Book Review Series: Understanding Your Endowment

Understanding Your Endowment

This book is written by Cory Jensen and published by Cedar Fort, Inc. All of the author’s proceeds from this book are being donated to Mentors International and other global charitable organizations. 

 

I confess that as I read the title of this book, I became uncomfortable. The temple is without argument, a sacred place. But it can also be a place of hurt, a place that is so symbolic that it is problematic, and a place that becomes so routine we become bored. I know more women who do not enjoy the temple than those who do enjoy it, so wanted to try to keep them in mind as I read and reviewed the text. And having just read and reviewed  First Principles And Ordinances, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to read or review another temple book.

 

But, oh! I am so glad that I did. I really loved this book. The ideas and thoughts presented by the author are clearly motivated by love, and I thoroughly appreciated the lense in which he discussed the temple, especially the initiatory and the endowment. Cutting to the chase, this is one of my favourite treasures:

 

Recognise the temple endowment as your own personal Liahona. Consider anew a well-known scripture: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwell within you? (I Corinthians 3:16, emphasis added).” You’ve likely heard this scripture repeated often. Pause and think about it carefully. What if Paul wasn’t just employing an analogy? Perhaps he meant exactly as he said: You are the temple of God. What if your real endowment is your life? (64)

 

Thinking of one’s life as the actual endowment unto God is empowering; it means exactly what we are taught within the gospel of Jesus Christ- that we have agency, and may use faith and intelligence in coming unto Christ. This theme is central to Jensen’s view of the temple and it makes for a great way in which to apply every aspect of the temple in personal symbolism as we strive to live the life that Christ would have of us. This theory personalized the endowment without the weight of stylized, rote obligation, making it much friendly for women, and for everyone who has the blessing of being endowed.

 

Now, from the perspective of this woman, I will attempt to reverently address some of the issues that are often highlighted by women who are not at ease with the temple, through Jensen’s lense.  First of all, years ago I personally gave myself liberty from being harnessed to an antiquated view of womanhood by reinterpreting the temple ceremony as wholly symbolic. Indeed, for me, I found solace this equation:

 

Woman = Eve = Bride = Church ~and~ Man = Adam = Bridegroom = Christ

 

I believe that any use of woman or women is intended to symbolise the church, whilst any use of the male is intended to represent the bridegroom or Christ. These representations are not meant to be literal or applied in a literal sense, i.e. because Christ leads the church does not mean that the male leads the female. My perspective was likely inspired from the number of temple sessions attended wherein the limited number of males and the excess number of females meant that women took the physical place of men in some parts of the endowment.  In many ways, Jensen agrees with this; better yet, he wrote:

 

Take what feels right and helpful to you and discard anything that does not. Your understanding of a particular symbol may be different from mine, and both may be correct. (38)

 

This theme is repeated in the text enough to make me feel like Jensen means it. Even more specific to women, Jensen states that both men and women are equally called to become “king[s] and priest[s] and queesn[s] and priestess[es] unto God.” (52) (my emphasis added). Important to note that neither is prescribed to be beholden or to hearken unto the other, so, in application of Abraham hearkening to Sarah (Genesis 21:12), we are to hearken unto the voice of God in unity, and not in one partner over another. Jensen completes this paragraph with “Recognise what that calling [to become queens and priestesses unto God] means to you here and now in this life.”

 

To be true, at first I thought Jensen was probably unfamiliar with women’s initiatory, and had possibly made an error in this interpretation. But in light of the rest of the text, which clearly never defines women as subservient to men in any form, I think Jensen deliberately wrote this as something he believes. After all, Jensen is a temple worker, and he has researched his subject very well.

 

Now, there is a sense of patriarchy in the overall text. But I owe the bulk of that to the fact that the majority of the references used are from the scriptures (the by and large from the Bible), which are primarily recorded and told in a male voice. In most cases, I found the text to still have personal meaning for me as a woman, but there was the occasional disappointment, such as in the early discussion of the name changes for both Abraham and Sarah. Jensen wrote:

 

The change of name noted a change of status for Abraham. But this was also a token of the covenant and his covenant partner. Jehovah gave Abram part of His own name. The letter h from the Hebrew YHWH was added to Abram, and his name changed to AbraHam. Sarai became SaraH. The meaning of Abram, being “a high father,” was changed to Abraham, or “father of a multitude of nations.” (17)

 

It seems to me that a simple sentence about the etymology of the female name is missing. It would have taken very little to add a sentence about Sarai (meaning “noble princess”) and the changed meaning of Sarah (making her name into an even high rank of royalty). This is no small error; it is important for any applicable female exegesis to be included temple discussion if only because so much reference, analysis and religious historiography is focused on the male.

