Here is a guest post for Easter weekend, from Simon C.:
Just before Christmas I was able to spend the day with my older brother. We don’t see each other that often; even more rarely do we spend any proper time together, just the two of us. I thought I might as well take the opportunity over lunch to reveal for the first time to a family member that I had quit attending church during the pandemic. He had stopped going to church more than 25 years ago, drifting away with a whimper rather than exiting with a bang. We had such a rewarding conversation. It was literally the first time in all these years I have had a conversation with him about the church so it was enlightening to finally find out his perspective. My brother is an artist, fascinated among other things by religious themes. One of his gripes was the banality, the ordinariness of Mormon worship (my words, but it sums up his feelings). I guess he is a ‘high church’ person. He wanted the high drama of ritual, as opposed to sitting in a sports hall on folding chairs. I agreed. It’s funny what brings people together.
As we are now into Holy Week it got me thinking about ‘Holy Envy’. I first heard that phrase in the church film about the temple, Between Heaven and Earth (remember that?!), where the Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl talked of his “holy envy” for the Mormon temple. Like my brother, I am also fascinated by ritual. I can’t say I yearn for it, but I certainly want to experience it from time-to-time. I have always loved the concept of the temple, the closest thing we get to ‘high church’ in Mormonism. I always enjoyed attending and tried ever so hard to experience the ritual and derive meaning. But I also completely get why it’s a turn off for so many. Despite the fact that our version of ‘temple’ has much more modern roots and influences, the temple as a religious and cultural institution is ancient, and that is what really appealed to me. The feeling that I was participating in something that people in one form or another had been doing for thousands of years, whether the Greeks or the Romans or the Egyptians or the Jews. The Endowment, of course, is completely baffling. But I have always felt personally that if it is to make any sense whatsoever it needs to be as ritual that is actively experienced. In its original form it was essentially participatory theatre. I always liked Nibley’s phrase of “temple drama”. For me then it’s a shame that there seems to be a one-way ticket towards more and more of the drama being passively experienced though watching a film. Put on your slippers, get comfy, dim the lights, take a nap—the matinee is about to start. But then this is the McEndowment, I suppose, a neatly packaged standardised product and coming to a temple screening near you! (Just as soon as the temple is built, of course.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Freemasons have moved to watching (almost) everything in a movie. It kind of misses the point. Oh well…
So I have Holy Envy for the ritual found in other faith traditions. But there’s more. I have so much Holy Envy for the liturgical year and its calendar, for the high days and holy days and feast days. As societies we evolved in tune with the rhythm of the solar year, the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon. For the believing, the liturgical year is another layer to help formalise belief and ritual, to tie it to the rhythm of the seasons and the passing of time, to help focus hearts and minds. Ritual as we know is a powerful tool to make the profane, even mundane, sacred. It’s also very good at producing social bonding and cohesion. The liturgical year turns profane time into sacred time.
For me there is also something very wonderful in the rhythm of ritual. In our temples, it’s the daily rhythm of the ordinances. In the ancient temple, it’s the daily rhythm of the sacrifices, and the idea that what happened in the Jerusalem temple mirrored what happened in the heavenly temple and helped keep the cosmos in order. When I have visited Jerusalem I have felt it in the daily rhythm of those walking the Via Dolorosa and the daily rhythm of worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s in the rhythm of the muezzin’s call, or the celebration of Shabbat each week at the Western Wall. Sacred space and sacred time.
But beyond Christmas and Easter, Mormonism doesn’t have much of that rhythm of the sacred calendar—well maybe General Conference. But that’s a stretch. In Mormonism, more often than not, you need to make your own fun. So I have tried in recent years, in my own small way, to bring a bit of ritual to Holy Week. In the past I have gone to a Church of England service on Good Friday, feeling that I needed to do something to mark that important day. Now I try and pay attention to the rhythm of Holy Week and the events recorded in the Gospels. I pay attention to the full moon which marks the beginning of Passover—“Why is this night different from all other nights?” I try to mentally and (hopefully) spiritually go on a journey through the events of Good Friday. I try to imagine the uncertainty and maybe even despair of the liminal space of Easter Saturday. I try to feel the hope and joy of Easter Sunday and the symbolic power of the empty tomb. I light an awful lot of candles (even more so than usual) and have my traditional list of films I watch at certain points (The Passion of the Christ and Ben-Hur are always on the bill. Maybe Quo Vadis if I can tolerate Robert Taylor’s acting…). I just try and do something to make this coming weekend sacred time.
So what do you do to mark Easter? And what do you have Holy Envy for from other faith traditions?
And above all, wishing the Wheat & Tares community a peaceful and joyful Easter, however you choose to spend it!
The featured image is used under under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Simon C. is right to condemn the dumbing down of the temple experience. It truly has been reduced to the level of the lowest common denominator.
