Todays Guest Post is from Dave – OZ.
The Temple represents the pinnacle of our worship in the LDS Church. Amazing spiritual manifestations are recorded at the dedication of the Temple in Kirtland, and at others. The Temple is the place where covenants are made and families are sealed. Many people report peace and heightened spirituality when attending. However some have very different feelings. Indeed, many have written about their experiences at Feminist Mormon Housewives’ series, “When the Temple Hurts”. Guy Templeton also posted back in 2014 about some aspects of Temple preparation.
I was recently released as the Temple Preparation teacher. I taught the course every six months for about 4 years. The current approved curriculum is Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual. It is comprised of 7 lessons that cover important topics such as the Plan of Salvation, symbols, covenants & ordinances, ongoing blessings of temple attendance, etc.
Generally they are good topics for lessons preparing a person to go to the temple. In fact they are lessons that, in my opinion, provide a sustainable temple experience. I believe most members would benefit from attending this course.
However, over my time teaching this course I have been troubled by the fact that three couples in our ward stopped attending church and removed themselves from activity soon after attending the temple the first time. Having known these couples, I believe the temple experience itself was not the reason/s they removed themselves from church activity, however it was a significant contributing factor in all these cases.
I have summarised the general feedback from these couples and others who attended the course below.
- Everyone who talks about attending the temple speaks about it as if you will have a transcendent spiritual experience. Watching a video and then playing dress ups for an hour and a half was not what I had in mind.
- The temple experience was completely foreign to anything that I had expected or was lead to believe. It was just weird, I won’t be going back.
- I have so many questions but no one will talk about it or no one will give me a direct answer. I don’t understand what just happened. I prefer to just go to church.
- The temple experience is mainly instructional and ritual. You are always busy doing something. There is no time for personal reflection. Even in the celestial room there is an expectation of not staying for too long.
Reflecting on this feedback there are a number challenges that face temple attendance and worship.
- Setting the right expectations on the ritualistic nature of the temple – The temple preparation course provides an internal spiritual preparation for the temple. What it does not do is prepare the attendee for the actual physical experience. There is no material that helps attendees know the machinations of the temple. Even a general guide on what to expect in the initiatory, endowment, and sealing would be helpful – what the person is expected to do, say and wear.
- Setting expectations on the spiritual experience – spirituality is largely subjective. Everyone experiences it differently. The temple is no different. Attending the first time can be an emotional experience. Most people report to me that the fear of the unknown and fear of expectations override any transcendent or peaceful feelings that are spoken about by others. This can be confusing to first timers.
- Speaking about the temple in direct ways – There is a strong esoteric element to the temple – it is often spoken about using platitudes and in vague terms. An example of this is the article on LDS.org called Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple which is an excerpt from a small book called The Holy Temple written by Boyd K. Packer. I would suggest that only people who have actually gone to the temple will have any idea of what the article is saying. In the temple we are placed under covenant not to divulge signs, tokens and names. There is no reason we cannot talk maturely about everything else. Furthermore the temple rituals are easily available online in print also on video. If we do not control our own narrative regarding the temple then others will. A more open discourse on the temple ritual would be beneficial to new attendees as well as long term attendees.
How can we help first timers prepare for the temple?
Do we need to view the Temple as less secret/sacred and have open and free discussions about what is in there?
How might we address peoples genuine concerns about the Temple?
I have gone to the temple for decades. I agree with the comments from some of the ward members. It is just weird. I don’t get it. The deeper I think about the whole sealing, as beautiful it is at one level, to me it logically falls apart.
On top of it, I have NEVER felt ANY type of spiritual experience. And pile on top of that learning how much of the ceremony is borrowed from Free Masons and I am confused. Then I learn about men being sealed to men as an “adoption” and my head just spins.
I think maybe a good question to ask is the question one of your ward members mentioned. Will it work for a member that “just wants to go to church”? Is it so central to our theology that take it away and it falls apart?
I’m a convert to the church who comes from an awesome family of nevermo’s. My husband is a life long member and served a mission. He went through things thoroughly with me and it made it much easier to stomach getting through it, but I don’t ever want to go back. There were just too many things I didn’t like, but kind of just dealt with it because I wanted to get married.
However, there is one thing he didn’t mention that hit me harder than it probably does for most people. He did not prepare me about loud laughter. What kind of craziness is that? There is nothing closer to happiness than loud laughter shared amongst love ones. The loud laughter coming from my home growing up was a huge comfort and how we got through the hard years together. It’s how I picture the celestial kingdom. I know this seems silly, but man, it feels almost personally offensive to me. And the fact that we don’t discuss it doesn’t help.
