The Temple experience can mean different things to different people. To some people, it can be a refuge from the outside world, a few hours away from your cell phone, kids, worries of work, etc. For others it can provide comfort and strength for trials they are going through. But what if you no longer believe? Or you are a nuanced believer. Or maybe you believe, but learned that most of the endowment ritual was taken straight from the Masons, and does not date back to Solomon’s Temple but from the middle ages with no heavenly origin?
Is there any way to still find value in going to the temple after a crises of faith? This week we received a guest post/question from one of our readers named “Handlewithcare”, and she reached out to you readers to ask how you handle the Temple.
Below are her questions:
It has been many years since I attended the temple due to family illness and caring responsibilities, but also life has broken me a little in that time and I have little use for easy answers. And it pretty much feels like the heavens are closed to me when I have been saying the same prayer for my children’s lives to improve for 25years. I do kind of get that, I only have to look around to see that this is all part of life and there is no particular reason I would have God’s ear, but it’s still pretty desperate day by day.
I’m trying to weigh up whether to go again if I can before my husband’s upcoming surgery, I value the covenants I have made even if I don’t get the rest of it, so it’s on that basis that I am grappling with this.
So, my question kind readers is what comfort and strength do you gain from the temple? I do value an eternal perspective on our mortal experience, but am very confused as to what is literal and what figurative, it has generally left me in a huge muddle rather than at peace. It feels like random stuff plucked from history pointing my attention to our eternal kinship and therefore responsibility to one another, and I do love that. I just struggle with that random stuff.
How do those who find it a richly rewarding experience set their minds?
These are honestly asked questions in s spirit of constructive enquiry, I’m hoping the process will be beneficial to both myself and others. I’d love your help, you will know how difficult it is to have these conversations with people. Thankyou brothers and sisters for engaging with honest and open enquiry here, I love this safe space and would not have survived thus far without you.
She is not looking for reasons you don’t go to the temple, but is looking for help from those of you that still attend, wanting to know how you make it work for you. For those that still attend, she wants to understand more about what you learn from the experience of the Temple. Please help her out in the comments how the temple works for you.
I’m passionate about family history work, so for me, that is where I find the most meaning in the temple. And there are certain parts of the experience where I feel closely connected to that person and to God (and it’s not usually during the endowment ceremony). So if you can find what is meaningful for you–initiatory, the veil, or whatever it is–go for that, and enjoy that peace.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but the Masonic rituals have more in common with a jar of peanut butter than with any COJCOLDS temple ritual. But thanks for playing.
One does not have to believe “the whole ball of wax” of Mormonism to make the temple a positive experience. I am a believing Mormon with some doubts, and I have found the temple to be helpful.
I still attend, but less frequently than in the past. That is because with the Church opening up again, post-acute phase of the Pandemic, I have been involved in a lot of original genealogical research for my family, that can be done only in the Family History Library.
I do have some suggestions, based on my own experience:
1. Be careful with whom you raise any questions about what goes on in the temple. Some people are down-to-earth and approachable. Others are rigid and get agitated when questions are raised. This includes the church leaders who ask us the recommend questions. Some are okay and some are not. I recommend not trying to ask any of the temple workers you encounter about the meaning of the endowment. They will only refer you to a member of the temple presidency, and my experience is that when people ask them any questions, they get uneasy.
2. Be aware that the endowment and initiatory ceremonies have changed over the decades—for the better, in my opinion. There is an ongoing effort to improve the Temple experience for members, and I am sure that will continue. So if you come across something in the endowment ceremony that causes you heartburn, be aware that it probably bothers other people, too, and that church leaders are aware. Despite claims to the contrary, there is trickle-up revelation, and that is why positive changes have been made to the wording of the ceremony.
3. I think the temple is a holy place, but its benefits are cumulative. The temple’s most valuable gift is quiet, and I use that quiet to formulate questions—and sometimes I even get answers. I have never had experiences of seeing great-uncle Samuel standing in the celestial room, but that is not how God talks to me. I get a quiet and steady assurance of what I need to do. I do not understand everything about the temple and do not worry about it.
