Zelophehad’s Daughters

Making Sense of My Temple Experiences

Posted by Seraphine

I have very strong feelings about the temple, and it’s quite difficult for me to sort them out. On one hand, there are aspects of temple worship that I find immensely troubling, and even painful at times. On the other hand, I have had some of my most powerful spiritual experiences in the walls of the temple.

When I was in college, the stake I was in was in the temple district of the (then under construction) St. Louis, Missouri temple. Because of this, members of our stake were able to attend dedication sessions of this temple, and I had the opportunity to sing in the choir at one of the sessions. I don’t really remember much about the session: the prayer, the talks, etc. What I do remember is singing the “Hosanna” chorus at the end of the session while those in attendance sang “The Spirit of God.” The feeling that came over me during this piece of music is probably the most intense feeling of joy I have ever experienced. The word “joy” doesn’t even capture the immensity and profundity of my feelings that afternoon.

A few years later, during the time in college when my bipolar disorder hit and my life was falling apart, I felt strongly that I needed to go to the temple to take out my endowments. I was quite angry with God over the intense pain I was experiencing, I was directly ignoring His counsel on a number of issues (i.e. His suggestions about what I needed to do to deal with the pain), and I was utterly confused about why I needed to be going through the temple. My relationship with God had never been rockier, and I didn’t really feel like it was the best thing to be making additional covenents with Him.

To make a long story short, after quite a few months (and lots of prayer and a meeting with an inspired branch president), I decided to follow God’s direction and take out my endowments. I wish I could say that it was a life-changing event or that it made a huge difference in my life; it wasn’t and it didn’t. However, I was an emotional disaster at the time (see above re: bipolar disorder), and the Celestial Room of the temple was the one place I could easily find a certain amount of peace. And peace was not something there was a whole lot of in my life.

It was also right around this time that my feminist consciousness began to fully emerge. As this happened, aspects of the temple ceremony that were troubling began to worry me more intensely. Often I have to block out portions of the endowment ceremony in order to prevent my experiences from being too painful or anger-invoking. I go through periods of time where I don’t return to the temple for months on end because I am too wary of stirring up emotions I am not prepared to deal with.

However, when I am attending regularly, I have had experiences like one I had a couple of years ago. I went to the temple (like I had been every week for the previous couple of months) in search of an answer to a specific concern that was on my mind. I went through the session and sat in the Celestial Room for awhile without any kind of answer, and so I decided to return home; I figured the answer would come at another time. As I left the Celestial Room and walked down the hallway, I glanced into the sealing room, and as I did this, it felt as if someone had pushed me in the chest. This is the only time in my life that I have felt the Spirit as a strong, physical force. A very strong impression and a feeling of wholeness and warmth accompanied the physical force, and the impression was an answer to my concern.

I often have a difficult time reconciling these different experiences I have had in the temple. I think, perhaps, that my pain stems from the fact that I have found the temple to be such a place of revelation, peace, and holiness that it’s hard to reconcile this with my inner moral compass that (currently) seems to be irreconcilable with certain aspects of temple worship. Perhaps someday the Lord will see fit to set my mind at ease about the things that trouble me. In the meantime, I will do my best to lay my pain and worries at His feet and remind myself that returning to the temple will allow me to have further meaningful experiences with the divine. And I hope it will be through experiences with the divine that my concerns with the temple (and the church at large) will be answered, and I will find lasting peace.

(Note: I would prefer that the comments not devolve into an argument over feminist vs. non-feminist readings of the temple. However, feel free to share your own experiences with the temple–painful and/or joyful–or how you make sense of other things in your life that cause mixed emotions.)

33 Responses to “Making Sense of My Temple Experiences”

  1. 1.

    Dear Seraphine,

    I say this in all kindness – you just think too much! Just go and enjoy and don’t try to force things out. The spirit distills knowledge like dew, it doesn’t pour it out like a waterfall.

    On a side note, as an active, chaste, gay Latter-day Saint, the temple blessings and promises can also be hurtful to me but there are so many other things that I learn there that it more than makes up for the insecurity I have about my gayness.