My son just went through for the first time in December. I tried to prepare him by:
1. Stressing the idea that symbolism has great meaning because it is not confined by the literal world around it.
2. There is a lifetime of opportunity to understand and practice…don’t worry about details, focus on your feelings and spirit
3. Openly talking in a private setting ahead of time about all that goes on in the temple, the garments, clothing, and actions and names, without disclosing anything I covenanted not to disclose.
I feel many people are scared to talk about anything in the temple, which I don’t understand. Much of the temple is in our scriptures. It is on the Internet. It is not secret. Seemed natural to tell my son what was going to happen to manage his expectations, and then get back to the importance of the spiritual feelings around it all. Discussing it really helps.
He had a good experience.
I really like your point about managing expectations. I think that is key. And those classes you taught seem like decent material.
First time I went to the Temple was at the MTC. The other missionaries were aghast I wasn’t endowed prior, but living in Canada, Cardston was closed and Toronto was too far away. I had no clue what to expect and the whole time I kept telling myself ‘if my parents can do this and they aren’t too weird I can too” I know recently in my parents ward a lady was told she was going to get “meat” at the Temple and she fully expected to come away with cuts of beef, bacon, ham etc.
I was a new member back in 1983 and I Was preparing the names of a set of great-grandparents so I asked this one guy if he would stand proxy as my great-grandfather. John told me that during the sealing ceremony that he’d fallen into some kind of trance and that my great-grandparents had come to him and thanked him for doing the work. I know he stood proxy for my great-grandfather but they both think him as a couple.
Years ago the topic of the temple came up in the mother’s lounge of my ward. Several of the women (tentatively) admitted that their first temple experience was very confusing and upsetting. One woman said that her mother had taken her aside and explained the entire ceremony from start to finish so she hadn’t had any real surprises. She said it was a thing in their family – Mother to Daughter and Father to Son. The rest of us pretty universally wished that the same had happened to us.
It’s what I plan to do for my kids. Although, since I don’t attend the temple myself (by choice, not worthiness), I have a feeling the entire thing is going to be stressful.
Thanked him as a couple.
I think there is a relationship between understanding scripture and prayer and success initially going through the temple. Those who have a strong foundation in the scriptures and prayer most often have a good, or at least a reasonable experience at the temple.
I think there’s a need to talk openly about the different aspects of the temple, and that we can do so while still stressing the sacred nature of the ordinances. I’m a temple prep teacher right now and I’m fairly open by sharing various quotes I’ve compiled from General Authorities to show that we can talk about it. I’ve actually posted the lessons online at ldstempleprep.blogspot.com, but I might modify them as I go on.
Jared – But how much understanding can an 18 year old have of the scriptures and prayer? I went to 4.5 years of seminary, read the entire set of scriptures (even the entire Old Testament), had done all the seminary scripture chase (I know – chasing scripture isn’t “understanding”). But I don’t know what I could have done because even with decades of further scripture study, the temple still is still incomprehensible to me.
Yes Jared, I was a seminary grad, went to church every week, was in the EQ pres at age 18, and I thought the temple was very weird. On my mission, I memorized 180 scriptures (Celestial Missionary). I still don’t get the temple. You may remember my post from 2014: The Frustration of Symbolic Temple Language. Might as well be sign language or Russian or Swahili to me.
When I want help or guidance from the Lord and no answers comes after praying for an extended period, I fast weekly and pray at least three times a day. Help always comes.
I go to the temple weekly. The temple is not confusing or a mystery to me.
Brigham Young learned the temple ceremony from Joseph Smith. Then Brigham Young put the finishing touches on it. For me, the key to understanding the temple is to study Brigham Young’s teachings.
Care to write a guest post on Brigham and the temple? Sounds more helpful than fasting.
And what will happen when an answer does not come Jared?
I have attended the temple for 35 years in faith. No answers have come, that I can understand. Other, of course, from understanding that others struggle from posts such as these. My greatest struggle has been in understanding that I can be both a worthy member and confused. The danger throughout has been that my lack of understanding might lead me to conclude that I was undeserving and therefore unfit to pursue membership. Comments like your own are no help to me whatsoever.
handlewithcare–your reaction to my comment is a concern for me. A Happy Hubby and Mormon Heretic were forthright, as you were, with your experience. So was I.
What should I do? Should I hide my candle under a bushel? I want to be authentic without coming across as anything else but an average member of the church.
