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.

Amy

Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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26 Responses

  1. Cruelest Month says:

    Yes to more Bach and most definitely yes to the moments when the divine reaches out and surprises with grace and beauty. Thank you for sharing such a personal moment of divine connection.

  2. Carole says:

    I can echo this beautiful essay with my own experiences. Thanks for writing and sharing your heart.

  3. E.D. says:

    Thank you for this. I agree 100%. I find God in nature, music, and time with family, not in the temple.

  4. Moonshadow says:

    My experience was similar. I went into the temple full of hope that I would feel closer to God than I ever had. The reality was an absence of God’s love and peace. That was extremely disappointing and unsettling. As long as I stayed out of the temple, I felt God’s love and peace. When I went inside I did not. So I eventually stopped going inside. The beautiful world is my temple now.

  5. I’m so glad that you had that beautifully divine moment. I wanted that, sought that, begged for that for so long after going through the temple (and I definitely listened to Bach during that time), but I didn’t get it and was left concluding that either God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t actually love me like I’ve always thought, and if I was wrong about that, what else was I wrong about . . . ?

    Anyway, I still love Bach and feel inspired and uplifted by his music. If you haven’t been to Leipzig, Germany (I lived there for three years), go. See the church where Bach worked for years and pay the 2€ to hear one of the motettes held on Saturday afternoons and evenings. You’ll love it.

  6. Corrina says:

    ” 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. ”

    Beautiful.

    My dh is in the bishopric and is over the youth. He has been very involved with the YW and advocates for them and their leaders in any way he can. He has been surprised at how frequently and strongly the message gets taught to YW, “The temple is the pinnacle of your life!” He says it’s like there is nothing taught as being important beyond going to the temple. Of course, I knew this, but it’s been interesting seeing his discovery of how YW are taught in our church.

    We need to find more balance in teaching the beauty that can be found in the temple (for some), but not make in the end-all, be-all. It’s setting up our daughters for failure and disappointment.

    • Anarene Holt Yim says:

      The quote Corrina pulled really summed it up for me too. I’ve experienced this also, and you said it so beautifully.

      I can also relate to the being less and less certain of things. Having been raised in a black-and-white Mormonism, my uncertainty used to feel wrong and confusing. Now I feel that my former supposed knowledge was just a demonstration of pride; and now that I recognize what I don’t know, I’m actually more open to God instead of less. There’s a peace that comes with finding out that God is bigger and more available than I thought.

      • Big L says:

        I love your description of God being bigger and more available than you once thought. I’ve found that, too and it has made my life so rich. To put it simply, I’ve found that God is truly Love, love is everywhere, in people, in trees, in the wind, in art and music, so I just run into God all over the place these days. It’s also been strange for me to remain active in the Church and to hold callings where I teach from manuals or to stand up and try to explain my “testimony” in terms that those in the congregation might understand. I find that I have to confine God into such small words. I will say that I’m probably the most colorful testimony giver and Gospel Principles teacher in my little branch.

  7. Patty says:

    Bach! Of course!

  8. Jenny says:

    Beautiful Amy! My experience with the temple was similar. I was so excited to have my mind and heart opened to all the secrets of the universe when I was first endowed. For years after I was endowed, I would hear people talk about the deep meaning in the temple ceremony and I just kept thinking, “I’m missing something. Why am I not understanding the deeper meaning?” It wasn’t until a decade later, that I finally decided that I’m not missing anything, that a closeness to God and an understanding of God’s mysteries does not exist in the temple, but as you mentioned here, in the peaceful moments when I am ready in body, heart, and mind to hear and feel.

  9. Joanne says:

    Michelle, to add to your comments on Bach: I have spent three lengthy trips in Leipzig, and it was a peak experience to worship and hear music in the very church where he so famously made music. He dedicated every musical composition to God. He wrote “I.N.J” for “in the name of Jesus” or “Glory to God” on the title pages. I once heard Bach’s St. Matthew Passion performed in a beautiful Catholic church in Santa Fe, N.M. At the end, through my own tears, I watched several elderly men who had tears streaming down their faces. Bach’s music is perfection. In fact, I know that perfection is both a current reality and future possibility, because when I hear or play Bach, I know I am experiencing perfection. And all of nature – hummingbirds – are the perfection of God’s creativity. I have a very hard time with women’s demeaned status in the endowment and I believe someday we will experience equality in the temple – but it is the creation images and story that inspire me in my own creative and artistic pursuits.

  10. Moss says:

    Thanks for this, Amy. I have also discovered I need to take responsibility to find and name the sacred in the world around me.

    Creation gets it right because creation is not filtered through imperfect mortals- we get the message God intended us to get with no intermediaries!