    Perhaps it is the same with you and your feminism.

  2. 2.

    I don’t have trouble with feminism, but there is a certain amount of (how can i say this without going to hell…) kitch value to parts of the temple ceremony that if I’m not in the right mood really distract me from what I’m supposed to be learning.
    However apparently I’m supposed to go to the temple this week because this is the third post/email I’ve read today that gave me that impression. Heavenly Father usually has to hit me over the head pretty hard with a personal revelation when he wants me to go…
    But I definitely agree with you that the peace of sitting in the celestial room is many times worth any effort necessary, especially if that peace is elusive in your life right now.

  3. 3.

    My father was in a room where President David O. McKay told those in attendance not to confuse the methods of the temple with the message of the temple.

    I take that to mean that the temple is a holy place where we can feel Gods love and commune with God and the Holy Spirit, but the methods used to help us understand that are secondary in a big way.

  4. 4.

    I love the St. Louis Temple. It’s one of my favorites, maybe because I did baptisms there first a month after I was baptised.

    I try to remember that for portions of the temple presentation, Eve represents all men and all women, while Adam represents Christ, not normal man. For Other portions, Adam represents Man and Woman, and Christ represents Christ.

    I try to remember that the Temple is a living ordinance in it’s own right, and that it has changed, and will again change.

    I try to remember that I am at the Temple to talk to God, and to receive ordinances for those who have passed on.

    Alonzo Gaskill’s book, The Saviour and the Serpent, while not perfect, is very good for thinking about the Temple.

  5. 5.

    Michael, my experience sounds similar to yours–my general temple experience has been that what I’ve gained has been worth the pain. And I’m not trying to force anything–I’m just hoping that someday the pain isn’t just something I’m going to have to ignore. :)

    Megan, God often has to hit me over the head when he wants me to do things too. :)

    cantiflas, that’s an interesting thought, though I think in practice it is difficult to separate the methods of the temple from the message. Though, admittedly, that’s usually what gets me upset.

  6. 6.

    Matt W., there are definitely things about temple worship I try to remember too. I think, generally, I try to remember that God has given me plenty of reasons to trust Him and I should try to use that as the basis for evaluating my emotional experiences.

  7. 7.

    Seraphine, thanks for such honest reflections on the complexity of temple worship. I too find it really complicated. There’s much about the temple that distresses me, but I have to admit that I’ve also had profound (and completely inexplicable) spiritual experiences there. (I’ve also gone to the temple and emerged completely emotionally destroyed.) In that contradiction and the resulting ambivalence I feel lie the difficulty.

    I’ve stayed away from the temple for years now. I wouldn’t mind doing baptisms, for example, but I don’t want to have to explain to someone why I’m interested in baptisms and not the other ordinances. Also, I live some distance from the nearest temple, and going requires serious planning and coordinating. There’s just no one I trust enough to explain my circumstances to who could help me make the necessary arrangements. So I just don’t go. But I have to admit that part of me misses parts of it.

  8. 8.

    As I left the Celestial Room and walked down the hallway, I glanced into the sealing room, and as I did this, it felt as if someone had pushed me in the chest. This is the only time in my life that I have felt the Spirit as a strong, physical force.

    This description brought back some memories for me. I’ve had a sensation that I would describe the same way you did- a physical feeling of being pushed in the chest- twice. The first time was in a seminary lesson about the atonement. I had the thought that the atonement was really specifically for me, and along with that thought came the feeling. The second time I felt the sensation was when my parents announced to us that they were getting divorced. I did not attribute it to the spirit that time, and it’s made me look differently at the first time because it felt exactly the same. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. I don’t mean to infer or imply anything about your experience . . .for some reason I just felt like mentioning mine since it came up for me.

    I do have respect for people like you and Michael who keep sticking it out. I don’t imagine myself going back to the temple in the foreseeable future, but part of that may be that I’m simply too hardheaded and prideful.

  9. 9.

