Leaning Against the Wind by J. Kirk Richards
My youth was spent envisioning the day that I would enter the Temple and understand the mysteries of Godliness. I had always been deeply interested in theology, philosophy and concerned with spirituality and standing with God. I saw the garments my mother, and later my roommates, wore and wanted more than anything to have that constant, visual reminder of my covenants with God. I looked forward to that feeling of absolute closeness and connection to the Divine. I desired to make binding covenants that brought me even closer to my God and my Saviour.
I love to see the temple,
I’ll go inside someday,
To feel the Holy Spirit
To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God,
A place of love and beauty.
I’ll prepare myself while I am young,
This is my sacred duty.
I felt sufficiently prepared. I had studied the scriptures. I had developed a close and personal relationship with God. Because I was a scrupulous person, I always questioned my worthiness but I knew that I lived in accordance to the teachings of the Church and was actively striving to live the commandments and do what the Lord would have me do.
Nervous and excited at what was about to transpire, I found the Initiatory to be beautiful and meaningful. I wept as women placed their hands on my head, pronounced me clean and proclaimed blessings upon me. I was stunned by the peace and beauty I felt.
And then came the Endowment.
All of my experiences in the temple to this point had been liberating and felt to open my communion with God. Through baptisms, I was reminded that I had also been made clean through the waters of my own baptism. Confirmations reminded me that I also had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to be my constant companion. Through the Initiatory, I was blessed and again pronounced clean. But the Endowment was different. It was not liberating, it was restrictive. It was not peaceful, it was puzzling. It put processes and passwords between me and God. Suddenly, I was terrified that I might accidentally say words and names and betray covenants of non-disclosure. Suddenly, I needed to remember signs and tokens to approach my God. Suddenly, my husband was pronounced as my god. Suddenly, the God of the universe no longer accepted me for my faith and my desire to do good in the world but required exclusive information and hand signs to approach Him.
It took everything in me to keep from running away–running back to the world where God was loving and knowable, kind and understanding, forgiving and approachable. But I stayed, because that is what good Mormon girls do and I wanted to be a good Mormon girl.
I had always been told that the Temple would be the great place of communion and peace but that was not the temple I visited on that June day. This temple brought questions, doubts and concerns. Because I had always been promised this amazing experience of communion and love, but instead was confronted with distance and strangeness, I left the temple concluding that either 1) my faith that felt so strong before was severely lacking or 2) there must be no God. It had never occurred to me that perhaps God was not restricted to Mormon temples or that perhaps this wasn’t the way that I would reach greatest communion with the Divine. It never occurred to me that there was an overwhelming number of people in my faith community who felt the same way but “got used to it.”
And still, I tried. I begged God to be with me, to help me to have faith. For the first year after receiving my Endowment, I attended the temple faithfully. I tried to go at least once a week, concluding that perhaps my uneasiness was due to the fact that the ceremony was unfamiliar and I needed more time to understand it. I could sometimes muster a glimmer of peace but soon after felt anxious and once again, alone in my struggles.
And then, there was light.
I had been assigned in one of my graduate seminars to do a close study of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion to find how he had used music to capture (Lutheran) Christian theology. The task was daunting and I was ready for boredom and confusion. But from the first musical cry for “Herr! Herr! Unser Herrcher!” (Lord! Lord! Our Ruler!”), I was transfixed.
Swept away in the beauty of cross motives and closed disonances that only resolved at the declaration of atonement, I felt it again for the first time in the year since I entered the temple–that overwhelming feeling of warmth, peace, gratitude, and immense love. As I looked up from the score between my broken German translation and cantata choruses, I saw hummingbirds flitting from bright flower to bright flower. The hot August heat was inviting rather than bothersome. Suddenly, everything in the world was vibrantly alive and yet still. The tears flowed as I thanked the heavens for this moment. I had been searching for God and could not find Him in the places I had always been told I would. Instead, God found me, right where I was, and helped me to find rest. There were no signs or tokens, no clothing or covenants–just indescribable love and peace.
I remain fairly agnostic on temple rites. I don’t pretend to know whether or they’re inspired of God, man or the devil. In fact, there are few things that I claim any form of certainty these days. But I do know that day of peace and I hold on to it as the moment God taught me just to rest — in love, grace, peace — and put aside my need to understand those things that distance me from it. And also, listen to more Bach.