Book Review–House of Light: Your Guide to the Temple
When it comes to first time temple experiences, I consider myself lucky. As a college junior I was taking several classes in folklore and mythology and was waist high in initiation rites: symbols, punishments, new names, ceremonial clothing. Mormonism seemed sadly devoid of ritual, sacrament aside. Taking out my endowment then felt both wondrous and totally bizarre. I loved the initiatory–the power of seeing women laying hands on other women still feeds my soul. Parts of the endowment were troubling, but I felt more like a cultural anthropologist than anything else.
Three months later, in early 1990, the ceremony was radically changed. This taught me that the specifics of the ceremony were not fixed, so if parts of it feel wrong, I shrug and wait. But I know my experience is not the norm. And over the years I’ve looked at the about-to-be-initiated with a chunk of anxiety, wondering what they are expecting and how they will process this whole “other” Mormonism.
So you might imagine my delight when I heard that Rosemary Card had written a temple guide that is refreshingly candid and aware. Five years ago Rosie started the company Q.NOOR that sells temple dresses (and a lot more) because she “wanted to help young women entering the temple for the first time remove at least one thing from their list of things to worry about.” The satisfying result is House of Light: Your Guide to the Temple, a digital download. And after speaking to hundreds of temple patrons about their experiences, her goal with this book “is to help everyone, whether it’s their first visit or fiftieth, feel more at home in the House of the Lord.”
I love how she sets up the book into two sections: an overview of what to expect from start to finish when going through the temple; and then a deep dive on the meaning of the various rites and covenants involved. And she does all of this in a way that shows we can be respectful without being silent, and mystery is not a prerequisite for spirituality.
Card’s upfront approach is to lay as much out there as possible. As Mormons, we get really confused about what is sacred and what is secret. Because of this most, first time temple goers have no clue what to expect. And in my experience, being unprepared usually leads to disappointment and frustration. Card explains step by step what happens, from walking in the temple doors to getting changed after a session. She even has little pictures of how the initiatory area is laid out, explaining where one will enter and exit. My favorite “heads up” that she gives is to reassure patrons that they don’t have to memorize anything. Even if they are asked about something specific, there is always back up. What a gift that is! Even though I enjoyed my first time through, I did spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what I needed to memorize. Her reassuring words will allow people to be present as opposed to cramming for some endowment final exam that never comes.
The bulk of the book is the “study” portion that explores the meaning behind the experiences. Each section is peppered with thoughtful questions meant to get you thinking deeply about each aspect; lots of quotes and links to articles for further study; pertinent scriptures; and insightful commentary. I was pleased to see many women used as sources. In a church where authority is usually equated with men, I appreciate the research Card must have done to make sure to have a balance of voices, going from Boyd Packer to Brene’ Brown without breaking a sweat.
In addition to providing many resources, Card herself offers insights and ways to expand our thinking. For example, she points out that in the ceremonies God is referred to as “Elohim,” which is considered plural, thus making room “for both our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother.” When discussing Creation, Card shows that as stewards of the land, we have a deep obligation to protect and conserve the earth. And she rightly frames Eve as a hero: “As we come to better understand the Fall, we can come to better understand our need for our Savior. Eve got us here and our Savior will get us home.”
And when discussing the Atonement, Card makes sure the conversation does not just focus on sin, but explains it as comfort not just bleach, washing away sin stains. Her questions get beyond rote answers: “Take a moment and think about your feelings towards the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Is it something you have to shamefully take part in when you sin? Is it something you wrap yourself up in when you need comfort? Is it something that enables you to do all that you are called to do?”
Some people feel like the temple requires of us blind obedience. Card wisely reframes the conversation by addressing the dangers of simplistic thinking, that obedience leads to blessings and errors lead to punishment. “This type of transactional engagement can lead to a shallow relationship with our Heavenly Parents.” And, “The idea that we simply obey to seek rewards or avoid punishment paints us as objects being acted upon, rather than as agents given the freedom to use the gift of agency, make choices, and experience outcomes. Empowerment and freedom are the goals and rewards that come as we obey.”
For chastity she wisely enlists the experience of a therapist, Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks and this section does a great job of de-shaming sexuality. I appreciated the insight on the scripture that says we sin when we look upon another with lust (3 Nephi 12:28). Hanks offers a healthier perspective: “Another explanation of this scripture is that to ‘looketh on a woman (or man)’ as a sexual object, failing to see them as a fellow human being, is a sin. Whenever we objectify another human being, we are failing to see that they are the offspring of divine Heavenly Parents.” They follow this up with the where-on-earth-do-I-begin question: “What messages did you receive about your body and your sexuality from your parents? From your teachers and leaders.” Every section is insightful and fresh.
Near the end of the book there is a “Common Questions” section that does not pull punches. First on the list? “WHAT ABOUT FIRST-TIME TEMPLE EXPERIENCES THAT DON’T GO SO WELL?” Here she gives a link to an Instagram account that shares hard experiences and responses. Once again her theme is to prepare and validate. Having garment issues: “If you are unable to find a garment fit or fabric that works for you comfortably, you can contact the temple department to have garments customized for you.” I’m hoping this causes a deluge of calls to 1-800-GARMENTS-R-US! There is power in numbers.
The final section gives details about temple clothing, what and where to buy, and provides some helpful info that I still didn’t know, despite being a temple goer for 30+ years. In case you too wondered, dresses can be mid calf to floor, collarbone can shown, and no, you do not have to wear a slip!
I love that Card’s book boldly goes where no temple prep has gone before. When I’ve given people a temple preview, I am always very up front but that’s different–I am having private conversations where I know my audience. I can only imagine some of the criticism Card must be getting from people who still either think everything sacred must be kept secret, or who believe being ignorant entering the temple is somehow beneficial (like the sorority sisters who, because they endured hazing, think the only way to induct newbies is with the same cruel tactics). If we want people to feel peace in the temple, knowledge is the way to prepare them. And if we want them to come back, we need to validate their feelings and experiences and reframe the temple as a house of light and healing.