Book Review Series: Understanding Your Endowment
This book is written by Cory Jensen and published by Cedar Fort, Inc. All of the author’s proceeds from this book are being donated to Mentors International and other global charitable organizations.
I confess that as I read the title of this book, I became uncomfortable. The temple is without argument, a sacred place. But it can also be a place of hurt, a place that is so symbolic that it is problematic, and a place that becomes so routine we become bored. I know more women who do not enjoy the temple than those who do enjoy it, so wanted to try to keep them in mind as I read and reviewed the text. And having just read and reviewed First Principles And Ordinances, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to read or review another temple book.
But, oh! I am so glad that I did. I really loved this book. The ideas and thoughts presented by the author are clearly motivated by love, and I thoroughly appreciated the lense in which he discussed the temple, especially the initiatory and the endowment. Cutting to the chase, this is one of my favourite treasures:
Recognise the temple endowment as your own personal Liahona. Consider anew a well-known scripture: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwell within you? (I Corinthians 3:16, emphasis added).” You’ve likely heard this scripture repeated often. Pause and think about it carefully. What if Paul wasn’t just employing an analogy? Perhaps he meant exactly as he said: You are the temple of God. What if your real endowment is your life? (64)
Thinking of one’s life as the actual endowment unto God is empowering; it means exactly what we are taught within the gospel of Jesus Christ- that we have agency, and may use faith and intelligence in coming unto Christ. This theme is central to Jensen’s view of the temple and it makes for a great way in which to apply every aspect of the temple in personal symbolism as we strive to live the life that Christ would have of us. This theory personalized the endowment without the weight of stylized, rote obligation, making it much friendly for women, and for everyone who has the blessing of being endowed.
Now, from the perspective of this woman, I will attempt to reverently address some of the issues that are often highlighted by women who are not at ease with the temple, through Jensen’s lense. First of all, years ago I personally gave myself liberty from being harnessed to an antiquated view of womanhood by reinterpreting the temple ceremony as wholly symbolic. Indeed, for me, I found solace this equation:
Woman = Eve = Bride = Church ~and~ Man = Adam = Bridegroom = Christ
I believe that any use of woman or women is intended to symbolise the church, whilst any use of the male is intended to represent the bridegroom or Christ. These representations are not meant to be literal or applied in a literal sense, i.e. because Christ leads the church does not mean that the male leads the female. My perspective was likely inspired from the number of temple sessions attended wherein the limited number of males and the excess number of females meant that women took the physical place of men in some parts of the endowment. In many ways, Jensen agrees with this; better yet, he wrote:
Take what feels right and helpful to you and discard anything that does not. Your understanding of a particular symbol may be different from mine, and both may be correct. (38)
This theme is repeated in the text enough to make me feel like Jensen means it. Even more specific to women, Jensen states that both men and women are equally called to become “king[s] and priest[s] and queesn[s] and priestess[es] unto God.” (52) (my emphasis added). Important to note that neither is prescribed to be beholden or to hearken unto the other, so, in application of Abraham hearkening to Sarah (Genesis 21:12), we are to hearken unto the voice of God in unity, and not in one partner over another. Jensen completes this paragraph with “Recognise what that calling [to become queens and priestesses unto God] means to you here and now in this life.”
To be true, at first I thought Jensen was probably unfamiliar with women’s initiatory, and had possibly made an error in this interpretation. But in light of the rest of the text, which clearly never defines women as subservient to men in any form, I think Jensen deliberately wrote this as something he believes. After all, Jensen is a temple worker, and he has researched his subject very well.
Now, there is a sense of patriarchy in the overall text. But I owe the bulk of that to the fact that the majority of the references used are from the scriptures (the by and large from the Bible), which are primarily recorded and told in a male voice. In most cases, I found the text to still have personal meaning for me as a woman, but there was the occasional disappointment, such as in the early discussion of the name changes for both Abraham and Sarah. Jensen wrote:
The change of name noted a change of status for Abraham. But this was also a token of the covenant and his covenant partner. Jehovah gave Abram part of His own name. The letter h from the Hebrew YHWH was added to Abram, and his name changed to AbraHam. Sarai became SaraH. The meaning of Abram, being “a high father,” was changed to Abraham, or “father of a multitude of nations.” (17)
It seems to me that a simple sentence about the etymology of the female name is missing. It would have taken very little to add a sentence about Sarai (meaning “noble princess”) and the changed meaning of Sarah (making her name into an even high rank of royalty). This is no small error; it is important for any applicable female exegesis to be included temple discussion if only because so much reference, analysis and religious historiography is focused on the male.
However, omissions such as this are less than a handful, so I disregarded them as true errors and by no means intentional or haughty slights. Equal to this is the fact that the references and notes for the text include the voices of Syvia Allred and M. Catherine Thomas; this alone sets a tone of inclusion that is generally absent in other texts written about the temple.
I think many women will appreciate Jensen’s somewhat typical analysis of the “multiply and replenish the earth” instruction and his detailed discussion of its associated symbolism. (93) However, as an adoptive mother, much of this did nothing for me. Though the interpretation was emblematic, the allegory was yet grounded in male and female reproduction….being utterly barren, this was not my thing. What would have made for better inclusion for adoptive parents and those without children is a paragraph or two considering the place of adoption within the structure of the endowment, and the possibility of multiply and replenish also meaning the care of flora and fauna whilst subduing noxious weeds (again, my $0.02, which Jensen says is just fine). There were inconsequential partnerings of rebirth and adoption (16-18), but not enough to satisfy my thoughts as an adoptive mother, and the sister of a beloved, yet unmarried brother.
Jensen’s reinterpretation of the veil reminded me of the symbolism in some medieval art wherein the veil is used to define a sacred space (an example is Andrea del Verrocchio’s Christ and the Doubting Thomas. The faces are much less detailed, compared to the detail depicting the robes and hair of the figures. In this, the robes and hair are stylised veils.) Jensen speaks of this idea, therefore not excluding those who are veiled (such as a bride at her wedding) as separate, unworthy or too weak to comprehend the magnitude of the ordinances and covenants:
“The purpose of a veil is to cover that which is most sacred. In other words, what is behind the veil is too sacred to be revealed to everyone.” (79)
And continues with,
“I believe some things about women and their role in eternity are simply too sacred to yet be revealed to the world, or even to the Saints, and so remain veiled. Like the scriptural records of the prophets, we reach a point in the endowment where greater things are implied but withheld and a veil is drawn until we are prepared to receive more….Like Moses, their glory is presently covered.” (79-80)
In this, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be revealed for women. Ordination? Active priesthood? Something else? I don’t know. But I like the symbolism that teaches that there is something yet to be revealed for women. It suits the revealatory ideology of the church, and of most of the women I know as well. Some of Jensen’s writing leans toward the elevation of women, which has never suited my mind in consideration of the fall that made us all mortal and equally welcome to partake of the fruits of the atonement. But the concept of the veil as being symbolic of something yet to be revealed to and for women, and not as symbol of exclusion or blinding, gave me hope and reminded me of the oft-directed instruction to listen to the quiet prompting of the spirit to know if the things I have yet to see.
I really enjoyed this book, much more than I have any other book I have read that attempted to discuss the temple. Because of this, I look forward to reading it again, and attending the temple with en eye to seek further symbolism. I recommend this book to anyone who is seeking to have a better relationship with the temple, and hope it is well enough received to warrant a second (and third and…) printing with even fuller analysis and inclusion of women.
This is a part of the Exponent BookReview Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to firstname.lastname@example.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of manybooks being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.