Someone recently asked me the following:
Perhaps you can explain how a person who finds the [temple experience] to be … troubling should express those feelings.
This was my reply, with additional edits:
I think that would depend on if they are a member of the Church or not. I also think it goes beyond how they should express the feelings, to what should they do about them.
If not a member, I’m not sure why something that we do in the sacred seclusion and confines of our temples should disturb such a person at all since they don’t participate in it, and it in no way affects their way of life or beliefs. I would submit that someone like this doesn’t really know the temple even if they think they do, since they do not have first-hand experience, and so it is difficult for them to rightly discern. The sacred things of the temple, when purloined from that holy environment, lose their godly nature and divine sanction. This is why we refrain from speaking of their details outside of that sacred space. In a profane context, the temple doesn’t make sense. If this truly disturbs someone, a careful inventory of how they react generally to external factors outside their control in their life might be in order. There are a great many things that other people do in private that have no bearing whatsoever on the way I live my life.
If they are a member of the Church, then I believe further learning of the extensive history of temples and temple worship since the beginning of time is great counsel, since similar worship practices, rituals, ceremonies and liturgies have been practiced by mankind since their creation. A reading list of books on the temple would help familiarize them with the language of symbolism, ritual, formal worship, the covenant-making process, parallels among early Christians and other ancient civilizations, religious mysticism, and the meaning behind the temple ordinances. Professor Andrew Skinner’s latest book Temple Worship is an excellent first recourse.
Even with this understanding, a member’s first experiences in the temple may still be peculiar to them in some regard. I think this is natural, and may be by design. The Lord’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). The things of God and His temples are not even remotely aligned with the ways of the world, because they are a reflection of heaven, and are always found starkly in contrast with all mundane trivialities. This could potentially strike new temple attendees as odd or different. But such ceremonies have always stood out in distinctiveness from the rest of man’s affairs, even in one of the earliest sacred structures, Moses’ Tabernacle. How would the rest of the world have viewed that form of Israelite worship? The earliest Christian initiations were likewise extraordinary, and for a divine purpose. Edward Yarnold, a research lecturer at Oxford University, has written about the early Christian ordinances thus:
‘The awe-inspiring rites’ – the words recur several times in these pages. Without being unfaithful to the Greek, I might have called this book ‘The Spine-chilling Rites of Initiation.’ It takes the form of a collection of sermons, all preached about the second half of the fourth century, explaining the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion by which a Christian became a full member of the Church. The ceremonies took place at night some of them in the dark, after weeks of intense preparation; they were wrapped in secrecy, and the candidate knew little about them until just before, or even after, he had received them. Everything was calculated to inspire religious awe, to make these rites the occasion of a profound and life-long conversion. ((Edward Yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, ix, link.))
Prayerful and scriptural introspection and study would be valuable to any temple-going Latter-day Saint to consider in order to gain personal testimony that the temple is the House of the Lord. Discussion with a bishop, teacher, friend, or family member about such feelings might also help. Generally, the more one knows the ways of the Lord, the more the temple fits perfectly into His model of the eternities and the more one recognizes the profound blessing it is to worship and serve in His temple.
I testify that the temple is the Lord’s House, His presence dwells there, His angels abide there, He has revealed the ordinances in our day, and such revelation is evidence of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The atonement of Jesus Christ is epitomized in the teachings and ritual experience of the temple, and one can grow nearer to God, our Heavenly Father, by serving and sacrificing personal will there, just as Christ did, in the House of the Lord.
My son who is leaving on a mission just went through the temple this week. Before he went, we had a FHE lesson that included pictures and information about ancient temple worship from this site. I found it very helpful in preparing him for the endowment without feeling like I was being inappropriately revealing.
He had a great experience. He found some things surprising, and was a little overwhelmed by so much new information, but we had told him before he went that he wasn’t expected to memorize everything or to instantly grasp the symbolic significance of everything, and just to try to generally get the big picture of what was being presented, and so he was able to relax and enjoy the spirit there relatively stress-free.
Thank you so much for this site! My husband and I have taught temple prep classes before, but the practical information you have here is a great and helpful addition to what is covered in those manuals.
Thank you. I’m glad that my comments could be of service in appropriately helping your son have a better understanding about temple history in preparation to receiving his endowment.
I too think I found the ritual experience impressive my first time, and the immense amount of information was tremendous to take all in. But I think it is meant to be that way. It is meant to be a life-changing experience. It is meant to leave an impression, whether that impression is good or bad I think depends on your mindset, the Spirit that you’ve sought for, and preparation. It is for this reason that the Church encourages a serious study of the temple and introduction to symbolism, ordinances, scripture, and history before attending, as well as spiritual preparation in prayer and fasting. But even with this, all will not be understood on our first few visits; on the contrary, it may take a lifetime of study. I commend you for your foresight in preparing your son.
What I love about the temple is that there is always more to learn in the Lord’s “university.”
I find that some people might find the temple troubling for one of several reasons:
– The symbolic clothing has limited explication. This is somewhat resolved by turning to Old Testament scriptures regarding the priesthood vestments of the Levites.
– The physical ritual activities symbolically done. These have been partly  aided by an explanation of their mnemonic value.