4. Lastly, I choose to have hope about the temple. What is taught in the temple is symbolic; it is about how we prepare to return to our Father in Heaven—something we often forget. And I have faith that a church that belatedly allowed Black members to go to the temple will one day allow gay couples the blessings of temple marriage, and will one day allow women to choose to be ordained, if that is their desire.
My two cents.
I’ve mentioned something similar in other posts, but the temple is spiritual recharge of sorts for me. It reminds me of a similar feeling I’d get from monthly Zone Conferences, in which I’d leave ready to take on the world. For me, the temple does the same thing, but on a quieter and broader level. Despite not fully understanding everything going on or why we do it, deep down I’ve always had a feeling that being there pleases my Heavenly Father and Savior, regardless of any peer pressure from members or Church leaders to attend. I get that it’s not that way for everyone, and I’ll admit difficulty in giving a satisfactory response. As long as I have that feeling, I’d imagine I could just as well spend my time in the temple hopping backwards while singing hymns and it would still be worth going. It makes my efforts to be better easier and expedited, and I’ll embrace anything that does that, no matter how strange.
I have asked questions of sealers from time to time following sealing sessions. Never once have I felt that any were unwilling to answer, and many actually welcomed the questions with enthusiasm or asked for questions to begin with. I realize my experience likely isn’t normal, so I count myself lucky.
Another part I’ve learned to embrace is that it’s okay to let the mind wander. I try to pay attention where it counts, but getting thoughts, feelings, and promptings over the years that seemingly have nothing to do with the temple has been worth it alone. It kind of becomes less about helping the dead and more about just improving everything and everyone, including myself, so that cycle can just improve and enlarge. After going enough, the missions of the Church just kind of blend into one big “Help My Children” focal point, which I like. Because of that, I’ve become more and more convinced that although we do work for the dead, the Temples are truly for the living.
I’m not really interested in family history or “work for the dead” since God will have to step in at some point. I go to: :
1.Remind myself of commitments made in my own endowment; – repetition renews, enriches and enlarges knowledge we already have.
2. Make a stronger connection between generations through the veil; I think about my parents.
3. Satisfy the requirement to serve — charity, pure love – doing something for someone I’ll never meet because God asked me to whether i get the full picture now or not.
4. To separate from the world; meditate; send positive energy out to the world (prayer circles)
5. To prepare for the process of education in “sacred school” once all the vicarious work is done.
6. Get an element of ritual not present in other meetings or settings.
Good morning !
I remember as a youth there being 16 temples, then 19, then more and more. As with the articles of faith, we were to memorize where each one was. As the church expanded, this assisted my knowledge of geography. When the church hit 150 I could still name every site. Now that they are at 282, I know every site, but I could not rattle them all off.
Growing up we were told how special and spiritual the temple was, however that was not my overall experience. (For those people, who love the temple good for you!). I would attend seeking for some new kernel of knowledge or spiritual insight. Occasionally, I would have some new awareness, but in reality, it had no practical benefit to help my family, my ward, my community, or myself. I found the temple ceremony to be excessively redundant. Some of my LDS shelf items come from visits to the temple. Like the time, I was visiting Atlanta and accidentally opened the wrong door and was literally yelled at by a worker. Or the time my family was in Merida and we all went to do baptisms for the dead, and were given white privilege over the locals in not having to wait for our turn. Also, that they were running a production line with all the kids (mine and local), doing the baptisms as quick as possible, not even giving them a chance to catch their breath of trying to reach a baptism quota for the day. Or having my wife ask a sincere honest question to a temple president about the movie, and having “deer in the headlights” look. Getting married and being rushed around because the next couple is waiting. Or having a whole new convert family in the ward, go inactive after attending the temple for the first time.
I never saw a deceased relative, or felt the person present to whom I was doing their work. And yes, I am worthy and yes I do everything I was told to do for decades. I never saw Jesus and if he has to visit 282+ temples, he is going to be busy. I tried to attend the temple like “the other Chad” but I found that easier to do during a walk through the woods and being in nature.
