Monday, August 19, 2013

My Temple Experience: Can I talk about it now?

I was nineteen years old, plus a few months. I had sort of allowed my immediate world to push me toward serving a mission. Before I could be set apart as a missionary, I'd need to go through the temple and "take out my endowment." This would include going through the initiatory rites, putting on new Mormon temple garments, participating in an endowment session, making some covenants for my exaltation, and ending up in the Celestial Room of the temple for about...4 minutes of reflection. And then of course, there's no talking about it--"not because it's secret, but because it's sacred." The temple has always seemed like a foreign, unfathomable experience to me. Of course, I'm not going to spill all the beans about what goes on inside Mormon temples. (And all of the details are a quick google search away anyhow.) But I would like to talk about my experiences with the temple; the things that I felt spiritually; the things I experienced cerebrally and viscerally.

At risk of giving away my age, my first experience of the temple was in doing baptisms for the dead with the young men and young women of the church. That all happened...more than two decades ago. I was young, impressionable, and pretty much a committed Mormon. Once inside the Provo temple, I could tell it was a special place. It was quiet. A lot of people were dressed in all white clothing. Mostly white dresses for the ladies and white pants, shirts, and ties for the fellas. But quiet. No one talked. Or if they did, it was only in quiet whispers. There was no doubt you were supposed to be reverent there; this was as close as you could be to Heaven while in mortality, they said.

I was baptized a member of the Mormon Church when I was only 8 years old. That wasn't too weird. It was just...what you did. And you could talk about it plenty. You looked forward to it. Because I had experienced my own baptism, baptisms for the dead was no big deal. I don't mean to say it isn't an important and special temple rite. I just mean, it wasn't weird. It was just being dunked in a pretty beautiful baptismal font, a whole bunch of times, for people who had died without having the chance to accept Mormonism, or perhaps, the gospel of Christ.
The next stage of the temple came when I was preparing to leave on my 2-year mission to Los Angeles, CA. This would be much more than baptisms for the deceased. This would be going to the temple for myself, in order to ensure myself a place in the Celestial Kingdom, in the next life. So I knew it was kind of a big deal. I just didn't know it was going to be so...strange. No one described to me, in any detail, what I was going to experience. Not that it's a secret. "It's not secret; it's sacred." And, it probably wouldn't have changed anything for me. I still would have gone, feeling like I needed to--and I had to, in order to be a missionary. So, I went.
(Side note: Keep in mind that some parts of the temple rituals change every so often, so the way I will describe it for you might be different than what one would experience today.) I changed from my churchish clothing into nothing but a white poncho-like piece, provided by the temple. That's it; that is all I had on; a white poncho. So from the gate, I felt a little vulnerable. But I tried to trust that this was all necessary. And I thought, "My parents and so many people I know have done this before; I don't need to be scared." During the initiatory, I was symbolically washed and anointed. Now, I don't think for a second that the old guy who was touching various regions of my body, under the poncho, was some pervert. He was doing the initiatory exactly as he was supposed to do it. But I did feel a little uncomfortable. And mostly...I just thought it was weird.
As part of the initiatory rite, you put on new temple garments, which begins what is meant to be a life of wearing the temple garment as your underwear. I didn't think this was all that bizarre. I knew the garments were coming. I had seen my parents always wearing theirs. I had folded theirs while doing laundry since I was a kid. No big deal. Just underwear. (Kind of).

Next, I was ready to go into a special room to do an endowment session, receiving my own endowment. No more poncho. Now, I'm in my new garments, and wearing white shirt, white pants, white tie, white socks. BUT, I'm also holding a packet of things that I'll put on at specific times during the ritual. I'm also given a piece of paper with my new name written on it. This was where I just got totally lost. It was awkward. I fumbled with the whole thing. And I felt silly and embarrassed. During the endowment, you watch a movie; a reenactment of the creation (Adam and Eve's story, and the creating of the earth and all that's on the earth.) The men sit on one side of the room. The women on the other. The movie was fine. I mean, nearly everyone has heard the Adam and Eve story, or read from Genesis in the Old Testament. But during all of this, you covenant a bunch of different things with God, while simultaneously putting on an apron, a sash, a really bizarre cap. And there were things to tie on this side, then on that side. It was confusing. I couldn't begin to comprehend what it was all for. I didn't understand the significance at all. I didn't understand why God would need me to have a different name, especially if He knows me as well as I believe He does. I never got past feeling...weird. I won't go into the other parts of the endowment ceremony here, out of respect for the temple, and those who consider this all to be extremely sacred. But allow me to say, simply, these things made me uncomfortable, confused, nervous, overwhelmed...even somewhat scared.