 

However, omissions such as this are less than a handful, so I disregarded them as true errors and by no means intentional or haughty slights. Equal to this is the fact that the references and notes for the text include the voices of Syvia Allred and M. Catherine Thomas; this alone sets a tone of inclusion that is generally absent in other texts written about the temple.

 

I think many women will appreciate Jensen’s somewhat typical analysis of the “multiply and replenish the earth” instruction and his detailed discussion of its associated symbolism. (93) However, as an adoptive mother, much of this did nothing for me. Though the interpretation was emblematic, the allegory was yet grounded in male and female reproduction….being utterly barren, this was not my thing. What would have made for better inclusion for adoptive parents and those without children is a paragraph or two considering the place of adoption within the structure of the endowment, and the possibility of multiply and replenish also meaning the care of flora and fauna whilst subduing noxious weeds (again, my $0.02, which Jensen says is just fine). There were inconsequential partnerings of rebirth and adoption (16-18), but not enough to satisfy my thoughts as an adoptive mother, and the sister of a beloved, yet unmarried brother.

 

Jensen’s reinterpretation of the veil reminded me of the symbolism in some medieval art wherein the veil is used to define a sacred space (an example is Andrea del Verrocchio’s Christ and the Doubting Thomas. The faces are much less detailed, compared to  the detail depicting the robes and hair of the figures. In this, the robes and hair are stylised veils.) Jensen speaks of this idea, therefore not excluding those who are veiled (such as a bride at her wedding) as separate, unworthy or too weak to comprehend the magnitude of the ordinances and covenants:

 

“The purpose of a veil is to cover that which is most sacred. In other words, what is behind the veil is too sacred to be revealed to everyone.” (79)

And continues with,

“I believe some things about women and their role in eternity are simply too sacred to yet be revealed to the world, or even to the Saints, and so remain veiled. Like the scriptural records of the prophets, we reach a point in the endowment where greater things are implied but withheld and a veil is drawn until we are prepared to receive more….Like Moses, their glory is presently covered.” (79-80)

 

In this, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be revealed for women. Ordination? Active priesthood? Something else? I don’t know. But I like the symbolism that teaches that there is something yet to be revealed for women. It suits the revealatory ideology of the church, and of most of the women I know as well. Some of Jensen’s writing leans toward the elevation of women, which has never suited my mind in consideration of the fall that made us all mortal and equally welcome to partake of the fruits of the atonement. But the concept of the veil as being symbolic of something yet to be revealed to and for women, and not as symbol of exclusion or blinding, gave me hope and reminded me of the oft-directed instruction to listen to the quiet prompting of the spirit to know if the things I have yet to see.

 

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I have any other book I have read that attempted to discuss the temple. Because of this, I look forward to reading it again, and attending the temple with en eye to seek further symbolism. I recommend this book to anyone who is seeking to have a better relationship with the temple, and hope it is well enough received to warrant a second (and third and…) printing with even fuller analysis and inclusion of women.

 


This is a part of the Exponent BookReview Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to treasurer@exponentii.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of manybooks being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.

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Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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19 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    Thanks, Spunky. I’ve really struggled with the temple lately, largely due to gender inequality concerns, and it sounds like this book may be helpful in that regard. Or at least provide space for other interpretations of the symbolism.

  2. OregonMum says:

    I would really love to read this book!

  3. Sally says:

    “Jensen states that both men and women are equally called to become “king[s] and priest[s] and queens[s] and priestess[es] unto God.” ”
    But that is not what the temple says. It is hard to find comfort in an explanation that tells us what we would like to hear, not what it actually says.

    • spunky says:

      I think you should read the book, Sally. I personally do not take the temple literally , and neither is Jensen. I think in reading the book, you might gain a grasp of the symbolism in the words, rather that presuming the words are strictly limited in a literal sense.

      • Sally says:

        Thanks spunky. I will do that.

      • Cory says:

        Joseph first administered the endowment in May of 1842. For the next 34 years, it was then transmitted orally and not reduced to writing until 1877 when Brigham Young wanted to formalize the ceremony and eliminate variations occurring in the presentation. He asked L. John Nuttall, Wilford Woodruff, John D.T. McAllister and others to spearhead this effort. This occurred between January 14th and March 21st of 1877 and included revisions, discussions, and changes before being standardized. Since that time additional revisions have been made from time to time and will undoubtedly continue in the future. Wilford Woodruff seemed to believe that the underlying principles were more important than the particular wording. I would agree with Spunky’s comment that we should focus on the temple’s principles (as taught by the Spirit) and be careful about how much weight we put on specific wording or an aspect of the presentation.

