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.