    Thanks for the post. I also have struggled with the role of women in the temple and it is very discouraging for me to sit through a session. I hear of others talk of loving the temple for the peace and spiritual insights they receive and I am envious. The discouragement I feel overrides anything else I might receive there.
    This post gives me encouragement – maybe I can try harder to focus on other aspects of the temple and find some peace there. I just may give it a try.

  10. 10.

    Matt W.- Thanks for that insight on who Adam and Eve might represent. I’ll have to look for that the next time I go.

  11. 11.

    Eve, I’m lucky that I only live about 30-40 minutes from a temple. So I can negotiate going on my own time and when I feel like I’m in an emotional place to handle it. And when I’m feeling really good about things, I can go often (and get my temple fix). I think it would definitely further complicate things if I had to make the kind of arrangements that you have to make.

    AmyB, thanks for sharing your experience. That particular experience was strange because I have never experienced the Spirit that way (and I haven’t since). I’m not really sure what it means (and it probably means different things for different people at different times). How’s that for a clear explanation of things. :) Also, I don’t necessarily think that avoiding the temple is the result of hardheadedness and pride. It can be (and there have been many times when I have not gone to the temple or just generally not heeded God for these reasons), but as Eve described, sometimes things are painful to the extent that for awhile it’s better to avoid them. And, personally, I’ve found God to be pretty patient when it comes to me delaying things because of dealing with and negotiating emotional pain.

    Sally, I’m glad my post was helpful for you. I’ve been lucky that the joy has outweighed the pain, but I know this is not everyone’s experience. I hope you find the peace you seek.

  12. 12.

    Although I’ve been a member for years I’ve never been to the temple. I became a member 18 yrs ago, then semi-inactive after 3or 4 and totally inactive for about 10 years before returning. I’ve always been ambivalent about the temple. People seem to either talk really positively or quit negativley about their experiences there.
    I never have read anti-mormon pages about the temple because I don’t think unless I’ve been there I should but I do have some questions. Have you had difficulty keeping commitments made at the temple? My husband (obviously we weren’t married in the temple) was baptised last summer and has very limitted knowledge of the temple and ordinaces except for baptism for the dead and I worry that some things , particularly G’s will be difficult for him to accept. Well seems there was only 1 question the rest was ramblings.
    To further complicate my ambivalence of the temple my Blessing implies I should be there often and probably long ago.
    I hope this isn’t too off topic.

  13. 13.

    Lizzilu; the garments are really the biggest thing for my husband – who was a convert at age 25 and then married me in the temple almost exactly one year later. We went through the temple the day before our wedding, together, but I don’t know that I was really any more prepared than he was at that point. Hard to say. Past garments, I don’t think either of us have any difficulty keeping the covenants – there’s not much there promise-wise that’s amazing and groundbreaking.

    If you’ve never been to the temple at all I would say go with a group and do baptisms. If you feel weird going with the youth (I’ve done it before) sometimes wards put together baptism trips for new members. It’s better to get the feeling of the temple first with baptisms than to go straight through for your own ordiences I think, less new and different maybe?

  14. 14.

    I absolutely love ritual, and also aesthetically minded worship. I sometimes yearn to belong to a religion in which participation in rituals I find uplifting and can support wholeheartedly is possible (which is probably one reason I’m drawn to high church services). I also love the idea of sacred clothing, as well as sacred space. This is an aspect to the temple that I’m extremely drawn to (although of course I refuse to attend the temple on the grounds that I personally find it morally objectionable and, from a pragmatic perspective, simply too painful).

  15. 15.

    Lizzilu, most of the covenants there are very related to things that we believe are important in the church anyway: obedience, chastity, etc. The main covenant that women (sometimes) have difficulty with, and the one that is being indirectly referenced by myself and some of the commenters, are that at one point in the ceremony, the covenants are different for men and women. Anyway, for further reference, I would look at Nate Oman’s post “A Letter Going to the Temple for the First Time” at

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3235#more-3235

    While the way he addresses the concerns people have about the temple are not satisfactory for some people, it’s a good post that might give you more of an idea about what to expect.

  16. 16.