  4. Kay Cookie says:

    Hmm … I would like to read this. I get a lot of anxiety around the temple, but this could make a positive difference in my visits.

  5. I like the thought that veil over women’s faces could symbolize how much is yet to be revealed about women. I think many things about women are unrevealed because patriarchy has limited theological thought over the ages to male perspectives.

    • Spunky says:

      I like this a lot, too, April. I think that is why I wasn’t so thrilled with the slight pedestal-ing of women, but chalked it up to Jensen just not knowing what is next, so he presumes it’s something fabulous. It made me hopeful. Very hopeful.

    • Cory says:

      The insight on the women’s veil was given to me by the Spirit during the writing of the book. Prior to that it had never occurred to me to view it in that light. I believe the Lord wanted it included, but would encourage others to seek their own confirmation and clarification from the Lord. The beautiful thing to me about the endowment, like life itself, is that it is at once universal while also being very, very individual. We should allow the Lord to personalize it to our own lives and circumstances.

  6. Cory Jenn says:

    Thank you for reviewing my book. I’m glad you liked it and hope others will find it helpful. I also appreciated your feedback. You had some great suggestions and insights. I will try to incorporate them in a future version if possible.

  7. Christi says:

    I’ve had this book on my radar for a while but have steered clear of temple reading of late. This may be the book I need to break back into my study!

  8. EBK says:

    This is the best explanation of the veil I’ve heard. I like to imagine that when Joseph had visions of what the endowment was supposed to be, he was literally unable to fully see what was in store for women due to his cultural lens. In his mind, this confusion equated to a veil.

  9. JD says:

    Thanks Spunky for the review. One the interesting things about the temple is that for 99.99% of us the blessings offered are all condition upon ourselves. They are things we may have but no guarantee. Guaranteed blessings from the temple only come to those worthy enough to receive the Second Anointing.

    • Cory says:

      This is a topic that can be confusing. I’ll give you my opinion in the hope that it can add some clarity. It is true that the blessings we receive are given conditionally. It is also true that there is a set of additional ordinances performed in the Church that can be referred to as a Second Anointing. These additional ordinances were performed frequently in the early days of the Church. Due to the worldwide growth and membership of the church, it seems likely that most members today will never have access to these additional ordinances regardless of their “worthiness” to receive them. The good news is that there is another way that temple blessings become “guaranteed”. That is by receiving a personal promise directly from the Savior. We find several examples of this in the scriptures (see, for example, Mosiah 26:20 and D&C 132:49). This kind of blessing is available to every member of the Church who qualify because it is not dependent upon any man. The scriptures testify that He alone is the keeper of the gate, and that he employeth no servant there (2 Nephi 9:41). Making your temple blessings “sure” is a matter between you and the Lord. This is a blessing that I believe should probably be much more widely experienced by the Saints. It is discussed in greater detail in my book.

  10. Sarah says:

    Having just gone through for the first time (like literally just Saturday lol) I will definitely be buying this book. I was too caught up in logistics to think too much on anything else but I am going back soon and look forward to this perspective.

  11. Diana says:

    I’m excited to read this book and see if it will be worthwhile as a gift for others on my gift list, who run the gamut from Temple workers to severe struggles with the temple.

  12. Maddison M. says:

    Thank you for referring me to this review. I think I would enjoy the book, and I did enjoy your review. I like his interpretation of the veil being a way to cover sacred things. I do also believe that there is yet to be revealed about the sacred nature of our Heavenly Mother and I look forward to it- I am just fine with the Lord’s timing of it. I think that was the message I feel I was trying to convey with my guest post. I don’t think the Lord is leaving us women high and dry because we don’t have the authority to use the priesthood in every respect. I think He has some things for us to do and that we aren’t ready for certain revelations, yet. I now see that I think I could have been more clear about that in my previous post (I was also understandably limited to 1200 words). I do believe that being an adoptive mother is the same as being a birthmother. I have known many unmarried women in my life who also don’t wish to marry who have done much to guard the children of the church, I personally consider this another role of guarding the first veil. Their role is just as great as mine in giving birth to bodies for the spirits that still need bodies. The nurturing factor remains as important. The ministering in the church is just as great, too. I hope I am making myself more understandable.

  1. January 22, 2017

    […] little over a year ago, we reviewed Cory Jensen’s first book, Understanding Your Endowment.  I really like this book– I bought it as a gift for friends, and so was very happy when I […]

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