The LDS temple, in concept could be a beautiful wonderful place. Superficially, some of the buildings are architecturally aesthetic. However, now knowing the origins of the whole temple ceremony, with the ongoing changes for things we were told would never change. Understanding, the shock and harm many people have had with going to the temple. Knowing that it separates families many times, instead of united them. Experiencing, not going to my sons sealing, since I now think different about the church. I think the church needs to repurpose the whole temple experience from the preparation classes, to the actual ritual. They will as more and more people speak their truth and actual experiences and not tow the party line of what the church wants to hear.
I don’t attend any longer, but the one thing I truly loved about temple work is that it is really the only place where we take time to remember ancestors that are not famous or interesting to history. Just regular people like us. I liked to think about that person while I was in the temple – what their life was like. And feel gratitude for my connection to them. That was the spiritual part of the temple to me. Not the endowment ceremony or silly video, but being able to take that time.
sd’s comment, not to put too fine a point on it, has more in common with dust bunnies under a bed than a substantive, informative comment. But thanks for playing.
So easy such arrogant, banal, mode of communication is.
I’ve had many quiet and peaceful moments in the temple that helped me genuinely rest my spirit for a while and gave me a respite from the chaos of other things going on in my life. Consciously thinking, “nothing else matters but being here” when I entered the doors was always a feeling of relief from life pressures.
Eli, I wanted to thank you for this: “Another part I’ve learned to embrace is that it’s okay to let the mind wander. I try to pay attention where it counts, but getting thoughts, feelings, and promptings over the years that seemingly have nothing to do with the temple has been worth it alone.”
I always felt guilty when my thoughts wandered. I felt I wasn’t being reverent if I was thinking about work or a tricky relationship. You’re right though, we should be open to thoughts and guidance on any aspect of our lives, not just the meaning of the temple ceremony.
It’s now been several years since I’ve been to the temple. The experience eventually became a net negative for me and I’ve gotten many of the same benefits now from meditation and journaling.
Thanks for asking this question, Handlewithcare. It helped me remember some good experiences. Some of the negative experiences were when I went to the temple with a specific request, either for a prompting or for hoping/praying a situation would change and it never did. I would feel that either I had failed God, or God had failed me. I couldn’t become the “ideal Mormon woman” through temple attendance and sincere desire, but over the years I did have many peaceful and encouraging moments. I’ve since re-interpreted some of them, but they were meaningful at the time and they are meaningful to me now.
There are certain aspects of the temple rituals which I can support, but others which I cannot, simply because there are no explanations. We are expected to swallow the whole ceremony without any recourse to explanations or enlightenment. Eg where do I go to for interpretation and understanding of the endowment ceremony????? No one seems to know. Why??? Because so much of it is man-made. From my understanding it was Brigham Young that introduced Peter, James, and John into the creation scenes. No???
It was the very same Brigham Young who introduced the oath of vengeance against the Federal government of the USA. No????? The rituals are very similar to Free Mason rituals, with all of the early presidents of the church and Q12 apostles having been FM’S. No???
Blacks were denied the priesthood, not through revelation from God, but because of white supremacy attitudes. They were not permitted membership in FM lodges. No???
when one discovers such truths, it is no wonder that many refuse to participate any further with temple rituals. But times are changing, we are slowly but surely, discarding a lot of the humbug associated with temple rituals, which has been well overdue, but more still needs to be done.
The two biggest disconnects for me in the temple are 1) sexism. they have made some progress and I could imagine the progress could continue and eventually the remaining sexist elements could be removed. 2) the covenants don’t align with what I view as true spiritual development as they are mostly about our relationship to the institutional church or to make us more manageable by the church.
I get that people can derive spirituality in a sort of meditative, ritualistic, contemplative way from the temple. But I would rather join a meditation group or seek spirituality in simpler ways. The temple has spiritual experience in it, for sure, it has meditativeness in it. But the process of getting a recommend, putting up with the elderly people correcting the smallest thing, the overwhelming opulence of the building, the fact that its sole usage is for weird, and often creepy ritualistic gatherings, the strange clothing, the repetitive video, or cringeworthy acting (if you attend Manti or Salt Lake temples), and so many other things are massive distractions to me for finding spirituality. I will never go back to that building, other than the visitor’s room for a wedding.
Sd, the temple ritual is Masonry on steroids. So many parallels.
