the most fascinating miracles that I’ve experienced is recognizing that another individual has somehow come to the same understanding on a particular principle that I have and that we both marvel in being able to edify one another though we really haven’t instructed each other. So it is with the temple. We need not be afraid that some will miss the boat because no one taught what was behind the symbols. The Lord is perfectly capable of instructing every individual in those things.

  17. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 9:57 am

    “Ben Huff. I think you make an impotant point…”

    Whoops. “impotant” is a misspelling of “important”, not “impotent”.

  18. Philocrites on September 18, 2004 at 11:42 am

    Wow! I think this is a topic where Mormons might really find some fruitful engagement with Anglican but especially Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and maybe as well with observant Jews. The whole notion of ritual as “meaning itself” rather than as a sign or symbolic representation (as with the Reformed doctrine of communion and its Mormon echo in “that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son”) is something that the sacramental traditions have grappled with for a long time. It also seems that Mormons have opportunities for dialogue with Catholics that they don’t have with Evangelicals.

  19. Adam Greenwood on September 18, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    Ben Huff’s idea of _family_ temple culture is a promising one. Unlike an official pronouncement from the Church, or church-wide discussions resulting either in an unofficial consensus or disputation, both of which would have to be intellectual or propositional, family discussion about the meaning of the temple seems to enact the meaning as much as describe it. It’s not so much _what_ my father or mother said about the temple, it’s that my father or my mother said it, in the private space of our family intimacy.

  20. JouDanZuki on September 19, 2004 at 9:38 pm

    Lots of good comments, but it comes down to two things:

    First, the essential _information_ is all available to those who study, pray, and ponder under the Holy Spirit’s influence. (And, in fact, would not be available in guides or forums.)

    The other first, sometime(s), we just have to go one on one with God.

  21. Jim F. on September 19, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    I say “amen” to Philocrates’s comment. We could learn a great deal from other sacramental traditions: Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, and observant Jews. I don’t know what there is in the last of these, but there is a good deal of writing about the sacraments in the first three, and I think that much of it is directly relevant to LDS thinking about ritual. It is too bad that we often overlook our connections to the sacramental Christian traditions. I understand that there are many ways in which we are culturally like evangelicals, but I think we have less to learn about ourselves from them.

  22. Adam Greenwood on September 20, 2004 at 10:20 am

    May I say amen to both Philocrates and to Jim F.? Well, then. Amen.

  23. a random John on September 20, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Matt Jacobsen,

    Interestingly your comment reminds me that Alonzo was fond of pointing out that Joseph Smith would endow people in 30 minutes. He told Brigham what was important and how he could flesh it out and give it some context. Brigham was know for eight-hour endowment sessions. Bascally an all-day marathon. It would be interesting to have access to the text of the eight-hour version, and all the other versions for that matter.

  24. Philocrites on September 20, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    Oh, regarding Orthodox Judaism: Try “Halakhic Man” by Joseph Soloveitchik. I think Mormons would find a great deal of resonance and excitement in it.

  25. Adam Greenwood on September 20, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Philocrites, that is to say.

  26. Jim Richins on September 20, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    Even though 99% of the Endowment is not under a covenant never to disclose, that still does not mean that it is all free for open discussion. I think the earlier comment referencing D&C 63, and the criteria for determining what is appropriate to discuss, is good advice. I currently serve as a worker in the Bountiful Temple, and the instructions and training we receive on this matter generally err on the side of caution or discretion.

    We have been told that there are some elements of the Endowment and other Temple ordinances that, although not under specific covenant to protect, should not be discussed outside the Temple. Obviously, due to my desire to be in compliance with Apostolic instruction, I can not list those things explicitly here. If in doubt about what is appropriate to discuss, I think one should go to the Temple and ask an ordinance worker there.

    I agree that discussion about the Temple is a good thing. As for myself, I greatly benefit from “creative collaboration” – from hearing the ideas and thoughts and accumulated knowledge of others. For example, I appreciate Bro. Greenwood’s eloquent description invoking the “Taoist sage” – with the Temple as Meaning in and of itself. I also believe that the appropriate context for most discussions about the Temple is within the Temple itself.

    In addition, I can personally attest to the idea of receiving new knowledge and understanding, yet being unable to communicate it (the question asked by Grasshopper above). There is much that I have been taught in the Temple, but even if I was called upon to communicate it, as in a lecture or a class, I would be utterly unable to. Some of the things I have been taught can not be expressed in English, or Japanese, or in any other human language – they can only be understood via ministration by the Spirit.

    That is not to say that the knowledge given in the Temple is exclusively of the uncommunicable kind. However, I would be hesitant to share even some of these “simpler” Truths I have found for fear of depriving another person of the sublime experiences of discovering them on his own. However, I am confident that even if I did presumptuously attempt to teach a friend one or two of my insights, although she would hear my words, because the Spirit may not attend them true comprehension would be lost, and my friend would soon forget what I have said.

    It is the miracle of personal revelation.

  27. JWL on September 20, 2004 at 5:44 pm

    Although I may just be affirming what others have said better on this insightful thread, I too have thought about this a lot and am currently at these tentative conclusions:

    (1) It would be very very bad for there to be any official writings about the correct meaning of the temple ceremonies. This could only constrain and thereby diminish the potential for understanding and enlightenment as others have described very well here.