    Seraphine,

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate your description of conflictedness. I feel some of the same conflictedness. (Isn’t there a better word than that? Probably.) Sometimes the designated sacred spaces and experiences of Mormonism provide us with wonderful access to the Divine. And sometimes, not. And sometimes (cf. AmyB’s comment), we find access to the Divine in other places, where we would least expect it, really.

    All of this crystalizes my own view that the church is a lens or a conduit through which we may approach Divinity, but is not necessarily the only such conduit, and is not free of imperfections, either — it gives us points of wonderful connection, but also brings its own baggage that at times, paradoxically, makes connection to Divinity all the harder.

    To complicate things further, one person’s baggage is another person’s conduit. Parts of the ceremony may bring me negative emotions and that detract from my own experience, but those same parts may be spiritually uplifting or affirming to another person.

    Each of us will use the lens differently. As long as our use of the lens overall serves to facilitate rather than hinder our access to Divinity, then it is still better than no lens at all.

  17. 17.

    I’ve felt myself caught in the same paradox you describe, Seraphine. I negotiate the resulting congnitive dissonance by reminding myself that while the phrasealogy of the ordinances is couched in langauage–an inevitably flawed medium stripped of its granduer somewhat when you compare translations of the ceremony in different languages–the connection I’ve felt with the divine while in the temple skips right past language to directly enter my heart. I can’t say that words (and I DEARLY love words, no matter how limited and limiting) have ever served as conduit for my temple revelations. Sacred space seems the more likely candidate. And the exact permaters of the ceremonies which take place in that space have changed in the past while–I assume–the sacrality of the space itself remain constant.

    Maybe that sounds like fluff or mumbo jumbo, but it helps me. Certain things still puzzle or annoy me, but I don’t sefind ie them as inextricably linked to the joy I’ve felt. If the temple is a place where the world and heaven meet, then the world is still somewhat present in that liminal space, right? I can deal with that, knowing it won’t always be so.

    When I know I’m in a mood where something might really bug me, I do initiatories. Plus it’s easier to stay awake :).

  18. 18.

    Thank you Megan and Seraphine. I did read Nate’s letter at Times & Seasons and found it quite informative. Much of what I read I have gleamed from conversations over the years but he helped me to see a sense of order in it. I think any difficulty I may have will be concerning the men / women differences but then again that is the area I have always had some difficulty in. Thank you both so much for your replies.

  19. 19.

    Kiskilili, I, too, love the ritualistic aspects of the temple. I’m sorry that for you the temple ritual brings more pain than joy.

    Kaimi, I typically use the term that Janet uses–”cognitive dissonance”–though in this case the dissonance is as much emotional as it is cognitive. And I like your “lens” metaphor. Thanks for sharing.

    Janet, I like how you think about the temple as a sacred space above all else. I do have a hard time getting away from the words–which I think is at least partly because they’re part of a repeated ritual rather than just words in a conversation–but I tend to believe what you do: that on a certainly level our access to the divine has to be mitigated through imperfect human institutions, including words.

    Lizzilu, good luck sorting out your plans related to the temple.

  20. 20.

    I don’t have much to add except to thank you for this post. The temple is a source of a lot of pain for me right now and yet I too had a powerful spiritual experience related to my attendance. Unfortunately, initiatories bother me as well–because of the language used. I realize that Janet is right–language severely limits our abilities to communicate, but it’s all we have right now and so it has to have at least some value. Anyway, I’ve appreciated some of the suggestions about dealing with the pain. It’s good to know that it’s okay to not go if it’s too much. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  21. 21.

    Seraphine,

    I was at the dedication of the temple in St. Louis too. Who knows, maybe we were in the same session? And your mention that you sang in the choir brought back a memory. Do you remember singing Come, Ye Children of The Lord? I’ve never liked that song, I guess because we often do it in a childish, singsong way, but the temple choir performed it beautifully. Especially the verse beginning “All arrayed in spotless white”, which was done in a dignified, solemn, unadorned (maybe even a capella?) manner, at about half the speed we usually sing it. It really impressed me when I heard it, and you brought back the memory. Thanks.