Whereas the endowment ceremony used to involve active participation, movement, and involvement, it now involves the sort of passive existence that one experiences watching videos of cats in sweaters on YouTube. It requires no effort other than merely existing for slightly less than two hours.
The trend toward no-effort temple participation mentioned by Simon C. appears to be done to placate the younger members who have the attention spans that last only as long as a Dua Lipa TikTok. In fact, at the rate things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the endowment eventually becomes something that members watch at home on TikTok itself while they lounge around in sweatpants and crocs in the parents’ basements.
JCS, it would still be pay-per-view.
Maybe not apropos here but I’m now seeing more Mormon mention of Palm Sunday Good Friday etc. The church website invited all to listen on Palm Sunday for messages of Jesus which was a veiled (no pun intended) invitation to General Conference. In my neighborhood in Utah two church buildings (both stake centers) have a nifty printed banner outside inviting all to Easter services. It is a little weird to see my TBM facebook friends posting about Holy Week etc – virtue signaling, following the prophet etc
About 15 years I was asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting on Easter about “overcoming the stench of sin” which was itself a previous conference talk. That Saturday the bishopric called me and asked me to include some thoughts about Easter. In 2023 it’s as if the Q15 finally got the memo but as Simon points out, our sacred calendar is sorely lacking…next week our local topic is Blessed Are the Peacemakers and then the next week is Ward Conference…
As for me I am planning a long walk on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain and can’t wait to smell the incense in the cathedral.
I am still stunned that the LDS way to add meaning to Easter is to spend less time at church worshipping our Lord and Savior. Because every member has family to go home to where they will study their Come Follow Me manual.
As for the temple, going recently after the latest big changes I had the Ovaltine experience. In the movie A Christmas Story the young boy Ralphie is excited to finally get his Ovaltine decoder ring. This means he will be able to finally decode the secret message included in Ovaltine radio ads. The radio ad is playing and Ralphie is earnestly deciphering the coded message. And then the message comes into view: Drink more Ovaltine
After all these years of going to the temple the First Presidency has chosen to make clear to me the meaning of the temple. And what is it this great message? It is Adam & Eve wearing the LDS temple dress performing the same rituals as me in a drab, unexceptional temple room.
That’s what the temple is all about? We go so we go? We do it so we can do it again? Wow! I liked it so much better when I could pretend their was a deeper meaning – a mystery that I had to figure out.
The endowment might be performed at the level of a family Christmas nativity — complete with towels for costumes and brooms for props — and it would still be wondrous–so long as it is presented in the right spirit. What the church has made available to us (in the temple) is far more than we need — in terms of aesthetics — in order to have a rich and rewarding experience. Some folks have termed the endowment as a “fast food” sort of experience–and I suppose they have a right to their opinion. Even so, if we seek to understand the ordinances of the temple long enough and hard enough those “fast food” elements will reveal themselves as a veritable smorgasbord of light and truth.
I highly recommend at least once attending a full Holy Week at a church that does all the rituals. Each service — Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil — has a different character and focuses on a different aspect of the last week of Christ’s life. I sing in the choir of an Anglo-Catholic Church (that is, a very “high church” Episcopal church), and while it’s exhausting, it’s extremely rewarding and far more meaningful an Easter than you get in the Mormon Church.
Let me get this right Jack, if I don’t experience a smorgasbord of truth and light from the temple ceremony, it is due to the fact that I have not tried long enough or hard enough? I am glad you have had marvelous experiences. We are not all wired the same.
Holy places make me happy and bring me peace. I often feel that words and rituals get in the way and interrupt my spiritual experiences. Music really touches my soul. I went to a Methodist service in DC a couple weeks ago and heard some beautiful music and a simple reading of the scriptures with a testimony of how that scripture had blessed the man who read it. I experienced holy envy for a brief moment. I love walking into cathedrals and just sitting there. My best times in the temple have been in complete silence sitting there.
@Jack, My Friend
One of the most convincing evidences that Joseph was tuned into the ancient Israelite Temple Festivals and not Masonry is that he links ordinances with the festivals, thereby synthesizing the ancient and modern-restored temple. The initiatory washing and anointing was performed at Pesach; the sealing was performed at Shavuot; the enthronement was performed at Rosh Hoshana/Sukkot. Latter-Day Saints have missed this because Masonic pollution obfuscated this, and because Christians were (still are) largely ignorant of the ancient temple festivals. See the following resource:
There is a lot to look forward to, Joseph Smith got it right, but our ignorance (and erroneous fixation to Masonry) has kept us from the beauty and grandeur of the Restored Temple.
