July 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: Come to the Temple and Claim Your Blessings
Have you ever been to the temple and had a negative experience? I have. Have you ever attended a temple session with someone who was taking out their endowments for the first time and was so upset by it that they left church activity? I have. Do you know anyone who doesn’t have the time, money or just plain doesn’t like the temple? I do. So, rather than offering a recitation of promised temple blessings, I am going to start this month’s temple-themed visiting teaching message by reminiscing:
A very dear friend was talking out her endowments for the first time, and I was one of a very select few she invited to attend (read as: only family, her fiancé and me). The session went simply and silently; I was one of the last to enter the celestial room after. In the pale, clean and crystal-laden celestial room it was immediately clear that she was angry. Very angry. Her family had physically distanced themselves and she stood on her own. Her grandmother told me that as a temple worker, she had “seen that look” before, and was very concerned. She was waiting for my friend to bolt. Some family members tried to speak to her, but she shooed them away. After some time, her heroic fiancé told her that he would always love her, and she could have out- out of the wedding, out of the temple, just out—and he would support her. I had nothing monumental to offer, so…
I made a silly comment about hats.
After we both became so loud with laughter that she was telling me to be quiet, she whispered her issue: “I wanted to understand it, but I don’t.” She thought that she was supposed to understand everything there all at once. And a lot of it didn’t make sense. Why the layers? Why these ordinances? Why the ritual? Why the symbolism? Why… !?!
Well, lets talk about hats for a moment, just for fun! Historically, hats were worn to display social status as well as for practical purposes (see here). An easy example of this is in the modern graduation mortarboard (aka “Oxford cap”). History suggests that the mortarboard design is derived from the hats worn by early Catholic Clergy, showing the academically pious (social/class) status of the wearer. The academic application also includes the tassel or bow hanging from the side of the mortarboard. This is moved from the right to the left sides, symbolizing the transition from candidate to graduate. The change of sides is a symbol that represents both progression and authority.
Hats are often still status-based (Princess Beatrice, anyone?). But historically, academic head gear for women was much different to men. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the majority of women’s colleges were seminaries focused on nursing and liberal arts. Thus, graduation caps for women were more similar to the white habit worn by Florence Nightingale and her nursing apprentices. An earlier example of this can be seen in the image of Mary Lyon, who founded the all-female Mount Holyoke College in 1837, just a year following the dedication of the Kirkland Temple as a “house of learning”. (Mount Holyoke was a women’s seminary and the first of the U.S. “Seven Sisters” [Female Ivy League] colleges). Isn’t the bow tied on the left of Mary’s bonnet especially pretty?
The inclusion of women at universities in the latter half of the twentieth century gave way to the acceptance of the mortarboard cap, robes, and honour society sashes in unisex university ordinances (a.k.a. university internal legislation) and academic regalia. Whilst not common in the US, the academic regalia in some countries includes decorative sash, often in the colour symbolising a specific field of study. White, for example, often represents music, arts, humanities and theology. Further, many universities have doctoral graduates’ heads topped with a Tudor Bonnet (or similar, a Balmoral Bonnet) instead of the motarboard. The bonnet retained the tassel and its associated honours, again moved from right to left in graduation to signify the achievement of a higher philosophical degree.
Once you have obtained a university degree- are you done learning? Of course not. Just as the temple is not the final step in religious progression. You also do not need to understand everything. Think of the temple ceremony as obtaining a university degree. In order to succeed in a field of study, your research and development must be ongoing… the classic phrase “publish or perish” describes the need of the post-graduate to be academically active. Any doctor, lawyer, teacher or otherwise will tell you that they need to keep up with the latest developments in their industries as to maintain and increase in their professions. The same is of the temple. If we accept the temple as a final place in our personal progression therefore neglect to further our study, then we will spiritually perish. We are taught that the temple is a place of learning (D&C 109:7-8). Further philosophical application and development of the basic principles that lead us to the temple will arm us with glory, power and abiding angles (D&C 109:22-23), but only when we continue to study.
Wait? Was there a message this month? Oh, yes!
Sisters, we are most blessed. The Savior stands at the head of this Church. We are led by living prophets. We have the holy scriptures. And we have many holy temples throughout the world where we can obtain the ordinances necessary to help us return to our Heavenly Father.
We go first to the temple for ourselves. “The primary purpose of the temple,” explained Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “is to provide the ordinances necessary for our exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Temple ordinances guide us to our Savior and give us the blessings that come to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Temples are the greatest university of learning known to man, giving us knowledge and wisdom about the Creation of the world. Endowment instructions give guidance as to how we should conduct our lives here in mortality. … The ordinance consists of a series of instructions on how we should live and covenants we make to live righteously by following our Savior.”
