Saturday, March 11, 2006

Discovering the Sacred in the Temple

Years ago I first entered the Temple as an emerging adult about to enter the mission field. Although many memories of that experience are vague, there were some thoughts and feelings that are not forgotten. Like many who enter for the first time, it is never what was imagined even after careful (and proper) research. It was strange to see and participate in such a richly symbolic activity. I think, however, that first shock is for a purpose known as initiation. Many cultures have unique and demanding rituals that bridge the gap between the child and adult world. Two reactions are possible. The first is fear of the unknown and never going back. The other, and the one that brought me back, was a need to understand. Years later, I would like to leave some suggestions how to get more out of Temple attendance.

Do not be afraid to return. This should go for all those who might attend for the first time, or have not gone back. Spiritual rewards will outstrip any discomfort from the unusual experience. There are some things in life that must be carefully cultivated in order to enjoy. Learning from the Temple takes time, patience, and prayerful contemplation. Searching the Scriptures is essential to coming to understand the symbolism and meaning behind the experience.

Become familiar with Covenants. We take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ at the time of Baptism. This includes a covenant to obey the Commandments of God:

15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.

16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.

- Alma 7:15-16

The Temple contains similar covenants we have made at the time of our Baptism. They are split into three different areas. The first is covenants we make as individuals. the second set of covenants we make in regards to family responsibilities. The last set of covenants has to do with our membership in the community of Saints. Become familiar with the Ten Commandments and that we should love God and neighbor. Finally, we should do more than recite covenants, but live them with faith. The more covenants we keep, the more blessings we reap.

Recognize the meanings of symbols. Surprisingly, most of the symbolic meanings found in the Temple experience are spelled out in either words or relationships. Watch carefully what happens and listen for any narrative explanations. The key to undestanding a great deal of the Temple is knowing we are the central focus. It is a representative journey from pre-mortal existance to our return to Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is where a good understanding of Scripture is most helpful, noticing the various allusions to scriptural teachings introduced in new and personal ways.

Use the less understood parts to your advantage. Memory is a vital purpose of the Temple experience. It seeks to bring to mind our place in the Universe and Plan of Salvation. If you do not understand something, try to at least remember it during the rest of the time. It could end up relating to another thing you do undestand, bringing meaning to both. Even if you still don't understand it, focus on what you do know and remember what you don't for later. Part of the joy of continually going to the Temple is that we learn something new each participation.

These are, from my experience over the years, important steps to gaining a sacred respect for the Temple. It takes more than a passive response to become spiritually invigorated by the rich texture that is the Temple.

Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. We should hasten to the temple as frequently, yet prudently, as our personal circumstances allow. We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that are within those hallowed and consecrated walls. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience . . .

. . . All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them. I encourage everyone to worthily attend the temple or to work toward the day when you can enter that holy house to receive your ordinances and covenants. As the prophets have said, the temple is a place of beauty; it is a place of revelation; it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It must be holy and important to us.

- Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 2


Tigersue said...

Very good post. I would add something that you may not have thought of...
For a woman who has not served a mission or recieved her endowment as a single sister, to not be afraid to go to the temple without her spouse. It was hard for me to think about going with him, because I didn't know anything else. I felt ackward, feeling like I was betraying him by going without him. I'm sure other sisters feel that way too. It is okay to go alone when you have the time! It is important, once I learned that all was well.

Jettboy said...

I must admit, that thought never crossed my mind. Then again, I have never gone alone. First it was my parents, then it was my fellow missionaries (at the MTC and once on my mission), a friend of mine, and finally my wife.

It is important for someone to go with you. This is especially the case when it is your first time. Try to find a person who has gone and is willing to go, and it will be less stressful. Of course, the opposite of that is be willing (if time and circumstances permit) to go with someone if you have gone before. Make it a trip, complete with lunch or something. That helps you and another person (or couple) be more committed.

These are more about "getting there" suggestions than helping understand the Temple itself. Still, I know that sometimes getting there is half the battle. If you do go in the right spirit, I think it can put life into perspective.

Tigersue said...

It is absolutely good to go with someone, but I seemed to see lots of returned Missionaries that would go alone. I don't think I would have had this conflict emotionally if I had been allowed to receive my endowments months before our marriage. Sometimes I think if I had been able to go alone, at times before we were married, I might would have been more confident after to go by myself, when I had time.
Strange isn't it when there are so many widows that go alone.

Jettboy said...

I am not sure of your age and don't actually want to know. The question doesn't really matter and is more rhetorical. The reason I mention this is that years ago the "rules" changed as far as women going to the Temple for the first time. Not sure if there is an age limit (save at least a legal adult), but a woman can now get their endowment without prospect of marriage. My wife had gone years before we were married. Personally I think this is a good thing. A marriage should take place in the mid twenties when there has been at least some growth. But, that is a subject for another blog.

Primarily when I talk about "going with someone" it is for first timers. I know too many stories of converts (although great respect for their courage) who go and feel even more lost than the years long member. It is to those who have never gone before that we need to encourage to go and then set aside time to accompany. Still, I think it is best for anyone to go with someone for a better experience.