This is a second in a series about learning how to get the most out of the Temple.
Years ago I first entered the Temple as an emerging adult about to enter the mission field. Although many memories of that experience are vague, some thoughts and feelings have not been forgotten. No matter how much information I was given, none of it prepared me for the first time. It was strange to see and participate in such a richly symbolic activity. This left me confused once finished. Despite those who express spiritual rejuvenation and enlightenment, some never return.
Lack of preparation is not the only reason for a negative reaction. Many cultures have unique and demanding rituals that bridge the gap between the child and adult world. Such initiations have mostly been wiped out in Western civilization, replaced by childish giving in to base instincts. What used to be signs of adulthood in the modern culture at least thirty years ago is quickly fading. No longer can marriage and entering the workforce be counted on as expectations. Growing up has been replaced by holding on to adolescence and immaturity for long as possible.
Is it any wonder those who have never entered the sacred walls of the Temple for the endowment can be stunned? Schools teach science, mathematics, and language arts directly. Peripherally social instructions come from peers of the same general age and maturity. For Mormons, church attendance teaches the basics of Faith and Obedience with only a hint of ritual through baptism and Sacrament. The granting of Priesthood and young women awards have some notion of social graduation. Receiving the endowment is the ultimate religious expression of reaching adulthood and spiritual maturity.
My response to discomfort for the first time could have been to never return. There are those who choose this path. Such is not my nature when confronted by things I don’t understand. The need to know inspired me with the willingness to search, pray, and ponder for meaning. Knowing what I do now, I would like to leave some suggestions how to get more out of Temple attendance.
Go with someone you feel comfortable with.
For the younger participants, perhaps you are open and friendly with your parents. It would be a wonderful opportunity to get to know them even better as spiritual inspiration. On the other hand, they perhaps aren’t on the level of peers. Go with them nonetheless, but see if there is a person willing to come along closer to your age and experience who has already taken out their endowment. Ideally, it is someone who you are comfortable asking questions and trusting.
Those who have attended the Temple a few times shouldn’t be afraid to go alone, but try to find a person to go with. It is always better to know someone and not feel alone. The experience is, after all, a communal one. Temple “dating” should probably be avoided if not married. It can be very personal and create spiritual vulnerabilities. Of course, once married the opposite is true and its a great way to spiritually renew the relationship.
Do not be afraid to return, and return often.
The mindset of trying it just once and deciding if you like it doesn’t work. There are way too many details and meanings behind the Temple experience. Now that you know what to expect, go back to old talks and scriptures that were previously pointed out for preparation and read them. A whole new light should open up as treasures from heaven. Pay more attention the second time to what it all means rather than what is happening. The second surprise might be how familiar it all starts to seem.
This should go for all those who might attend for the first time, or have not gone back. Spiritual rewards will outstrip any discomfort from the unusual experience. There are some things in life that must be carefully cultivated in order to enjoy. Learning from the Temple takes time, patience, and prayerful contemplation. Searching the Scriptures is essential to coming to understand the symbolism and meaning behind the rituals.
Become familiar with Covenants.
We take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ at the time of Baptism. During Sacrament with the bread and water, these promises and blessings are reinforced. This includes a covenant to obey the Commandments of God:
15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.
– Alma 7:15-16
The Temple contains similar covenants we have made at the time of our Baptism. They are split into three different areas. The first is covenants we make as individuals. the second set of covenants we make in regards to family responsibilities. The last set of covenants has to do with our membership in the community of Saints. Become familiar with the Ten Commandments, The Sermons on the Mount, and that we should love God and neighbor. Finally, we should do more than recite covenants, but live them with Faith. Ultimately, it is about belonging to the Kingdom of God. The more covenants we keep, the more blessings we reap.
Recognize the meanings of symbols.
Pay attention. Most of the symbolic meanings found in the Temple are spelled out in either words or relationships as part of the presentation. Watch carefully what happens and listen for any narrative explanations. The key to undestanding a great deal of the Temple is knowing we are the central focus. It is a representative journey from pre-mortal existance to our return to Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is where a good understanding of Scripture is most helpful, noticing the various allusions to scriptural teachings introduced in new and personal ways.
Use the less understood parts to your advantage. Memory is a vital purpose of the Temple experience. It seeks to bring to mind our place in the Universe and Plan of Salvation. If you do not understand something, try to at least remember it during the rest or for the next time. It could end up relating to something you do understand, bringing meaning to both. Even if you still don’t understand it, focus on what you do know. With continued returns and pondering there will be answers. Part of the joy of continually going to the Temple is that we learn something new each participation.
These are, from my experience over the years, important steps to gaining a sacred respect for the Temple. It takes more than a passive response to become spiritually invigorated by the rich texture that is the Temple.
Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. We should hasten to the temple as frequently, yet prudently, as our personal circumstances allow. We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that are within those hallowed and consecrated walls. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience . . .
. . . All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them. I encourage everyone to worthily attend the temple or to work toward the day when you can enter that holy house to receive your ordinances and covenants. As the prophets have said, the temple is a place of beauty; it is a place of revelation; it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It must be holy and important to us.
– Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 2