I have spent a several years living in a predominantly Buddhist country. My Holy Envy towards Buddhism (I realize that the Buddhist world is large and varied, and some flavors of Buddhism do have a lot more ritual, but this is my observation of the type of Buddhism practiced in this particular country) is that it has much less ritual than Mormonism (and a lot of Christianity). You aren’t expected to show up at a chapel for 2 hours every week, nor are you shamed for not sitting through a 2 hour temple ritual every month. The Buddhists I know meditate where, when, and for however long seems right for them. Their meditation involves inward reflection on how they can become better rather than constantly having elderly, wealthy, conservative white men from the Mormon Corridor tell them what to do every week. Believe it or not, these Buddhists are able to find much value and “stay active” in their religion without a hierarchical organization trying to control them and keep them in line.
I often wonder if I would find more value in the Mormon temple endowment ritual if I wasn’t constantly hammered by comments like Jack’s: “If we seek to understand the ordinances of the temple long enough and hard enough those ‘fast food’ elements will reveal themselves as a veritable smorgasbord of light and truth.” This sounds to me like it’s just a flowery way of restating the common Mormon claims that “I learn something every time I go to the temple” or “If you just keep going to the temple, you’ll understand the deep meaning”.
I am convinced that most people who claim they learn something new every time they go to the temple are being dishonest, perhaps with themselves as well as with others. I’ve had a few occasions where there were a few people that were close enough to me that I felt comfortable asking what exactly they learned when they had made such a claim about their recent temple participation. I either got some mumbling (apparently they didn’t really learn something new) or something that could have been “learned” outside of the temple–usually personal revelation type stuff (“I know how I can help my family”, “I know what I should do with my career”, etc.). It feels like people have to say they learned something new whenever they attend the temple even when they learned absolutely nothing new because they have to justify the two hours of their lives that they’ve just spent in the temple–and it’s just kind of “common knowledge” amongst Mormons that you are supposed to learn something new every time you attend the temple, even if it’s not true, or you must be doing something wrong.
I am also convinced that the temple endowment ritual is, for the most part, quite straightforward. That is, if you are looking for a “veritable smorgasbord of light and truth” from the temple endowment that you can’t already readily find in the standard works, you are going to be looking forever because it’s not there. The teachings and the covenants in the temple endowment are all contained in the standard works. You do not need the temple endowment to learn them. Yes, the endowment ritual has special clothing and a few signs and tokens that are specifically supposed to remain secret, but we largely borrowed these elements from the Masons. I’m convinced that these elements of the endowment are secret, not sacred (yes, I reversed that on purpose). These elements are secret because the Mormon endowment borrowed them from the Masonic ritual and Masons love secrecy for some reason, and they aren’t sacred because they didn’t come from God–they were just borrowed directly from Masonry. The rest of the endowment ceremony aside from these little “secret parts” should be considered sacred and not secret (no need for secrecy since it’s all in the standard works anyway).
Instead of making claims of “new knowledge every time” or “deep knowledge that can only be mined through constant and repeated temple attendance”, I’d like Church leaders to just be honest and state what the temple endowment really is, something like, “The temple endowment is a ritualistic enactment of some teachings/covenants found in the standard works that God/Joseph Smith felt were important enough that they needed special emphasis. It helps explain the purpose of our life on earth and how we may return to live in God’s presence. By participating in the endowment, we can be reminded of the importance of these teachings and covenants.” If Church leaders would just be honest about the endowment like this, perhaps I could find more value in it. I’m not sure I’d want to go monthly, but I might go more frequently than I do. The false, magical claims about the temple endowment are a real turn off for me, though.
The endowment itself is not an ordinance. The ordinances of the temple are baptism, initiatory washing and anointing, sealing, and enthronement. The purpose of the endowment is to reveal how the ordinances combine to form what is termed “the eternal covenant,” “the great oath,” “the cosmic covenant,” “the everlasting covenant of peace.” The endowment was polluted by the idea that Masonry informed it. Masonry did not inform the endowment. Rather, Joseph utilized Masonry as a bridge and common symbolic language to help to solve his boyhood vexation concerning the feuding sects of Christianity in his day. Recent 2022 publications (“Method Infinite” by Bruno, Liturski, Swick, and “Freemasonry and the Origins of LDS Temple Ordinances” by Bradshaw—Bradshaw almost plagiarizes “Method Infinite”) double-down on the Masonic thesis because they lack Hermetic insight into Rosicrucianism and Kabbalah. The Hermetic Temple Endowment is far more Rosicrucian and Kabbalist, than Masonic. Recall that Joseph’s conception of the temple begins in Section 59–years before he was formally associated with Masonry. The Church has slowly removed the Masonic elements and will continue to do so.
The Backyard Professor (ex-LDS) did a YouTube on the Hermetic Temple Endowment:
I hear you, brother. And I agree that the rituals of the modern temple and Freemasonry actually have more in common with the way they both are informed by ancient practices than by any direct borrowing so to speak.