One risk I see in your response is that someone who has a concern may be put of if they are simply dismissed by being told they are “worldly.”
Thanks Matt. I think you’re right that these differences might cause some misunderstanding and concern. I don’t think that people who have a concern are being “told that they are ‘worldly,'” but that the ordinances themselves are not worldly, and therefore cannot be understood from our common secular and mundane point-of-view, of which we all partake daily and are so accustomed. The temple requires us to think on a completely different level and in a completely different context than we are used to, namely heavenly and godly, and some may be more or less inclined to be able to adjust to that unfamiliar form of pedagogy.
And sorry for the edits, but I don’t allow direct references to the history of the endowment. I know that line is drawn differently for each individual, but as the editor here I have set boundaries for what I will allow.
Troubled is a broad word: troubled to question an already established testimony and wonder if any of it is true. . . or troubled by the teaching manners and methods which seem strange, unfamiliar, and unexpected….
Someone who finds the experience troubling should not feel alone. Don’t feel like “everyone gets it but me” because that’s not the truth. We don’t often relate personal feelings on the temple publicly at church, so it may feel awkward to broach the subject even in private conversations. Be patient. It may feel embarrassing, but it is important to overcome those feelings and ask for help, counsel, advice. Be honest and speak with a parent, bishop, spouse, home teacher. Not knowing how these people feel about the temple, seek people that you think have firm testimonies. Maybe you serve with another ward member and can make time alone to talk (e.g. home/visiting teaching partner while carpooling to visit someone). Some people you approach might not feel comfortable talking about it. Don’t give up, find someone else. You may just get someone who says, “I totally know what you mean. This is what I’ve learned that helped me.”
Pray, ask, knock, seek. Seeking includes attending the temple, and do it often enough that it becomes familiar. Even if you don’t understand it, knowing that the unfamiliar/troubling exists allows you to make connections through reason and revelation later.
This is my story:
I remember my first visit to the temple. I definitely had to look back to my testimony that had been established before entering the temple and have faith that the temple must somehow fit with the familiar Sunday and personal religious observances.
I had completed 2 years at a university before being endowed and expected that the “Lord’s university” would use similar methodologies: sit in class, listen to an instructor, take notes, ask questions, etc. Maybe I expected the temple to be like Sunday school: an instructor with opportunity for Q&A. The Lord’s teaching methods in the temple took me by surprise. It is a different, more holy place and utilizes methods that require more of the initiate: more holiness, more sacrifice, more patience, more knocking, searching, seeing, hearing, etc. I now see that in this way, the initiate is given what he/she has asked for and can bear. Interestingly, I am working on obtaining a teaching credential and am constantly finding that pedagogical best practices as identified by modern research are expertly applied in the temple (also add the Spirit, not covered in my text books).
My best friend was endowed the day before I was. We got together and both said, “I don’t know what I can and can’t say, so I won’t say anything. But that was different!” It was good to have shared the experience with my friend, but also frustrating that I didn’t know how I could talk about it. I had read Pres. Packer’s book but wasn’t aware of any other reliable books. My mom’s philosophy on the temple was don’t talk about anything to anybody, anywhere. I felt somewhat alone, trying to figure it out all by myself. With the Spirit too, but it is challenging to get and understand communication with the Spirit (I now see that it’s supposed to be that way, the whole “ears to hear” thing).
A year ago, I prayed to understand more about the temple. I had gone many times but was frustrated with many things. Shortly after that, I saw the Ensign and was prompted to read it . . . there was an article about gospel symbols. As I read it, the Spirit whispered to me a truth taught in the temple which I hadn’t understood before. “Wow! I get it now!” Then, “I forgot I prayed about this last month!” That set me in motion. I then came across an article by Hugh Nibley which opened my eyes to many good sources that appropriately deal with temple topics. The next phase was the realization that many temple themes are taught in the scriptures. For some reason, I had not seen the adamant link between scriptures and temple. Some links were obvious, but I wasn’t looking for more links. I had not knocked nor had eyes to see it. For the past several weeks, I have been taking notes during Gospel Doctrine class, amazed that significant truths taught in the temple are also expertly taught in the Book of Mormon. I also talk with my wife either at home or in the celestial room, depending on the topic.
I now feel much better about temple worship. I have a testimony that temple worship is of God. I am comforted to know by experience that I can obtain answers to my questions.
Excellent commentary Ferriera. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
At the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple in 1956 President McKay, while speaking to local Church leaders said in reference to his niece who regarded her initiation into a sorority superior in effect and meaning to her temple endowment,
“Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the Temple. Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the Temple and so were you. There are few, even temple workers who comprehend the full meaning and power of the Temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the eternal presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation in their lives!”
At age 91 while addressing general authorities about the temple endowment President McKay said, “Brethren, I think I am finally beginning to understand.”
Since most ancient Middle Eastern civilization centered around temples as a source of knowledge and power, it is wise counsel for modern man to make the effort, even life long, to learn what they knew, especially if a God’s true temple is upon the earth today.
PS: The key to understanding the temple is in understanding the scriptures. As Joseph Smith said, “The burden of the scriptures is the temple.”