    My experience with the temple is much as you describe yours, a mixture of joy and pain. Blessings are pronounced upon both men and women, but men’s blessings are contingent. Women are described as being ready to meet God, and men are promised only that the may become ready, if they prove their worthiness. And the differences between the male and female versions of the preliminary ordinance before the endowment are so great as to render them almost unrecognizable as the same ordinance. For a person like me, with my particular set of challenges, neuroses, and limitations, it is easy to believe that the people sitting across the aisle are better than I. In fact, I’m not sure that isn’t ultimately the case.

    The sealing ordinances are the linchpin for me, and when I go to the temple, I usually volunteer for duty in the sealing room. When I see children kneel with their parents and hold hands, I can’t stop smiling. Mormonism makes a lot of sense to me with its promise that, “relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave”. If the pain of feeling that I am valued less by God is the price that is required, I will pay it gladly, and think I got a bargain.

    I’ve found that most of the things I value, from relationships with others to barbecue and Italian food, are messy, with lots of loose ends and unanswered questions. My temple experience fits that pattern as well.

  22. 22.

    Blessings are pronounced upon both men and women, but men’s blessings are contingent. Women are described as being ready to meet God, and men are promised only that the may become ready, if they prove their worthiness.

    I confess to not having been to the temple in quite a while, so my memory could easily be wrong, but I have no recollection of being described as ready to meet God. I thought both women’s and men’s blessing were contingent upon proving oneself worthy. Am I way off base?

  23. 23.

    AmyB, I think the healthiest way to look at it is to say that we all need to demonstrate our faithfulness. But the words spoken to women and men are different, and I think the simplest way to understand them is to believe that women are more spiritually advanced than men.

  24. 24.

    Lessie, glad to know the post helped you to feel not so alone. :)

    Mark IV, my understanding of the ceremony was that the blessing of being prepared to meet God was contingent for both men and women (on their righteousness)–I’m remembering something similar to AmyB. But it’s been long enough since I’ve been in attendance that I am not remembering the specific words. I’ll have to pay attention to this next time I attend. More generally, though, I think you’re right to point out that both men and women can have conflicted relationships with the temple and other aspects of gospel workshop, so thanks for sharing.

  25. 25.

    Seraphine, thank you for inspiring me to attend the temple today. In between scrubbing my oven and doing non-profit work, I made time for an hour of initiatories. More than I usually do, today I prepared mentally and spiritually to be open and accepting of God’s will. I had a wonderful experience, the best I’ve had in years. I take a lot of comfort from the blessings and promises in that sacred ceremony. I also took the time to ask questions about specific parts of the initiatory, as some of it has changed since the last time I’ve done them. After I finished, I spent quite a while talking with the temple matron (she’s 3 months new) about my questions and she seemed delighted to have the opportunity to discuss recieving revelation in the temple. I gained insight from her and a sense of patience and faith. I have had a lot of doubts over the last few months, but I didn’t feel many of them at the temple today.
    Thanks again. I really don’t think I would have made the effort to go today if I hadn’t read your post. It’s days like today that make me realize why I love this church and how amazing it is to have that “sacred space” on this earth.

  26. 26.

    I think MarkIV is mostly referring to a difference in the wording of the initiatories. It’s something that you’ll have to ask a temple worker to explain for you, since men and women don’t listen in on eachothers’ initiatories.

    I guess there are two sides to every coin because that difference in wording has always bothered me, but for entirely different reasons. The difference was explained to me shortly after I had been reading about polygamy and some of the explanations about why more women than men would be in the Celestial Kingdom. The most common explanation was that women aren’t as smart, or advanced as men are and therefore cannot be held to as high a standard as men are held to. The idea that women already are ready to meet God, but men have to prove themselves went right along with some of the old explanations.

    I will concede that MarkIV’s reading of the difference makes the most sense within today’s culture, and that the vast majority of men (and women) probably interpret it that same way. In fact the man who pointed out the difference to me made it clear that he thought of it the same way MarkIV does.

  27. 27.

    Thanks for the clarification, Starfoxy!

