Thursday, August 23, 2012

Preparation for the Temple

Last week, a close family friend went to the temple to receive her endowment. In preparation for that event, I wrote her a letter with temple preparation advice. The first half of the letter was practical advice about garment styles, and the second half was about the theology of the temple, with the specific purpose of mitigating some of the gendered language of the ceremony. I've reproduced the second half of the letter below, edited to remove any personal information.

I will be moderating comments on this post due to the sensitive nature of the topic. Comments that violate the comment policy or that quote lengthy excerpts from the temple ordinances will not be posted.

Dear [E],

The endowment is unlike anything else in church experience. Most of church experience is structured according to western societal norms of discourse - propositions proceed logically and in a linear fashion toward a conclusion. The endowment is structured more according to eastern norms of discourse. It is highly allegorical and symbolic, and it is not to be taken literally.

The endowment ceremony is a lot to take in, and it’s normal for it to be a bit confusing at first. You aren’t expected to remember or understand it all at once. Your escort will be seated right next to you to guide you through the ordinance. There are also temple workers who will be there to assist you at every step of the way.

The endowment is presented through the use of the story of Adam and Eve. However, it is important to note (and this is stated at the beginning of the ceremony) that there is a difference between the endowment itself, and the way that the endowment is presented. Don’t confuse the container with the contents.

The story begins similarly to what is found in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price, though there are some significant differences. Although you will be watching a movie for most of the time, you are not intended to be a passive observer. You are a character in the drama. Each person on screen, male or female, can teach you something about how to return to God.

One very important thing to remember when going through the initiatory and endowment ordinances is that these ordinances are designed to be received while an individual, male or female, is unmarried. This is important to remember because a few times in the ordinances, there will be a reference to your husband. This is not a reference to [J] and has nothing to do with your relationship to him. In the scriptures, repeatedly, Christ is referred to as the husband, and the church is referred to as the wife. (see, e.g., Isaiah 54:5, Jeremiah 3:14, Jeremiah 31:32) Therefore, any reference to a relationship between a husband and a wife in the initiatory or endowment is really a reference to the relationship between Christ and the church. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and does not differentiate between men and women in their relationship to Christ. (see Galatians 3:27-29) Don’t let anyone misuse an improperly literal interpretation of the temple to tell you otherwise.

The pinnacle of the ceremony is when each person present has an opportunity to approach the veil of the temple, speak to God, and enter into God’s presence (i.e. the Celestial Room). Everything else in the temple is merely preparatory for this event. (This is accomplished by a temple worker standing on the other side of the veil representing God. Because you will be getting married the next day, [J] will be the person standing on the other side of the veil. This is for logistical convenience because there is a piece of information he needs you to tell him there. Once again, this is all totally symbolic and does not imply any kind of hierarchy in your relationship. Every other time you attend the temple, the person on the other side of the veil is just a random temple worker.) When it comes down to it, entry into the Celestial Room is the essence of the ceremony, and the rest is just a vehicle to get you there.


Michelle Glauser said...

I like the idea that the "husband" refers to Christ, even though that means my feeling that I can get out of the whole thing by not getting married gets washed away. But what about the men? They don't do anything with the word "husband."

Keri Brooks said...

Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

The way I've come to interpret the endowment is that we're all actors in the unfolding drama. We each have a role to play, but it's not really us. During the hearken covenant, the women in the room aren't actually promising anything as women; we're representing the church and promising things as the church.

In the scriptures, the church is female, so women act to represent the church in the endowment ceremony. Men, as part of the church, are under the same covenant. After all, everyone covenants to follow Christ at baptism.

It's not perfect, but it's better than the literal interpretation.