In constructing this visiting teaching analysis, I obviously like positioning temples as universities. Consider this: universities have general education requirements that many argue are not of value, and fluctuate between different in fields of study. For us, we each have challenges associated with our lives that may prevent us from attending the temple. But like the elusive university degree, if we want the degree- and we want to attend the temple, we have to abide by the bylaws of the institution. History tell us that bylaws and ordinances change over time, so like us, the university itself is expanding and changing as intelligence is furthered. The temple is the same. The ordinances today are different to the ordinances a century ago. In time, university general education requirements are adapted and changed. The temple will adapt and change as well. This reaffirms the idea that we need to open to new learning and the application of new revelation. The temple will always be the house of God, but temple ideology will progress and adapt as revelation continues.
For those who are uncomfortable with the temple, or are not endowed, you can still seek spiritual enlightenment in personal prayer and study. President Uchtdorf reminded us that “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment.” (see here) Whatever the position of the sisters you teach is regarding the temple (recommend holder, apathetic, unendowed, inactive), I recommend focusing on the study and increase of personal spirituality. In focusing on a personal relationship with God, we receive enlightenment regardless of our endowed/unendowed active/inactive status in the church. This does not mean that the unendowed have limited influence within the church. Consider Emily Lewis. She offered the invocation for the March 2011 General Young Women Meeting. With the First Presidency, General Relief Society, General Primary and General Young Women Presidencies all present behind her (not to mention all of the university degrees and decades of education the members of these presidencies have), this Mia Maid was chosen to invite the spirit to commence the spiritual edification for all Young Women. As Jonathan Stephenson said, “The bridge between our world and the presence of God is personal communication [prayer] with Heavenly Father”. Her prayer was introductory to everything else and bridged the gap for revelation. Even in the presence of prophets, we are called to pray for inspiration for ourselves and those who are in positions of influence around us. Prayer is infinitely powerful, and it is within the reach of each of us.
But our temple service does not end there. President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Acting as proxy for someone who has gone beyond the veil, you will have reviewed before you the covenants that you have made. You will have reinforced in your mind the great spiritual blessings that are associated with the house of the Lord. … In the covenants and ordinances center the blessings that you may claim in the holy temple.”
Ah, yes! Proxy work! It seems to me that we are taught proxy work by and large as being for the benefit of those who were not able to receive baptismal and temple ordinances in this life. I agree with this. But I also recognise that we do proxy temple work for ourselves. Well, at least I do. I believe that the sisters for whom I have done proxy work somehow empower me. I feel empowered by the generations who have gone before me, as a part of their lineage, strengthened in an eternal bond. In many ways, I feel closer to them than I do to living family. I have always felt this way, I can’t explain it, but I do proxy work for me, and not out of “they didn’t have the opportunity” guilt.
An article written by Lemuel Pitts in the May 1945 The Clearing House journal titled “We Graduate in January Also” , expresses somewhat of the way I feel, but in light of high school graduation ceremonies, before and during the Second World War:
“The boys and girls who had begun to look upon high school merely as a credit factory or who looked upon completion of high school as fruitless and futile lost interest in any sort of commencement program. They forgot that the diploma and formal graduation were not merely for the graduate, but also for the parents who had battled and struggled for twelve years to see the consummation of their ambitions for their children. The parents felt the loss of the program more than the youth who had overlooked the importance of present affairs in the excitement and anxiety of entry in the armed services.”
“There was one man who had left school in 1925 to follow a career without finishing his senior year. In the past four years (1940-1944) the United States Government had changed his career. He had worked at Boeing Aircraft and had done a year or so in the Navy. There was enough to count for a course in aircraft mechanics and military training and experience. His wife represented him to receive his much desired diploma. She was a graduate, and was pleased that he had finished.”
I love those last two lines. I have recently begun to do some temple work for deceased ancestors, but again, I feel like that is also for me—it is my way of thanking my suffragist ancestors for working so hard so I have the life that I do now; it is my small way of sharing the spoils of their hard work with them because I live in a country where I can worship the way I wish, among many other freedoms.
Come to the temple and then come again. Making and keeping temple covenants will keep us on course to the greatest of all blessings—eternal life.
The ending admonition from the message is no surprise. So- if you and your sisters are in a place where you can attend the temple for a session, then do so! If you are not, then you might go to the temple grounds, walk through the inevitable gardens there and share an herbal tea. If you are a league away from a temple (physically or spiritually), then pray! Just invite the spirit to teach you on how to draw closer to God.
All of the learning and symbolism of the temple is focused on obtaining eternal life. The first step in accomplishing this is in establishing a relationship with God; when we focus on prayer as our personal matriculation to eternal life, we can celebrate the symbol and symbolism of the temple in a personal way, even when we don’t, won’t or can’t attend the temple.
Random Question: I have never seen or attended a temple prep class taught by a woman. I think this is inappropriate. I think women should and would teach temple preparation excellently!- Or at least better than the newly returned missionary guy that I had who had no clue about anything having to do with women and the church. So… have you ever seen or known of a temple prep class taught by a woman? Do you think temple prep should be taught be women?