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.)
- 6 February 2007