I also agree that our focus on those “direct” connections have gotten in the way of our efforts in digging down to the roots of the temple. Here’s a link to an article that explores that very thing:
I looked at the first page of the article you linked to–it looks fascinating. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.
“There is a lot to look forward to, Joseph Smith got it right, but our ignorance (and erroneous fixation to Masonry) has kept us from the beauty and grandeur of the Restored Temple.”
Again, I agree–but more as it relates to arguments between scholars. IMO, the average Joe and Jane Latter-day Saints attend the temple within the peaceful eye of that storm without noticing just how much it is raging around them. And this is one of the things I love about temple worship–that we don’t have to be experts to be edified by it nor to learn (typically by degrees) what it all means.
I agree with much of what you say. I believe that aesthetics can play a powerful role in helping us to become attuned to the infinite. Even so, it is often in the quiet of my room during the wee hours of the morning that I gain an insight about the meaning of the temple–rather than when I’m actually there within its precincts. That’s not to say that my experience with sacred aesthetics isn’t valuable–it most certainly is. But often the “payoff” that we get from our exposure to it isn’t so immediate–some of it can manifest itself a little further down the road. And that’s the way it is with temple worship, IMO. We may be edified in an immediate sense by the quiet beauty that we find there–or the beauty of the art and the rituals and so forth. Even so, as it relates to becoming aware of the “smorgasbord” that lay before us–what most Latter-day Saints experience (IMO) is that our regular attention to the things of the temple prepares us over time to receive a greater understanding of its meaning. And so the unveiling of that meaning is typically an incremental process whereby we the vastness of the meal at the Lord’s table is revealed to us a little at a time–and typically over a great length of time.
Ditto to those who like to walk into a cathedral and sit in stillness in an environment conducive to introspection. I wish the Celestial Room was more accessible—that you could just walk in and sit without needing to change your clothes. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
I’ve had wonderful moments of peace and insight in great cathedrals—St Peter’s, St Paul’s, and Westminster Abbey specifically come to mind. There’s something about large, echoic spaces that makes you feel like you’ve crossed a threshold into a more vast and expansive plane. Your thoughts travel farther. The interiors of temples, OTOH—even the celestial room—tend to be quite modest acoustically which is a weird contrast to how visually gaudy they are.
And then there’s the art.
We’re not great at art in Mormonism generally. We like correlation too much, we’re afraid of anything above a PG threshold, and we don’t want to be confused with other churches so we don’t use the masterworks of the past (Carl Bloch notwithstanding). We’ve had some wonderful artists of our own—our Teicherts and Connollys—but we just haven’t been around long enough to produce our own Michelangelos and Rembrandts. And we aren’t likely to when the leadership has a penchant for callously bulldozing historic murals when we’re not looking.
I’m sure that you’re aware of this verse from Alma chapter 12:
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
This is a sensitive subject–so let me say this much: what Alma says here points to the reality that there is knowledge that may be had that is too sacred to share. The Lord invites us to seek, ask, and knock. And he will reveal great knowledge to us if we seek it appropriately–and the temple shows us how to do just that.
Thank you for this thoughtful post, Simon C! So, this year, in part because I have an evening job, I was able to try out and have perfect attendance in a Community of Christ morning meditation series during Lent. Lots of wonderful reflection on the gospel accounts in the New Testament, and a great deal of fellowship via Zoom. Sometimes we wrestled with tough moments in Jesus’s ministry, and other times we sat and enjoyed a sweetness of feeling and gratitude. Proved to be very worthwhile.
Somehow, a few years ago, I realized I have started a new tradition for myself. I attended a candle-lit Roman Catholic Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night (live on YouTube from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC). And then… I watched the classic horror film The Exorcist. What can I say? It is honestly a great flick. And I am especially drawn to the central story of Damien Karras, the young priest initially called in to work with the young girl who has been possessed. His is a genuinely heroic and deeply Christian journey. Today, I’ll attend an Easter service or two online with some remarkably kind and inclusive members of Community of Christ. Then I’ll eat some yummy food and try to rest before the next week comes all too soon. Honestly, no holy envy this year, and that is a blessing. But it took years of searching, trial, and error, to find the eclectic combination of activities which suit me best. For me, no one church will do.
@Jack, that is precisely the response I thought you would give. I thought you would quote “don’t throw pearls before swine” instead of Alma, but close enough.
Some personal observations:
1. I was once a very, very orthodox believer. I attended the temple regularly. I did not receive any special knowledge of the mysteries of God beyond what is contained in the standard works through temple attendance. Promises of a “veritable smorgasbord of light and truth” through temple attendance were quite frustrating to me as I didn’t receive even a single crumb of such special knowledge (and still haven’t).