Once the endowment session is complete, you move on, through a veil and out into the Celestial Room, where you sort of meet up with everyone else. It's a beautiful room. Big. Spacious. Airy. And white. (Apparently, white is God's favorite color. Well, that and white is often a symbol of purity.) So there I am in the Celestial Room. I was relieved to be there. Relieved to be out of the endowment session. Relieved to be back in the comfort of my family and friends who attended the temple with me that day. (That was a source of comfort and some confidence; my parents, grandparents, a cousin, aunt and uncle, best friend with his parents, etc...were all there that day.) Now, the Celestial Room is supposed to be a place of meditation, prayer, contemplation. But it's not a place for talking, really. "Whisper if you must speak at all," they said. So, there I am; an inexperienced and naive 19 year old; a little freaked out, but finished with the process that day. It would be OK now, right? I could figure out all of that stuff I didn't understand. Someone would explain it all to me, yes? NO. One big catch: you all take an oath not to talk about that stuff outside the walls of the temple. So now I'm just 19, and confused. And I feel like I can't ask anyone about it, because the things I want to talk about are never to be talked about. But, again, I sort of brushed myself off and figured it would all be fine, remembering that my parents, grandparents, and so many people I loved and trusted had all been through it. Not only that, many of them attend the temple often and perform these same rituals for the deceased. That gave me some confidence that I would eventually come to love the temple. Anyway...

After my mission, I met a girl and decided to marry her, in the temple, because that's what you do if you love someone enough; that's what you MUST do, in order to be sealed together, "for time and all eternity." (If you've been following this blog, you know this one ends in divorce. If you haven't been following me, well, now you know.) The sealing ceremony is quite simple. There isn't a lot of flowery language. There isn't an exchanging of traditional, hand-written vows. There are, as with other temple rites, covenants made, between the spouses, to each other and to God. This is done in a sealing room, over a beautiful alter. I actually liked the sealing ceremony. Or at least I don't remember not liking it, nor any part of it. (I did find it a little surprising that I got to know my wife's secret name, but she couldn't know mine. And then, when we got divorced, and had our sealing canceled, I'm supposed to forget her secret name. It's been...since 1999, and it takes my brain about 0.5 seconds to remember it though.)

Well, I stopped attending the temple at that point. I never went back. First, it was because I just didn't make it a priority. Now, it's because I don't like the temple. Still stuck on weird.

What does this all mean? Have I made the ground-breaking discovery that no one should go through the Mormon temple? Does my experience dictate that the covenants made in the temple are useless? Does the fact that I don't like the temple rituals mean I'm off the hook; the temple is just a big, gaudy building? No. Not necessarily, at least.

For a while I felt like I must just be averse and uncomfortable with any ritualism. But I've since found that to be 100% untrue. I have found real beauty in a few non-Mormon rituals and realize it's not the ritualism I have issues with.  In fact, doing work for the dead, or trying to connect with the other side is actually really appealing to me. Totally resonates with my spirit and what I choose to believe. Perhaps, I'm simply too spiritually immature to handle the Mormon temple experience. (Still trying to figure that out.) Maybe I just wasn't ready at age 19. I certainly feel that I wasn't prepared. Maybe you guys can help me out and give me some insight. I'm counting on that, actually.

What you need to know:
*I never got past the temple feeling just weird.
*I am very uncomfortable with the secretiveness. (I do know the difference between secret and sacred.)
*I don't understand the significance of most of the temple rites.
*I don't currently have the desire to try for a temple recommend, as I'm uninterested at this point in my understanding, and my faith journey.
*I have understood and enjoyed a Hindu fire ritual, and I'm very drawn to some Native American rituals.
*I'm open to learning, and being made to feel more comfortable and more confident in the Mormon temple experience.
*I have respect and admiration for those who love the temple and take it very seriously, and hold it as sacred.