    And jessawhy, I’m glad that you had an uplifting day at the temple today.

  28. 28.

    What are the differences between men’s and women’s initiatories? I have often wondered, but I assumed they were different just in the exact same way that the endowment promise is different. I’m so curious!

    Seraphine, I feel so much the way you do in the temple. One thing that a friend and I have discussed is that the temple is not necessarily supposed to be a place of peace, but rather a place of truth. Truth is often painful and difficult. When you confront the fact that you belong to a Church that perpetuates the vows that it does, it is painful. I think when you feel pain in the temple, perhaps it is God telling you to do something about it! I think if all the women that felt such pain about the endowment ceremony would pray for a change, instead of having guilt about feeling that it is wrong, God would grant us our desires. Maybe that’s too optimistic of me.

    Another interesting thing: I was often worried because I would always get very sexual thoughts while I was in the temple (I’m single)and I thought “Hey! This isn’t supposed to happen here! Satan isn’t supposed to be able to be here! I must have brought him! I’m evil!” Then I realized that duh, these are good desires, and why wouldn’t God want me to think about and sort them out there in that place of truth?

  29. 29.

    Amy said, “I thought both women’s and men’s blessing were contingent upon proving oneself worthy. Am I way off base?”

    If you listen carefully to what is being said in the endowment session, she is correct and not off base. The whole temple experience is based the principal of worthiness in this lifetime. Maybe we don’t have to prove we are worthy but just maintain our worthiness.

    As for the feminist concerns in the Temple, if you read Moses 3:18 and then look up the meaning of help meet you will find that Adam and Eve where equal partners in the creation as all men and women are ordained to be by God. Although, it may not look that way right now in a world under the influence of the Advesary. Just because men and women are equal does not mean thay are the same and I thank God for those wonderful differences.

  30. 30.

    Lollygagger, I think you’re going to have to go elsewhere for details about the exact differences between men and women’s initiatories (in the past our general blog policy has been to not discuss temple ceremonies in too much detail).

    That aside, I agree that I think that while the temple is a place of peace, it also has other functions, one of them being, as you put it “a place of truth.” I’m just not sure how to reconcile thinking about the temple as “a place of truth” with the difficulties I have with the ceremonies (if it truly is a place of truth, isn’t it possible to assume that these ceremonies are revealing a specific truth about our gendered relations?). This is not necessarily what I believe, but I think one could easily come to this conclusion. Still, I do like your idea of being honest about our pain so as to increase awareness and possibly influence change.

    Larry, I agree that “equality” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “sameness.” I encourage you to look at my recent posts on thinking about “equality” and “sameness” in church practices when it comes to gender.

  31. 31.

    Saraphine,
    Thanks for writing about this. I have similar problems with the temple, and have decided to not attend since it is so painful for me. I figure a loving God will understand.

    I’m envious that you’ve actually had positive experiences there. I’ve only been about 5 times, but I felt nothing remotely spiritual there. If I had, I might, like you, make more of an effort to attend every once in a while.

    I really believe that those elements that we both dislike will be changed in time. And when they are, I’ll be first in line to go back.

  32. 32.

    Caroline, I’m sorry that your experience has been wholly negative. I would have even a more difficult time attending if that had been my experience, and I can certainly understand why you would not choose to attend for the time being. And I don’t know if I believe certain elements will change (maybe it’s because I’m in a bad mood today :) ), but I do hope for it.

  33. 33.

    I am so glad to read this posting. I too, am a woman who is extremely uncomfortable in the temple based not only on language, but on its origins as well. I went to the temple the day before my marriage at a time when I was studying for the LSAT (law school entrance exam) and I think a combination of stressors made for a very bad experience. I wanted to walk out of the session (I was not prepared AT ALL–and temple prep classes do NOTHING to prepare one for this experience), but I was getting married the next day and the invitations were already mailed. If I had it to do over, I would go without all the pressure of being married the next day. However, my temple marriage was a beautiful experience–the only beautiful experience I’ve had in the temple. I love the Church, I just don’t feel comfortable in the temple.

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