When I was young I was far away from God. I was facing a crisis and decided to see if there was a God to help me. That is when He showed up and answered my prayer in a big way. Because He did that, I promised I would bear witness of the many tender mercies He has extended to me in the last 50 years. I am nothing, I proved that by the way I lived as a young man. He befriended me, I will never forget what He did and does for me. I love Him and hope I can endure to the end faithfully.
MH-thanks for the invitation. However, writing about my thoughts on the temple would be problematic.
The Lord has invited us to declare repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ with the promise we can have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Jared, I respect that it works for you and I would encourage you to follow where you feel God is taking you. The reason I replied was that your first comment seemed to imply that if someone didn’t get a spiritual experience in the temple that it must be that they have not read the scriptures. It was the insinuation that prompted me to reply – partially because it felt invalidating to my experience (making the fault mine) and I worry about others that are like me, but in emotionally lower states, feeling even worse about themselves. I am not accusing you of this, but it seems to me at some point the “encouragement” can turn into a bit more “condemnation.”
A new convert in my ward has stopped coming out much since she went to the temple at her one year mark. She was pretty open about having a difficult experience at the temple and everyone’s platitudes of “Oh, she just doesn’t understand it” are very unhelpful. I feel like I understand it pretty well and I still find it very difficult.
“Oh, she just didn’t understand it” or “You have to understand symbolism” or any host of other statements members make to explain away some people not enjoying the temple are really just to comfort themselves. These things sound a whole lot like descriptions of how beautiful and intricate the cloth is on the Emperor’s new clothes. If you don’t like it, that means the problem is always you. You must not be spiritual enough, committed enough, prepared enough, mature enough, selfless enough, humble enough, at least not as much as the person speaking is. I appreciated reading in Prince’s David O. McKay that he also found it off-putting. It was a breath of fresh air that a top leader, particularly one so revered, was also disconcerted and disappointed by the experience.
This was a great post — I’m sorry I’ve only just read it. My first experience with the temple wasn’t particularly good either — it just seemed so strange. Strange enough that it was stressful, feeling the weight of so many expectations and yet not knowing or understanding what I was doing. I went in preparation for my mission, and the best thing for me was the opportunity to go each week I was in the MTC (which was 8 weeks, since I was to speak a foreign language). Those eight visits were very spiritual, and one experience was particularly remarkable. I was also married in the temple, which was also very spiritual.
Funny thing is that now it rarely seems particularly spiritual (with occasional notable exceptions). Most often it’s just a little boring, but parts of it seem… dated. I mean, I understand that much of it is symbolic, but some of that symbolism comes from a different era and way of thinking (eg. the freemasons) and just doesn’t resonate. Some of it does, just not all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the temple ceremony got a serious overhaul in the next decade or two, and it will be interesting to me to see which parts of it continue to have value (or symbolize the eternal in a way that makes sense today).
The temple threw me for a real loop the first time I went, but in time (going a bunch in the MTC and then going as an RM, getting married, and going with my wife many times), I got used to it. I was always bothered with the sense of needing to hurry out of the Celestial Room.
In retrospect, I don’t miss the temple at all. It’s completely unbiblical, and also boring. And it turns out that incredibly serene spiritual feeling in the temple is just the product of you and everyone else being super reverent about it. Any place that you treat like that will feel like that.
While you are generally humble in most of your comments, this is one area where you’ve got a real blind spot. No, I’m not asking you to hide your candle under a bushel, but as long as you’ve been commenting here, I think you should realize that your recipe of “I fast weekly and pray at least three times a day. Help always comes” doesn’t work for some people. I just don’t have the same experience in reading scripture that you do, I’ve fasted almost daily for a few weeks on my mission, and help hasn’t come as it has for you. I wish you could understand that the Spirit manifests itself in other ways, and doesn’t always come. Even Jesus said, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Even Jesus didn’t get help in his most painful hours. This is how many of us feel a lot more than you. Help doesn’t always come.
If I may use a sports analogy. You may be the Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson of spiritual experiences, but often superstars aren’t very good coaches. Magic flamed out after coaching just 16 games. He was a great player, but had no idea how to coach others. Michael Jordan was a great player, winning 6 championships, but as a director of player-personnel his teams have been to the playoffs just once. The better coaches are the ones who struggled as players. Tommy Lasorda played just 26 games in 3 seasons, yet was an exceptional coach. You seem to be more of a Magic Johnson than a Tommy Lasorda. You have great spiritual experiences, but can’t seem to coach others to have them. I just wish you’d be a little more humble and recognize that fact, and be a little more patient with those of us who tried your formula and it didn’t work. Perhaps if you had a little more Tommy Lasorda, your formulas for spiritual answers would be a little better and provide better results.