2. So many of the members that I personally know who are claiming to regularly learn something new or deep in the temple can’t even keep the “mysteries of the neighborhood” (i.e., ward gossip) secret, much less the “mysteries of the universe/God”. If they can’t keep their mouth shut about who lost their job or who is having an affair in the ward, am I really supposed to believe that they can keep their mouth shut when their are claiming to receive new and deep knowledge of God in the temple? As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of Mormons are being dishonest with themselves and others when they claim they have learned something new. I don’t think they are being dishonest because they are inherently liars. I think they are being dishonest because they are promised this special knowledge from temple attendance, so they have to lie to themselves and to others about obtaining such knowledge because otherwise they’d be dissing the temple and/or Church leaders’ promises about the temple, and if they want to retain their status in the organization, they’d better not do that.
3. Are *all* of these mysteries of God learned in the temple truly meant to remain secret? Is there really nothing that can be shared with other members who don’t feel like they are receiving them? In general, people can’t resist talking about incredible things that happen to them–even when they’re explicitly asked not to share them. The fact that these “revelations” aren’t being shared–people just clam up when asked directly what new knowledge learned from the temple–to me seems to imply that people, in general, really aren’t learning new and deep things in the temple that aren’t in the standard works. And, seriously, what is the point of telling people you’ve learned something new or deep in the temple if you aren’t able to or willing to share it in the first place? Why not just keep your mouth shut if you have a secret you are supposed to keep instead of bragging that you have a secret, but you’re not going to share?
4. The Q15 meets in the temple to discuss important decisions about the Church. Horribly racist letters from the FP, the homophobic Family Proclamation, the POX, etc. all came out of these meetings. And, don’t forget the temple endowment’s initial role in solidifying and legitimizing the unholy and impure practice of polygamy. Apparently, the “smorgasbord of knowledge” offered at the temple has sometimes been left sitting out for a few days and has gone rancid and rotten. If the Q15 clear isn’t receiving this smorgasbord of light and knowledge from the temple, then do we really think that anyone else is?
Again, I can take the temple endowment at face value for what it appears to be–a ritualistic depiction of humanity’s purpose in life and how to obtain salvation that is pretty much all also contained in the standard works. I’m not saying that people haven’t had insights into eternal things in the temple (that they probably could have obtained through other means and in other places). What I am saying is that I simply don’t believe that Mormons are obtaining all of this new and sacred knowledge that they could only obtain in the temple in the high volume that they are claiming to be receiving it. I think when Church leaders make such grand promises of “smorgasbords of light and knowledge” to the members (promises that have almost certainly not been realized in the leaders’ own lives) they are being deceitful. My lack of receiving such secret knowledge was very disappointing and frustrating to me in my orthodox days.
I spent many years in the temple searching for the deep and sacred things. Never found them. I was “reproved” on many occasions for talking too much in the celestial room. Several times I was asked to leave because I had spent too much time and other patrons needed the space. My most sacred and spiritual experience was sitting in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland listening to a choir. My soul was lifted to heaven!
You never know which way the wind listeth in a W&T comments section. I never expected for the discussion to focus so much on the temple. Maybe I was being mischievous with my ‘McEndowment’ comment! 🙂 But thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments, especially Jack, Travis and Mountainclimber for the spirited back and forth. I’m glad people are engaged with the temple.
I just wanted to expand on my thoughts and make clear that I personally have no problem with the masonic elements in the temple ceremony. In fact when I received my endowment 21 years ago I literally thought “Wow, this is like the Freemasons. Cool!”. Each to their own I guess. Nor do I want to downplay the ancient roots of the Mormon temple and its ceremonies. The temple, as our faith tradition conceives it, has roots both ancient and more modern (acknowledging that some of those more modern roots themselves claim to be ancient). I know kabbalah and Rosicucianism have been mentioned specifically. I know next to nothing about these so cannot comment directly, but no doubt there are influences. But there are many temple ‘motifs’ that can be found throughout history, across cultures and religions, from ancient temples, the biblical tradition, mystery cults, gnostic belief and practices, and so on. They surface, disappear and resurface again in new ways across the centuries. The temple as Joseph Smith developed it weaves together many of these threads. It’s fascinating to try and unpick. For me it is a strong witness to humanity’s yearning to understand and draw close to the divine. I also think the temple can mean all things to all people to a certain extent. I also have sympathy with mountainclimber’s comment that it is probably much more straightforward than we often care to admit. I’m going to think on about that….
