Two Temples --
I attended two temples on Wednesday, and the experiences were very revealing.
I went for a long hike in the woods with a 50 pound pack to get ready for a backpacking trip next month. I had my MP3 player with me, and the weather was glorious. For me, hiking is like a temple experience. It's a place of revelation. This day was no different. The glory of God was all around me, everywhere, in the blue of the sky, the green of the leaves, the blue of the lake water, and the gentle rhythms of the trees. No words of counsel manifested themselves, nor angels with flaming swords. None were needed. God was telling me in loud visible terms, "this is the glory and greatness of my creation, and you couldn't reproduce a particle of it on your own. Behold my glory, and be a part of it. Work with it and not against it. I hold you in the palm of my hand as the pinnacle of my creation. You are at my mercy in all that you do. Be still and know that I am God. Exult in my love for you and behold this earth I have created for my glory and for your sustenance during your short time there." The power of God was almost tangible, visible. I felt my part in his creation as one of his created.
I finished the hike, went home, and got cleaned up for an evening temple session. As this might be my last I approached it with a heightened level of awareness. What would it be like? What messages would God send? How would the revelation I felt in the temple compare with what I felt in the woods?
One of the downsides of the smaller temples is that I invariably try to pack too much in to a temple visit. I am always squeezing it in around other things, and I am almost always rushed. This was a little different, but not much.
One thing I felt as I drove the twenty minutes to the temple was a feeling of release. Like a great weight was lifted off of my chest.
Often what should be a place of worship is for me a place of failure. I'm running late. My shirt isn't white enough. It's wrinkled. I should be doing more genealogy and bring my own names. I'm not attentive enough. My mind drifts when I should be focused on the ceremony. I sweat visibly anticipating the transition to the celestial room. What if I forget something? What if the temple worker is disgusted by how sweaty my hand is as I am tested? Why don't I see angels and get more revelation? Why don't I come more often? I should have polished my shoes. I'm just not good enough to really be there.
There was none of that this time. With a more discerning attitude towards the church has come a sweet release from most of those feelings of inadequacy. Paradoxically, since I don't put things associated with the church on such a high pedestal anymore I enjoy them hugely more than I did before. My identity in Christ gives me everything I need, and we're all sinners. What other people in the church may think of me is of lesser consequence. I am justified by my faith and my relationship to God and Christ and not by how well I fit into church programs or "look like the propets" in how I act or dress or speak.
I have felt for awhile that the thing that we are blessed for in temple worship is our faith, not merely performing the ordinances. The value is not the ceremony itself, but as an expression of worship and faith. There are many other expressions of worship and faith. Do the dead need these ordinances? No. We need them as a way of worshiping and in feeling those tangible connections to those who have gone before. Temple ordinances create mystic ties to both the dead and the living.
I think I had one of my best sessions ever. The references to the atonement and the resurrection came through more clearly than before. The feeling of progressing in devotion to God and in sanctification came through more clearly. The doctrines about achieving godhood and of God having progressed from his own Garden of Eden were there, but inconsequential to me. I almost brushed them off.
I suffered my usual sweaty palms, but made it to the Celestial Room, perhaps for the last time, without incident.
Once in the Celestial Room I was left to ponder. What does it all mean? If the temple is a place of revelation, Lord, bring it on. I need some. This could be my last shot at this. If I'm supposed to repent and return to orthodoxy, send me a flaming arrow of revelation. If I'm supposed to tear off my temple clothing and start singing "Amazing Grace" and call the others in the room to repentance, give me a sign.
I closed my eyes as usual, preparing to launch into a tortured prayer, and the witness I got was to open my eyes, look around, and take it all in. So I did.
I perceived the symbolism of the temple ceremony as a process of cleansing and sanctification rather than exaltation. It seemed more about personal purification than an increase in power and status and authority. I appreciated the Celestial Room as a quiet place of contemplation and separation from the cares of the world. One of many places. Not the only place. One face of God was revealed to me in the woods earlier. Another was revealed in the temple. God has many aspects, many roles, many ways being perceived. The temple is an important one, but just one.
I looked around at the joy in the faces of some of the other people in the room and felt warmed by their faith. There was a young couple desperately in love. There was an older lady holding hands with a young woman, the both of them crying about something. I appreciated the beautiful white and gold furnishings and decorations and the flowers and the chandelier. It was truly a beautiful place that wholly reflected what I brought into it. It wasn't a source of light, but a lens through which the faith within me might be focused in a positive way.
Finally it was time to go. My gaze and my touch lingered on everything near me as I walked back to the locker room. I touched the wood work and looked in the sealing room as I passed. I wanted to remember everything, since I might not pass this way again.
I was one of the last people in the temple, and of course the only other person in the temple was using the same locker space, so I paused to put my immediate family on the prayer list, as well as all the members of the New Order Mormon web site.
On the way out the door I wanted to visit the sealing room where my daughter had been married, just one last time, but the smiling temple president and the smiling matron were there to gently guide me out the door so they could lock up, and I didn't fight it.
So, after all that, what about renewing my recommend? I felt at peace with myself. It was out of my hands. It's largely up to the bishop and stake president at this point to decide whether my heretical thinking puts me outside the fold or within it. I have no transgressions to worry about. Keeping the Word of Wisdom is not a problem, if I decide to. It might be a question of whether I want to keep that current on my tithing, but the central questions are the doctrinal ones. Once those are settled I can worry about the behavioral ones.
Another angle on this, which I felt in the temple, is that there are other beautiful houses of God in which we can worship. Are there not cathedrals to pray in? Woods to hike through? Mountains to climb? There are. One aspect of what I felt in the Celestial Room was to look around, mark the feelings I had, and search out other like places in which I felt close to God. Also, losing a temple recommend is not permanent. If my circumstances and faith issues change, I can work through getting it back.
In summary my temple experience was a great one, and it motivated me to seek out like experiences. Either in the temple or elsewhere . . .