  11. Kiskilili says:

    Beautiful post.

    In my case, even Bach couldn’t keep me religious. I resigned my membership over the temple; it really shredded the relationship I thought I had with God.

    For a long time afterward I visited high Christian churches to hear the St. John Passion at Easter, or to hear organ recitals. I remember sitting in a medieval church in southern Germany, listening to one such recital, and staring at the crucifix on the wall. I still identified strongly as a Christian and desperately wanted to find a way to hold onto the message and community of Christianity, but it looked so alien: all I could see was the glorification of torture. Eventually I just had to admit to myself that I adore Bach, but I really don’t care for Jesus. (I’m aware of the irony.)

    I hope that’s not inappropriate! I appreciate that other people have had different experiences.

  12. winifred says:

    How beautiful to cause others to lose faith and hope in the temple.
    Just beautiful

  13. Amy says:

    Winifred, would it be better that we let people suffer in silence? Letting the temple create hopelessness and confusion, the black and white thinking driving people to atheism because we are too afraid to allow people to share their very real experiences? I fully believe that for some, the Temple is a place of peace. For others, it has forever hurt their faith in God. I don’t believe it has to be that way . If we allow people to speak without fear or shame, make space for God to touch their lives even if the Temple doesn’t speak to them.

    • winifred says:

      sometimes it’s possible to take things too far. We are all responsible for what we put out there anonymous or otherwise

      • Amy says:

        I feel that I was very clear that this was my personal experience and shared it in order to help those who already struggle with coming to terms with faith after the Temple. Most readers of the Exponent are aware that this is a safe place to share personal struggles and feelings while also maintaining their faith and identity as Mormon women.

    • winifred says:

      Wasnt Korihor admonished for getting in the way of peoples happiness? I imagine he was out there too criticizing the church

      • Amy says:

        I’m failing to see where I criticized the church.

        Honestly, I’m very concerned in this belief that in order for someone to maintain faith in something we must lie and put on happy faces. God is not the author of such sentiments.

      • Amelia says:

        Winnifred, in spite of Amy’s charitable willingness to engage with you, your comments violate our comment policy which specifically asks participants to refrain from condemning others or questioning their righteousness. Every comment you have made on this post is of that nature. Consider this warning that further comments in a similar vein will be moderated and, if this pattern continues, we may consider banning you altogether.

        If you would like to participate with a substantive response that engages civilly with the issues raised, feel free. But simple condemnation and calls to repentance are against our comment policy.

  14. mylifeintune says:

    I try not to respond to trolling, but I found the use of the word “cause” (“How beautiful to cause others to lose faith and hope in the temple”) interesting. I didn’t see any comments that said, “Well, I DID have a strong testimony of the temple, but NOW I’ve lost all my hope and faith because of reading this post.” I second what Amy said, and I think it shows a scary rigidity of thinking when church members refuse to allow for the validity of the varied experiences of their brothers and sisters. When we use shame to silence others, we are not being Christlike or compassionate. God is so much bigger than the boxes we try to place Him (Them! Her!) in.

    • winifred says:

      Troll or not do you really want everyone to agree and say they loved this post and how it really resonated with them? I tend to learn more from people I disagree with than those who I agree with

      • mylifeintune says:

        If that is true, you have a funny way of showing it.

        I never said I wanted you or anyone to lie and pretend to be in agreement with Amy’s views, yet you seem to be asking that very thing of her.

        I will not engage with you further, but I echo Amelia’s request for civil and pertinent dialogue.

  15. Melody says:

    This is beautiful, Amy, thank you for sharing your experience. I find God in all sorts of places too. Most frequently in the temple of the natural world. I also find God in the structure of the LDS temple.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I have made peace with the endowment partly through my belief that the words themselves are not intended to define the covenants for individuals. I believe the wording has changed and will change over time to reflect what I experience internally as an equal and equally supportive role of women and men in their covenant relationship to each other and with God.

    The way I see it, the words are man-made, the script is man-written. The covenant is made in my heart and the words of my personal covenant vary slightly from the temple script. I believe God honors and sustains my covenants as I understand them.

    Thanks again for this beautiful and inspiring post.

  16. Caroline says:

    Fantastic post, Amy.
    My experience at the temple was disastrous. Never in my life had I felt such devastation and despair. I hand it to you that you kept going and kept trying to understand. I could never bring myself to go back. Now sometimes I wonder if I could, because I don’t think the ceremony has the power to hurt me the way it did when it was younger. Embracing a cafeteria-Mormon path has certainly been helpful when it comes to teachings about gender subordination in the church. It’s so much easier for me now to reject that which degrades and embrace that which is empowering.

  1. March 3, 2015

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