But I think my point about the nature of ritual still stands, no matter where it came from. I loved the ‘live’ endowment when I have experienced it both in SL and Manti. I don’t know the exact history but obviously at some point a decision was made that the live endowment would not be presented in new temples as they were being built. I also don’t know exactly when or where the film was first introduced and whether this coincided directly with the ending of live sessions, or if there was some ‘interim’ presentation. Also at some point it was decided to, in most cases, do away with a temple design that incorporated movement from room to room. I can’t help but feel these moves were a real shame from a ‘ritual’ point of view. I would love to know the rationale, but I’m guessing ‘logistics’ played a part? But at what point does logistics morph into ‘convenience’, which I think shouldn’t be a factor with ritual? I fully appreciate there may be accessibility issues at play too, which are completely legitimate and should be welcomed, but I think these pose a different set of questions for which different answers can be found. It may also be about increasing the capacity of ordinances which can be performed, which I think was part of the rationale in doing away with live sessions in SL and Manti. But even here, whether we have 5 temples or 500 temples performing 2 or 20 sessions a day, what we do will only ever be a fraction of the work that (we are taught) will ultimately need doing. Surely’ ‘quality’ over quantity?
Again I say all this knowing the the live session and/or the endowment itself is a turn off for many. But there you go. We are all wired differently. And long may that continue! Now back to my easter egg….
Thanks, Simon C, for bringing things back on track. It is interesting to hear how you and others find meaning in the ritual of the temple and of other faiths. I do wonder if I personally have a natural aversion to religious rituals or if my aversion to religious rituals has developed out of my disillusionment with the temple endowment ritual. I suspect it’s some of both.
I have had the opportunity to observe and sometimes participate in the religious rituals of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islam faiths in countries where these religious are the primary religion. I found the experiences to be very interesting, and I can see why people find meaning in them, but I’m not sure whether or not I would be able to find that meaning myself. Perhaps if I had been raised within those cultures I would be able to find more meaning in the ritual, but it might be hard at my age and given my own life experiences.
A few weeks ago, I was in San Francisco on business and found myself sitting in a Catholic cathedral. I was very much enjoying the peaceful environment for a half hour or so as I thought about life, my family, and some things I wanted to work on. And then mass started, so I picked up the book at my seat, flipped to the correct mass of the day, and decided to participate. If I remember correctly, the mass for that day was in remembrance of one of the Catholic saints that I wasn’t familiar with. I’ve attended enough Catholic masses to basically know what to expect. I have to say that I really didn’t enjoy the mass. I didn’t like having to wait for the priest to recite all the correct words and for the congregation to recite/sing their parts just at the right times. I much preferred sitting with myself in the quiet cathedral before mass started to the mass itself.
And that’s why I envy the Buddhists that I’ve observed. I’m envious of the lack of ritual. They find deep meaning and spiritual improvement in their own personal and quiet meditation. Just as I wonder if my aversion to ritual originates, at least in part, from my Mormon experience, I wonder if my envy of the Buddhist relative lack of ritual also arises from my Mormon experience.
I am sympathetic to the posters here who made the comments as to how much they enjoyed visiting the quiet churches and Cathedrals.
I have done the same many times, gone down to our local very lovely Catholic church and sat for a while in the pretty, peaceful quiet chapel.
Our Sacrament meetings are so “busy” and sometimes even a bit noisy with all of the kids wandering in and out for drinks and bathroom breaks.
While we are passing the Sacrament the two sets of double doors leading out to the foyers are reverently closed and the members are usually quiet.
As soon a the Sacrament is over these doors are pushed open and held in place and the atmosphere in the Chapel changes immediately.
People start to rustle around and move and little kids are already going out for what ever reason.
I have a hard time getting relaxed and in a meditative Spirit.
So I find myself looking to the local Catholic church for that.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I want to focus mainly on your 3rd point:
“Are *all* of these mysteries of God learned in the temple truly meant to remain secret? Is there really nothing that can be shared with other members who don’t feel like they are receiving them? ”
I think this is a great question. The way I see it is–sacred knowledge needs to be handled in a way that is commensurate with the situation. A person who has no knowledge about the gospel may not be prepared to learn very much about the workings of the Holy Ghost. And so in that particular circumstance we’d have to tread carefully when speaking things that are hardly mysterious at all to the average Latter-day Saint. And so it goes across the entire spectrum of mysteries–kinda like a continuum of sacred knowledge (all of which must be handled with care) wherein we find a range of understanding that goes from lesser to greater with the most sacred things being rarely spoken of–indeed if they’re ever mentioned at all.
“And, seriously, what is the point of telling people you’ve learned something new or deep in the temple if you aren’t able to or willing to share it in the first place? Why not just keep your mouth shut if you have a secret you are supposed to keep instead of bragging that you have a secret, but you’re not going to share?”