For all of you who took this ad your chance to bitch and moan: “She is not looking for reasons you don’t go to the temple, but is looking for help from those of you that still attend, wanting to know how you make it work for you. For those that still attend, she wants to understand more about what you learn from the experience of the Temple.’
But you just can’t help yourselves. Turds.
To answer Bill’s question, I find the beauty of the temple architecture to be inspiring. I also like the peaceful feeling I would experience walking out of the temple (contrasting that with the boredom and unease I often felt in in the endowment session). Further, I found it engaging to see the birthday and birth location of the person for whom I was serving as proxy and then imagine what their life was like. That’s about it, and it’s a lot less than I’m sure my Church leaders would hope I would say about my experience.
For me, the best part of going to the temple was not the endowment, but the period of quiet I experienced while sitting in the chapel while waiting for the sessions to begin.
Hang in there, lots of changes coming to the temple to make it a more instructive experience. Brigham’s version of the endowment–which is basically a filler because he didn’t know what to do with the unfinished temple liturgy–is where the silly Masonic stuff sneaks in to obscure the purpose of the temple. The idea that angels require handshakes for admittance into heaven is nonsense, full stop. (There is nothing except gnosticism in that goofy, unsubstantiated concept). In time, the Masonic dross will burn away; it will be replaced by the Wedding Feast motif, which synthesizes Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The ordinances of baptism, washing and anointing, sealing, and enthronement will remain unchanged. The endowment will be instructive pertaining to Creation, Covenant, and the Holy Feasts of Israel. Lucifer will not have much stagepresence in the new endowment, his contract working in the temple will not be renewed. The temple experience is contingent upon the initiate’s literacy–not textual literacy, but subtextual, symbolic, archetypal literacy.
One can imaginatively burn the Masonic dross from the temple experience and receive a greater portion.
Travis, I have to ask. What makes you think the Masonic elements are going to be withdrawn anytime soon? Is this insider information or a personal conclusion based on some combination of observation of previous changes and personal revelation?
Also, I have to push back on the idea of the temple experience being contingent upon the initiate’s subtextual, symbolic, and archetypal literacy. Strip out the Masonic elements, and what do you have left that is particularly hard to understand? The few times I have asked “people who should know” their interpretations of the endowment, I have gotten significantly different answers which suggests to me that A) symbolism is an extremely difficult way to teach something because symbolism is extremely context specific and B) there don’t appear to be any hard and fast answers with regard to endowment symbolism or else they would have leaked out into the Mormon-verse at some point like so many other things about the temple have. Symbols often don’t survive generation to generation, and what is immediately recognizable to one group living in one culture in one location at one time is often misunderstood or not even recognized as a symbol by the children or grandchildren of that group. Just as an example, long hair on a man in the 60s was a symbol of the counter culture. It quickly became passé, and I doubt there are many people in the West today who would see a man with long hair and conclude he’s neck deep in a counter culture that no longer exists.
This is a very thoughtful question. I read the OP last night but decided to think on it. Here are some of my thoughts on what I used to find rewarding when I was attending the temple:
1. Our church is hierarchal and patriarchal. But I appreciate that in the temple we all wear the same clothes, and the front row is not reserved for local and general authorities. While I don’t appreciate the gender separation, I at least appreciated this aspect.
2. My temples the last several years were Draper and Newport Beach. Both have murals in the creation room. I find these murals meaningful. I also find the creation part of the video, including the music and scenes from our planet, to be beautiful.
3. The prayer circle often feels rote, and for good reason. I’m sure it’s hard to give so many group prayers every day. But every once in a while the prayers are really beautiful.
4. In my single days, I appreciated the kindness of strangers in the temple, including whichever sister would stand in the prayer circle with me, a complete stranger, so I could be present. People truly are kind in the temple.
5. The few times I acted as a witness couple, there were moments where I really did feel like I was communing directly with the divine. While I’m now not entirely sure how I feel about some of the covenants, I still can remember this feeling.
6. While I don’t think church leaders have historically viewed the temple as a place of meditation, I always tried to achieve this during some of the quieter moments. I noticed that in recent years that our temple was allowing people who performed washings or sealings to still go into the celestial room without performing an endowment. And recently Elder Bednar told the National Press Club we go to the temple to meditate. So perhaps we are truly evolving our temple experience in a more positive way from ritual to meditation.