  1. I typed a really long reply on my phone but I guess it didn't work. (creepy) Okay so I really liked this post Wade. I too felt a bit strange from the outset. My parents had told me there would be a part where I was mostly unclothed (initiatory) and I was actually freaked out a lot more from them telling me that. I assumed it was in the large room in front of everyone. I still have an issue with the "secret/sacred" thing. I totally believe that sacred means that when it is talked about it is done with respect and in the right company. I think that people should feel comfortable outside the temple to discuss what goes on there because it brings further light and knowledge. I would have loved to sit down with my parents afterward, in the quite and shelter of our home, and have a deep discussion about what just happened. It would probably leave less people with this awkward feeling some feel. Like you said, it's not like people can't Google it and find out the exact ceremony, why not give people a "from the horse's mouth" version so as to push away any misunderstanding. I guess, too, it's the attitude with which people want to discuss it. I have a co-worker (athiest) who was very interested in learning about it for educational purposes. Not wanting to say too much I gave her the Church's pamphlet "Preparing to Enter The Holy Temple". This, along with my tight-lipped manner, sparked her curiosity and so she googled it. And now she has a very outsider's perspective on the temple, from someone looking to "expose/destroy" the Church, not someone looking to teach. I think the "follow blindly" approach is fading fast because of the wealth of information that is available. People need to find out for themselves, ask questions, be open and challenge things that don't sit right within them.

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  3. I know where you're coming from. My mom committed suicide a few years ago, I had a disturbing experience during her endowment session. Something I've never had to deal with; it was the opposite of my past familial temple experiences. It has since sparked so many questions and feelings of conflict. I love the Gospel and know it's true, yet there are many parts of church history, past church leaders' behavior, and the dullness of church culture that I need to accept and move on. I'm presently not spiritually mature enough to do so.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Brad. I think many members become confused on what they can talk about vs. what they actually covenant not to. And so they "play it safe" by not talking about any of it; the secret translating to sacred, for them.
    NO ONE told me I'd be mostly naked, or how the washing/annointing would go. It was all a big shock. I'd love the church to offer a temple class that is a continuation of temple prep, creating an environment where no question is off-limits and talking about it all might take the weirdness/awkwardness out of the temple. That would be helpful for people like me.

    Kemi: I had no idea about your mom. I'm so, so sorry. You and I share that common bond, as I lost my mom that way just 2 years ago :(.
    I'd love to hear about that experience with your mom's endowment session, if ever you want to share it. And if not, I understand. I can actually understand the sacred nature of that personal experience. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post, and I appreciate the manner in which you described (and didn't describe) the ongoings of the Temple. I too can relate. For me, my first time was definitely different, mostly because it was just a whole side of the Gospel that you didn't know or realize was there. I felt like I was at a Bakers Convention (referring to the cool cap for the men ) Granted, everything that goes on in the Temple can be found in the Scriptures (especially Old Testament) including the clothing. The "secret vs sacred" ....I relate to our secular education. Just as you would not teach a 2nd grader, College level Physics or Probability and Statistics for Engineering, the same applies with the Gospel. We learn and progress to a point of understanding. Trying to learn something without understanding is taking it out of context and not gaining a complete knowledge. Now, having said that, does not mean that I am saying that I have a complete knowledge of Temple ordinances and covenants. But i'm saying that you DO need to be prepared when participating in the Temple so that for you it then becomes "sacred" and not just "secret". I can definitely attest to not being prepared when I first attended the Temple. But after having gone through, and afterwards still having that "weird" feeling of what just happened, I did continue to attend the Temple. Yes, still with questions, doubts, etc. But I have found that the more I attend, the more I learn and gain a greater understanding, and the more I realize that God does not change. The core principles and doctrine of the Gospel are the same today, as they were in Old Testament. MAN has changed and evolved in how those principles and doctrines are relayed and taught (example the new updated Temple film that was just released) to accommodate for the growth of the Church and it's members. But the Temple is a very PERSONAL experience between you and God. One that should not be influenced by the thoughts/opinions of others, be they LDS members or not.

  6. One of the best lessons I've learned in my life is this: I am the temple. I am the channel and vessel for light. The LDS Temples are holy places because people decide that they are and they go into them with that mindset. I follow the life of Jesus. He never NEEDED Temples or Churches to receive his answers or commune with God- or to facilitate miracles and healings. Temples are wonderful, in the same way Dumbo's feather could make him fly.

    1. I have a similar view, presently, Katie Jo. I'm very unsure of any necessity in the temple. I'm at a point where I don't feel any pull toward the temple is due to its necessity in my life. However, I have experienced other rituals where I actually have learned a lot about myself, or where I've felt healing. So I'm open to the possibility that, at some point, I may be able to find that in the Mormon temple. I'm unsure. But I'm open to it.

  7. Check out the Mormon Matters podcast "Ritual within Mormonism." It is a great discussion on ritualism and myth, the way rituals play out in the church, and the varied experience with them. I think the discussion is a nice level, not getting lost in the weeds.–41-ritual-within-mormonism/

  8. I was pre-warned by my father about the "strangeness" of the temple and he laughed about it which made me feel I was in for something different but that it was going to be okay. As we walked out of the temple we joked about it lightly, but I did feel it was special to have gone through that experience with so many family members there. I think the temple is somewhat of a jarring, abrupt event in most people's lives even when they are "prepared." You are right about needing a support group in church for newly endowed members. I would think that frequent temple attendance early on would do away with much of the weirdness feeling by becoming more familiar with it and comfortable with the various group participatory moments.