Another great question. On the one hand, I think it’s appropriate at times to share the general idea that greater knowledge might be had if we seek it with the right intent. But on the other, when we’re speaking of our own personal experience in gaining greater knowledge we typically have to be a little more cautious in how we broach the topic. I think the scriptures themselves serve as a guide to these principles. We can find many passages that speak of the possibility of receiving greater knowledge. But along with that proposition we also see examples of how the Lord’s servants handle that knowledge with great care.
I wanted to share one more thing: I think there are members of the church — perhaps more than we know — who’ve had sacred things revealed to them who lock it away in the hearts–as did the Mary the mother of Jesus.
There are a few documentaries on Netflix right now that are dealing with LDS people that had extra truths revealed to them. The gospel of Christ is extremely simple. People seeking the mysteries of Godliness often end up looking way beyond the mark. I believe the church is far more worried about people who take the church too serious as opposed to those who don’t take it serious enough. Tread carefully.
Back to the topic at hand, do any people have holy envy for Mormons that get to go to the temple? Do the people that fill up the open houses come with curiosity and leave with holy envy? Based off the retention numbers of converts, I think we are overselling what we have to offer. If envy exists, once partaking of that which you envy you either realize how good it is and partake more, or you realize you weren’t missing much and walk away.
“If envy exists, once partaking of that which you envy you either realize how good it is and partake more, or you realize you weren’t missing much and walk away.”
Or perhaps it becomes apparent that in order to get more we have to repent.
In Mormonism tedium isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Hence holy envy.
Inasmuch as living the gospel is a way of life–tedium will undoubtedly be one of its features. Life can be rather monotonous at times–there’s no getting around the mundane.
Zach: “The gospel of Christ is extremely simple. People seeking the mysteries of Godliness often end up looking way beyond the mark.”
There is certainly truth in what you say. Even so, we should be careful not to assume that because the gospel is simple that it must be simplistic. Getting an acorn all that it needs in order to sprout and grow is a rather straightforward process–but oh the beauty and wondrous complexity in its growth as it matures into a might oak.
And I certainly agree that we can look way beyond the mark in our efforts to the mysteries of the temple. And I believe there are two things that will help us not to miss the mark. 1) Balance. Living the gospel is a multifaceted endeavor. And keeping a number of irons in the fire — with respect to how we serve and what we study and so forth — will help us to avoid getting overly focused on one at the expense of the others. 2) Putting first things first. While this principle may be applied generally to just about anything–I think it’s quite useful in helping us to channel our focus vis-a-vis the acquisition of sacred knowledge so that we don’t find ourselves out in the weeds. While I believe that the Lord is willing to teach us about anything that we’re prepared to receive with a pure heart–I also believe that there’s a hierarchy of truth. IMO, it’s more important to know the only true God than it is to know whether or not some of the lost tribes will return in spaceships. And if we keep those important things front and center as we continue to gain knowledge it is much more likely that we’ll be moving in the right direction.
And so if we pursue sacred knowledge with our hearts and minds in the right place it should be available to us for the asking–though it may come to us only a little at a time. I love this quote from David O. McKay:
“Brothers and sisters, I believe that there are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives.”
I first attended a temple session in the 1960s. It was part of my one week training in the mission home, then located across the street north of temple square. I had no temple prep, and went in blind.
It was one of the most defining events of my life. I didn’t get it. I really didn’t get it. I was in shock. I escaped the mission home and walked up to the nearby State Capitol. I sat on the lawn and tried to figure everything out. After a couple of hrs, I returned to the mission home. I was locked out. The MP’s wife let me in, no questions asked. She was a very nice woman.
During my mission, all the missionaries took a trip to the London temple. If I remember correctly, the ceremony used slides instead of live actors. This seemed even more bizarre. My personal religion has no room for the endowment ceremony. I’m more of a boots-in-the-ground type guy. Love your neighbor. I wonder if temples wouldn’t be better used as meditation centers?
When I was “endowed”, the endowment included the pre 1990 penalties. I wondered if that was to prepare some members to defend their beliefs No. Matter. What. Similar to the student who died in the Columbine shooting when one of the shooters asked her if she believed in god (that was later, but still illustrated my understanding). My understandings are continually evolving, and now I view that differently, that it is similar to the teachings of former prophets who told people being assaulted that if they didn’t fight it with All. Their. Might. i.e., live to tell about it (and press prosecution) that it was their fault. I recognize a place for retaining knowledge within oneself, such as families who took unfathomable risks to protect “undesirables” from genocide. I hold those who have done that in great esteem, and wonder if I would/could similarly risk my loved ones’ lives. Or my own.
Personal beliefs do not fall into that category.
When I take a step back and look at the people I know who absolutely love the temple and “learn something new every time”. I don’t find their daily life choices to be better than any other person’s. Some live admirably, some do not. Some listen to others, and are empathetic, some are not.
