Temples, Trauma, and (Visiting) Teaching
Sunday morning, my visiting teachers came by for a visit. After the usual pleasantries were exchanged, one of the sisters commenced sharing August’s visiting teaching message, “Become an Instrument in the Hands of God by Preparing for and Participating in Temple Worship.” The message she presented was standard fare—we read a few of the general authority quotes, she asked me how I felt about the quotes, I gave some pleasant responses, and we gradually started winding down. What came next was completely unanticipated—my visiting teacher turned to me and said, “You know, now that we’ve had the ‘official lesson,’ I just have to say that I HATE going to the temple.” What ensued was a frank, hour and half long conversation about the difficulties she had experienced with respect to the temple ceremony and gender issues. She expressed feelings of anger, disillusionment, pain, and confusion. She admitted that she attended the temple out of a desire to honor her covenants and placate her husband, not because she felt any spiritual enlightenment during or after attendance.
I was fairly surprised to see the conversation turn in this direction. Previously, I don’t know if I would have pegged this particular sister as having this particular set of concerns. She’s a mom, a returned missionary, and slated to be the next RS President in our ward.
As this unexpected dialogue began to develop, I, too, admitted to some of my concerns about the temple ceremony. However, I also shared that over the years my temple experiences have improved, and that recently I’d even attended the temple and departed (relatively) emotionally unscathed.
My visiting teacher then asked if I could recommend anything to help with her concerns. While I don’t believe there is a magic bullet that will miraculously resolve this complex problem, I gave her several suggestions, and we agreed that for our September visiting teaching visit we’re going to attend a temple session together so we can speak more freely about sacred topics.
While gender issues and the temple have been discussed ad nauseam around the bloggernacle, I have no memory of a post specifically devoted to helping women resolve their issues or become more comfortable with the temple. If I could make a short list of possible suggestions, it would include:
-Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a break from the temple for a while. You’ll know when you’re ready to try it again. For several years the temple was so emotionally charged and traumatic that it made matters much worse to force myself to attend.
-Talk to your friends and family about how you feel. Intense and dark emotions must be brought to light in order for the healing process to begin. I remember how afraid I was to tell my husband my true feelings about the temple, but when I finally did, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He still loved me, he didn’t condemn me, and he genuinely wanted to help me resolve my concerns. The same thing happened when I told my parents and several of my close friends. While none of these individuals actually share my concerns about the temple, each has been incredibly supportive as I have struggled down this messy and confusing path.
-When your husband, roommate, family, or ward goes to the temple, and you just can’t bring yourself to join them, try using that time to study about the temple instead. While the fluffy Ensign stuff really didn’t do anything for me, academic treatments, such as Hugh Nibley’s TEMPLE AND COSMOS, and Carol Cornwall Madsen’s Mormon Women and the Temple: Toward a New Understanding (in SISTERS IN SPIRIT, eds. Beecher & Anderson), provided a contextual framework regarding the evolution of the ancient temple ceremony, temple symbolism, and modern-day temple practices and ceremony modifications. After reading these pieces I actually felt some measure of, dare I say, excitement, about returning to the temple to gain additional personal knowledge of these sacred ceremonies.
-If the endowment ceremony is a flashpoint for you, try doing baptisms for the dead or initiatories. That way you are participating in temple work and helping to fulfill the three-fold mission of the church, without quite so much of the problematic language. After nearly a year of self-imposed temple estrangement, I eased back in to temple attendance with a 30 minute initiatory session. The words, the feelings, the sweet elderly women administering the ordinances, everything—it was a beautiful, peaceful, calming experience.
What advice would you give to a woman who expressed concerns about gender and the temple ceremony? What has worked for you? What has helped other women you know?