    People's experience with the temple changes with time. Mine has gone from general confusion about the symbolism, but curious to learn more; eventually that transitioned to downright annoyed/offended by the endowment story and sheer boredom. Today I can tolerate a session and mildly appreciate it from time to time. I am not the poster boy for the temple or attendance, but I cannot downplay the importance the temple plays in many active LDS lives. Perhaps it will take on larger meaning in my life one day, but for now I am focusing on the Mormon stuff that I feel is the most useful to me - serving in my calling, personal study, prayer/meditation, and passing on the stories and teaching to my kids that I think will influence them for good. I am buffet type Mormon, picking and choosing from the smoragus board of opportunities.

    Moving forward, I am trying to be less in my head when I am at church and at the temple, and more open to the experience of it. It is useful to talk about the temple (in an appropriate setting), but I don't expect that I am going to meet someone who can explain it beyond the literalism, and I would be wary of someone who claims they have the answers to what it all means (including temple presidents and other church leadership).

  9. It's unfortunate in way that there is a lot of thing you did because you felt that was what you were supposed to do in the church. There are definitely advantages of being a girl where I wasn't expected to go on a mission and I and all of my companions were on their mission because they wanted to. I was excited to go to the temple and tried to prepare myself prior. I had a totally awesome day when I received my endowment and I definitely felt a really strong spiritual power in the days and weeks afterward like all my sins had been washed away. It definitely wasn't what I expected, but not everyone has the same experience you had. Also, the promises given in during anointing, and sealing are amazing and can give you much to ponder and think about. I think when you decide its the right time for you to return, you won't have the same experience you did a teenager.

    Not that I go to the temple all the time. I probably average once a year but I do recognize that a lot of people who regularly go, feel a lot of blessings and gratitude for the temple.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bonnie. I do think there is more to glean from the temple experience than I did as a teenager/early 20-something. I'm slowly coming around to the idea that maybe I can find ways to make the rituals more meaningful and more appealing.
      I wish there wasn't so much secrecy surrounding it; there doesn't need to be. Too often sacred is confused with those very few things that we covenant never to reveal.

    2. My last sentence is confusing. I think we sometimes think everything is sacred and must be secretive/sacred, whereas, there are only those very things we covenant never to reveal that are supposed to be off-limits/sacred/secret.

  10. My experience and thoughts are similar to what Ron Craft posted. The temple was strange at first but the more I have chosen to attend the temple the more I feel comfortable and the more I learn about the rituals performed. The temple is often referred to as the Lord's university. It is a place of learning. The understanding comes slowly, line upon line. I find this to be true in my own experience. I am far from understanding all aspects of the temple ceremonies, covenants, sacred clothing , etc. But as I have continued to attend and search the scriptures about specific questions I have found answers. Another reference that was helpful for me is The Temples Ensign. It was a special edition of the Ensign that was more descriptive than most people are about the temple experience. It was also helpful for me to talk about the experience in the Celestial room with friends, family members, temple presidency members, mission presidents, etc. I think the whole don't talk about it thing is blown out of proportion by members and they are extreme in the way they do not talk about it. Every session I attend I talk about things I thought and felt and questions that come to me in the Celestial room (I do whisper so I am still reverent and respecting those around me who are praying and to show respect for the holiness of the temple.) Overall I have learned some of the coolest things by talking with family members about it while in the celestial room. I am very open about the temple even when outside of those holly walls but I am careful with the things I discuss as to not go over board. I talk openly about the things it mentions in the temple ensign. Another helpful preparation for me came from an institute class that was fascinating. A local man who was translation the dead sea scrolls a few years ago taught us about the ancient rites that were performed. He taught from the Old Testament and discussed the clothing. He also taught about the symbolism of those rituals. All of that was helpful in that I better understood that things are symbolic and it takes work and preparation and revelation to gain understanding. Aside from that it was still an eye opening experience the first time attending the temple. There are some great resources out there that can help but the level of understanding one attains depends on how much effort they put into finding that understanding, similar to the story of the ten virgins that had to get and store the oil for themselves. I hope that some of these taughts are helpful for you and can give you ideas of where to find further information. I hope you can find the answers you seek. Love you! - Angie Dinkins Green