When I look about at families, life includes: bouts of spider or bedbug infestations. Finding ways to keep a roof overhead and feed their people. Postpartum depression. Having a child with severe autism. Spending one’s older years taking care of a relative permanently injured in a vehicle accident. Working through their own misunderstandings, then Being There. for their kid who came out. Always there for someone who has times of depression requiring hospitalization. Helping their kids get through life, from homework to prom to break ups, then doing the same with their own loved ones.
The God I believe in loves people doing their best to get through a day, then doing it over and over again. When I read the New Testament, what stands out to me is that the people that Jesus condemns is those who exploit others for their own gain.
There are many things a person can do to find joy, reflection, and respite from needs of others we love: exercise, reading, gardening, taking a walk, cooking, shoveling snow, taking a nap, eating ice cream….
A few people have mentioned the awe of sitting in a cathedral, or in Buddhism. Some find it in an LDS temple, but that doesn’t seem to be a universal finding, even for those raised Mormon. Sometimes it is even disquieting.
See the latest article by Jana Riess at Religion News Service and/or Salt Lake Tribune: “Latter-day Saints discovered Holy Week. Why now? “
I just finished reading Biahop Bill’s You Don’t Know Jack. All the commenters there describe what I was trying to say. Life throws A LOT of curveballs.
I’m including a link to the piece by Jana Riess that @Chet mentioned.
I too was pleased to see that the Church was paying more attention to Easter and Holy Week. It has been bafflingly absent. I recall visiting a family member’s ward on Easter Sunday one year and it was High Council Sunday and business as usual – no Easter talks or music. I will never forget it. This year was a huge improvement – all talks centered on Christ and some very lovely music.
As someone who is no longer believing in a lot of religious things, I can still find some beauty in the message and particularly the music. As for the temple I am now highly skeptical and can’t help but think that the rituals and the secrecy were designed to keep polygamy secret. I was endowed during the penalty years and that message certainly left an impact. I’m not sure that it was intended to be parsed out to everyone, just those participating in the dirty business.
Not long ago our Easter featured a high councilor speaking on the church employment program. This year, lots of speakers, but none spoke on Christ, and none spoke on Easter. 3 Nephi 11+ got a lot of mention, but not one verse was read from the 4 gospels. Mention was made of the women coming to the tomb, but if you didn’t know the story then the reference wouldn’t have meant much, and how the sacrament represents the death of Christ (white cover/burial shroud, bread and water for body and blood). Zero talk about Christ’s death or the reality of the empty tomb. Major speaker spoke about forgiveness and about forgiving oneself. I don’t know why we don’t tell the story of Jesus’ life, trials, sufferings, death, and resurrection. Instead, we want to tell people what to do: do missionary work, go to the temple, pay tithing, obey the word of wisdom, be kind, don’t gossip, serve others, do your ministering, say your prayers, read the Book of Mormon… So rarely do we teach simple belief, and so rarely do we teach the stories of Jesus’ mortal life as recorded in the Gospels.
Elder Stevenson lost me on Saturday morning, first speaker. He started talking about Easter, but it quickly turned into a Book of Mormon talk, and the official scripture for Easter is now in 3 Nephi–which to me isn’t Easter. I love the Book of Mormon, but the stories of Jesus’ mortal ministry, God’s condescending to become man, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and how He lived and taught and served in the flesh, is only in the New Testament. 3 Nephi contains the record of the God visiting the new world: important, but for me not Easter and not the resurrection, which for me happened in Jerusalem.
We seem to refuse to teach the New Testament stories, and we seem only to refer to it for cherry picking a verse to teach some point–and we (almost) never read around the verse to understand the context in which it was given. I am glad that President Nelson is asking us to teach Christ, but I don’t know if we’re doing it well. Even President Nelson used his talk on Sunday not to teach what Jesus did, but to ask us to be peacemakers. That is a wonderful message based in Christ’s teaching, but is that preaching Christ? To preach Christ is to preach that He lived, taught, died, and rose again, and the tomb was empty when the women came, and Jesus was seen by many who testified that the tomb was empty, and He who was dead lives again.
Maybe many Church members are beyond marveling at the majesty and mystery of what happened between 30 and 33 AD, and it isn’t the resurrection but the restoration that matters to them, but I am in awe of the resurrection. I believe in the restoration, too, and am grateful for it and take it as true and amazed by it, but nothing compares to the story told in the four gospels. That is the greatest story ever told. I envy people who go to Church on Easter and actually hear the Easter story, read from the gospels. I heard it every year growing up in my former church, and I never got tired of hearing it. Maybe, if we really do start teaching Christ instead of commandments, then maybe we’ll actually learn about Christ, and when we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments–because of love and belief, and not because of a need to earn points to be redeemed at a later date. I am allowed to hope!
Beautifully expressed, Georgis! Thank you