7. I still really love the sealing ceremony. Being a proxy with others in this ceremony really does help me view other people as part of a heavenly family, which can be a nice sentiment when it’s not being weaponized by certain church leaders.
The temple has been a net negative for me, but thank you for the opportunity to remember some of the more solemn moments I experienced there. I hope this is helpful.
The question of why I attend the Temple is a tough one to answer without delving into the details which tends to lead to things that don’t make sense. The phrase the devil is in the details comes to mind in this context. It is easy to nit pick. It takes more work to find meaning. So with all this in mind let me share a macro view that might help.
By convenience or by design the endowment is neatly divided into two parts. There is a live performance and a filmed performance. It is the contrast between the live and filmed parts where I find meaning.
In the filmed parts Adam and Eve are clearly given conflicting commandments and are told to choose the better path. And in doing so they learn that disobedience to God brings forth blessings.
While in the live parts there is no question that what is taught here is that it is obedience brings forth the blessings of God. It is this conflict that makes the endowment meaningful and it is because of how it relates to our individual lives.
Life isn’t meant to be easy, it is meant to be a test, and the best test is one that involves ambiguity. If all we do is learn the primary answers then we aren’t asking the right questions. The endowment provides us with an opportunity to grapple with ambiguity, as if we were respectively Adam or Eve, without running the risk of doing so in the real world where there are real world consequences. It is the skill of dealing with the ambiguity presented in the Temple that we can then use to deal with the ambiguity in our lives in the real world that makes the endowment so valuable.
This is a wonderful discussion. Thanks to all who respond. I did take exception to one concept though. “Life isn’t meant to be easy, it is meant to be a test,” I don’t think that “life” has meaning nor is it “meant” to be a test. Any meaning found is what we project on life, and is not inherent in the life process itself.” Life simply is.
Some folk’s lives roll easy,/Some folk’s lives hardly roll at all.”
The culture of the Church is, by its nature, extroverted. As an introvert, I get easily overwhelmed by the pressure of constantly interacting with people at Church, whether it be through callings or just general fellowshipping. The temple is where I spiritually thrive the best because it’s the one place where I can be truly introspective without worrying about my social battery being drained.
Firstly thankyou to all those who have engaged here, I hope that we hear more.
I find it fascinating that we all see this so very differently, and so wonder about the utility of the temple. On the other hand, all text is up for interpretation.
I’m sure I can, and do project whatever I need onto any experience, like walking in the same place repeatedly it all becomes a bit zen. So might as well be a Buddhist.
My husband and I have even rowed about the meaning of temple ritual before. But then again we can’t agree on how to fold a map.
Really I puzzle over what more I learn from the temple than I glean from my baptismal covenants alongside King Benjamin’s address. I’m still equally puzzled by the creation narrative, and the order of the covenants. If I have to become a biblical scholar, well that’s not going to happen. Too busy looking after people for that.
I’ve often wondered if the acted out version manages to interpret the play in different ways, That might be an interesting path should I ever become a more frequent attender, but maybe I’ve been richly blessed during my absence from the temple due to my determination to be right in my relationship with God in spite of difficult circumstances, like so may of us the world over. Baffling.
Please continue to discuss, every day’s a school day. Hopefully we can be on a journey together.
My dad was a carpenter throughout my childhood, and he taught me that more prominent motifs could be found within the intricate details of any building. I get more out of the temple experience by examining the finer details in the interior design of a temple (trimmings, stained glass, furnishings, etc…) since they can add more profound symbolism to the ordinances performed there.
For example, in Sapporo Japan, sliding doors are used instead of curtains to cover the veil to reflect Japanese culture. In Cardston Alberta, each ordinance room’s woodwork becomes progressively darker, with the celestial room walls made of African mahogany. In my temple in Raleigh, dogwood flowers (the state flower of NC) are found throughout the temple, becoming more and more vibrant as you progress to the Celestial Room. Dogwood flowers are a common motif for rebirth since various features of the flower (holes at the end of the pedals, red around the holes, etc…) are reminiscent of Christ’s crucifixion. That motif in the Raleigh Temple is a subtle reminder to me that in order to progress through this life and into the next, I have to rely on the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ daily.
