Holding on to something–Faith after the Endowment

Leaning Against the Wind by J. Kirk Richards

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.

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

Jean A. StevensIt seems that the theme for this women’s meeting is covenants and the temple. Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary Presidency focused on the covenants, starting with the baptismal covenant and leading up to the temple. She used her own mother as the central example saying she had a “remarkable connection to heaven” and later used quotes from many women of differing ages and their examples of looking to the temple. I loved that she used regular Church members and especially women as examples and multiple times emphasized that we all have different paths. We have so few in the scriptures and often go through whole Sunday School or RS lessons without any quotes from women. I also liked her story of her parents getting married before her father’s mission- it’s a great example of how our current practices aren’t doctrine and that there is a lot of leeway in how we practice the gospel. I really enjoyed her talk and I don’t have much to add to it, so I will share some of my favorite quotes from her talk.

“We are known and loved individually by Him.”

“As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple.”

“Tonight we gather as covenant women of God. Our ages, circumstances & personalities cannot separate us. ”

“Temples are an expression of God’s love”

“Every mighty change of heart matters to the Lord and it will make all the difference to you, for as we go to his holy house, we can be armed with his power, his name upon us, his glory round about us, and his angels have charge over us.”

I am really looking forward to re-reading the talks from this meeting when they become available. I hope you all can find something for yourselves in at least one of these talks.

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International Series: The Blessings of Distant Temples

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Sandrine.

Sandrine

When I lived in France I was jealous of Americans who lived close to temples. I lived in the south-west of France and was in the Swiss Temple district – about an 11 hour drive. Now that I have lived in the United States for about 13 years I can see that I had no reason to be jealous.

It is really nice to be able to go to the temple anytime you want to and I’m sure it has been an amazing blessing for a lot of people. But, for me personally I have never experienced anything memorable at the temple since living in the U.S. Let me explain.

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Relief Society Lesson 17: Sealing Power and Temple Blessings

family-holding-hands

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

 

Don’t be fooled! This lesson plan can be a real challenge. I think that more often than not, an almost automated response to this is to ask whoever is serving as the ward or branch genealogy specialist to teach this lesson. And likely, this person will be a genealogy bug who will swirl rings of testimony about how “easy” doing the admin side of genealogy is, topped with a dose or two of guilt for not doing the work, thereby paining us with reminders of our duty to those who have gone before us.

 

So. To be clear, I want to do more genealogy and family line temple work because I have a testimony of it. But I have deep empathy (and experience!) in not feeling motivated to do the work because of raw and aching relationships with genetically, or legally “close” family members whom either they, or I do not seek an ongoing familial relationship now— much less in the eternities. It seems I am not alone in this feeling. Therefore, as I am wont to do, I re-angle the lesson for those of us (ME) who have family issues. (plus, I thought the intro in the lesson seemed a bit pompous. I think that Joseph Fielding Smith’s story was never intended to be pompous—but rather a revelling in the miraculous. But still. The story did not address the real issue of apathy or even hurt in regard to dealing with the closeted skeletons of family history and temple work.)

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July Young Women Lesson: Why are ordinances important in my life AND Why are temple ordinances important?

These two lessons, “Why are ordinances important in my life?” AND “Why are temple ordinances important?” go along nicely with the lessons about covenants and baptismal covenants.  You could easily couple this lesson plan with last year’s post on covenants for two to three weeks of rich discussion.

I think this lesson on ordinances (especially coupled with the one on covenants) has a lot of potential – first, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between a covenant and an ordinance, as I think we often use the two interchangeably in our discourse.  It’s also an opportunity to revisit baptism and what it means to actually perform baptisms for the dead, especially as the youth are encouraged to both perform these ordinances and research the names of their ancestors to stand in proxy for them. I also think there’s a great opportunity to teach the young women, particularly the Laurels, about the ordinances in the temple in preparation for them going there.  While we want to maintain reverence for the temple and the sacred ordinances performed there, and to not reveal anything that we have covenanted not to, we do our girls a great disservice by not explicitly teaching them about the covenants they should prepare to make.  Especially with the mission age being lowered to 19, our girls need to be studying the temple and the sacred work that is performed there.  Talking about these ordinances and covenants in a reverent and appropriate atmosphere does not violate the sanctity of the temple; instead it shows that we respect the covenants that we hope they will make, and that we desire their spiritual success.  One helpful guide I found for teaching about the endowment can be found HERE.

On that note!  Let’s get this lesson going.

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“Let Her Enter”

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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