    (2) However, as some comments here have noted, there can be a problem with temple preparation for those going for the first time. My experience is that the problem is most severe for those who are unprepared for the highly symbolic nature of the temple ceremonies. They are so disturbed by the otherness of the ceremony that it interferes with their spiritual receptivity, and sometimes seriously undermines their testimonies. Ironically, I find that in general this is more common among people who have grown up in the Church as compared to converts.

    I think that this is due to the low church biases we western Anglo Mormons have inherited from our evangelical Protestant forebears. At least when I was young, I remember very distinctly being told that one of the reasons our Church was true and the Catholic Church was false was because we did not believe in all of that empty ritual. I clearly got the message that ritual was antithetical to really living as a Christian. Even if that message is not as explicit in the LDS Church today, the fact that our regular church meetings are still very low church does little to prepare anyone growing up LDS to appreciate the highly symblic ‘high church’ rituals of the Temple. (In contrast, converts today, most of whom come from Catholic backgrounds, seem to take much more readily to the temple.)

    So, I do believe that temple preparation, especially for LDS youth and those from other low church backgrounds, could do more to positively teach the value of religious symbolism. That can be done without going into any specifics about the temple ceremonies. One way would be Mircea Eliade’s writings or an approach based on his work. Another would be to simply be more respectful of the ‘high church’ liturgical traditions. For example, teaching that the Protestant Reformation was a good thing because it prepared the way for the Restoration conveys the message that ‘low church’ Protestantism is ‘truer’ than Catholicism or Eastern Othodoxy or other religious traditions which employ ritual such as Judaism, Buddhism, etc. Explicitly repudiating our American Protestant inheritance of anti-Catholicism in teaching youth and in teaching temple prep could open an appreciation of religious ritual, help us feel closer to the faithful of other religions, and enrich the first-time temple experience for our youth.

    (3) While I would not want any official writing on the meaning of the temple, I do find it to be beneficial to hear others’ insights in a non-dogmatic context. However, I think it is important that the temple knowledge be treated differently than other subjects which might discuss in daily life. So how about discussions held in the Temple itself? This would permit us to share others’ insights while still preserving the sacred separateness of the experience. (Obviously, this would need an official sanction, but it could be seen as a way of boosting temple attendance — come and have a special testimony meeting in the Temple after the session.)

  28. Sara Greenwood on September 21, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Our daughter Emma learned to crawl today. She’s been trying for weeks to get her chubby belly off the floor, and it finally happened today. She screamed in agony at the effort and loved my cheering her on.

    I went to the temple this morning.

    I know more of what to expect and only stumbled a few times.

    My first temple trip felt a lot like my daughter’s efforts to crawl. I had no idea it would be this hard! At the same time feeling cheered on by all youth leaders, family members and Adam.

    Changing from a chubby baby who sits only because the rolls of chub won’t let her fall over, to lifting her belly off the floor and taking one crawling step feels like listening to pre-endowment temple discussion and then being endowed.

    I’m grateful for Elijah, or I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see how different my temple experience is now from the first experience. I think the first experience should be like that, just like seeing bright lights after being in darkness.

  29. Adam Greenwood on September 22, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    “I think the first experience should be like that, just like seeing bright lights after being in darkness.”

    That is a point. It’s pretty understandable that we would want to the transition to the temple to be a smooth one, but is that really reflective of the role the temple has? My experience with the gospel is that most of the major progress and revelation comes in lurches. You finally assimilate some commandments and teachings and then God throws a big, unsettling curve at you. Maybe the temple needs to be a little bit like a stumbling block. I for one had a smooth experience going to the temple, my wife didn’t, but now she gets more out of it than I do.

  30. greenfrog on September 22, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    There is reason to believe, based on the structure of the endowment ceremony itself, that it was originally intended to be delivered incrementally, in smaller pieces as one matures in the gospel, rather than all at once as it is presently administered.

    When I received my endowment, I was quite surprised and discomfited. Had it been a more incremental process, I suspect I’d have received it with greater understanding and comfort.

  31. Benjamin Huff on September 22, 2004 at 6:41 pm

    Hm. Tough question, Adam; should we make a point of preserving the shock? Certainly the temple ordinances are supposed to effect some sort of transition.

    On the other hand, if we do a better job of scripture study, and of teaching people to read the scriptures intelligently, that will prepare people to at least be shocked in a good way, I hope, rather than being shocked in a way that leaves them never wanting to go back, like has happened to a few people I know. Surely we can’t go wrong by doing a better job of teaching people to read the scriptures?

    As in the case of the temple, we must avoid over-specifying either what the scriptures say or how they are to be studied. But I think the risk of over-specifying in this case is far less than in the case of the temple, simply because it is easy to have lots of discussion of the scriptures, since they and discussions of them are open to all; hence it is easy to avoid getting into a rut that overspecifies.

  32. Adam Greenwood on September 22, 2004 at 8:51 pm

    It’s also because, as Nate never tires of pointing out, that the scriptures are so many and varied (even apparently contradictory) that they can’t effectively be over-specified unless people aren’t reading them.

  33. Jonathan Neville on September 22, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    I appreciated JWL’s comments for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is the increased appreciation I’ve gained over the years for the Catholic Church. On my mission in France, we were convinced that the Catholic Church was evil, kept the people in darkness, etc. Having returned there several times over the years, I see it in a different light. The church there did a lot to keep the people aspiring for a better life, higher ideals, etc.

    The high church/low church distinction is very helpful and something we ought to be more aware of.

  34. Adam Greenwood on September 23, 2004 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for the comments, y’all. This is the best discussion I’ve seen on T&S.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.