I love these peculiarities because they teach Latter-day Saints from different cultures that they are the Adams and Eves of their own environments. These intimate details reflect the uniqueness of each culture and help Saints better connect with the covenants they are making for themselves and on behalf of their ancestors.
That’s why I prefer progressive endowments over stationary ones. Seeing how little details change from room to room feels like a more immersive experience than just making the lights brighter in one stationary room.
I don’t see the endowment covenants as “secret handshakes” to get to heaven. Each token and sign is symbolic of a lived aspect of the gospel. These aspects include being devoted to your spouse, taking life seriously, and using whatever talents that we have to further God’s Kingdom. So in other words, to make it past the sentinels, we must demonstrate that we lived a life with an eye single to the glory of God, with the atonement of Jesus Christ being an enabling power throughout our mortal journey.
The Endowment ceremony had many changes in the very early years, having at one time been up to 4 1/2 hours long, including the lecture at the veil. Leaders who carried on with the ceremony in the upper room of the Nauvoo storehouse during Joseph Smith’s life and in the partially-completed temple afterwards, knew it was a work in progress, stating that “we will get it right bye-and-bye”. Judging from information from Heber C. Kimball and others, it’s probably a good bet that Joseph – a Nauvoo mason who taught that the ceremony represented the “correct masonry” – was the one who included the elements that are similar to things found in the first 3 degrees of the Freemasonry ritual, as well as a few things from the Scottish Rite. I’ve always felt that some of the silliness like the preacher were Brigham’s doing, but that’s just my guess. As many of us oldies know, much of the more egregious freemason stuff was tossed out in 1990.
What soothes my soul and helps me appreciate life better:
A beautiful nature spot
Exploring an old city
Helping a student learn something new
Finishing an acclaimed novel
Star watching on a dark night
City lights on a clear night
Shoveling new snow
Providing a meal for people in need
Experiencing a solar eclipse
Teamwork at work
Fixing a flat tire on a bike ride
(awe-inspiring, modern miracle)
Donating items to establish a home for survivors of domestic violence
Just a follow-up to my above comment. I, like Southern Saint, have no problem with symbolic elements from Freemasonry showing up in the LDS endowment ceremony. One day Moses goes for a walk in the mountains and comes across a curious site sight: a burning bush. A voice instructs him to remove his sandals because the ground that he is standing on is holy. But why? This ground has been treaded on by travelers and shepherds for millennia with no special significance being associated with it. What changed? Two things: it is now sacred because God has declared it sacred and it is now sacred to Moses because Moses (and subsequent followers) accepts it as such.
Many items that have symbolic imagery can be seen differently from culture to culture, sometimes quite dramatically; as is the case with the swastika, a widely revered symbol in Eastern religions disastrously misappropriated by Nazis. Even within cultures the same symbol can mean one thing at one time (the serpent in Eden is evil Satan) to a symbol of salvation (look upon Moses’ brass serpent and be healed). But the most germane example to this discussion takes place when Jesus takes emblems from the Jewish Seder meal and appropriates them as part of the Eucharist/Sacrament ordinance, shifting it from a representation of God saving Hebrews from the Egyptians to the representation of the body and blood of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Again, the key point in the shift of a symbol for one culture and meaning to another is the role of God’ s declaration and the people acceptance.
Remember, although modern LDS’s may be shocked at the “origin” of some of the signs and tokens in the Endowment, Joseph didn’t exactly sneak up and surprise many of the ceremony participants in the 1840’s. Many male Saints were – or would soon become – masons and would be familiar with these symbols. Since Freemasonry was viewed at that time as being of great sacred antiquity going back to the Temple of Solomon, their appearance in the restored gospel would seem natural. So, as with all things, one’s faith in anything goes back to whether you accept it as having a Divine origin.
Because they are not the thing itself, symbols revue on context. hence the frequent changes to Temple rituals to retain significance or to discard problematic elements. Symbols, by their very nature can only point to a reality, and can easily become dead symbols when the elements undergo cultural change. Meanwhile, our liturgical brothers and sisters continue their centuries-old rituals virtually unchanged because they are not symbols but the thing itself,