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Seeing the Forest in the Trees: The Sacred Invitation of the Temple



Several years ago I knew a man who said that he had mastered the temple endowment. I was intrigued. He claimed that he could sit down and sleep for an entire session with only minor interruptions. That was his definition of temple mastery. I once heard another man speculate that the LDS have temples to satisfy their relentless craving for busy-ness. And many times I have heard saints express that they don’t quite “get” the purpose of the temple endowment.

I am confident that God provided temples and their attendant ceremonies for higher purposes than napping or keeping ourselves busy. And I believe that we can each understand those purposes.

The temple is sacred, and we speak of its functions with reverence and caution. It is also a place where God teaches us lessons suited to our specific lives and readiness. I don’t claim to have the secrets to temple meaning. I certainly haven’t “mastered” God’s messages delivered in those sacred sanctuaries. Yet I hope it is appropriate to share some of what I have learned by going to the temple to be taught.

1. A new identity. The scriptures speak of receiving a new name (See Revelation 3:12, D&C 130:11). Names are related to identities, and we get names to capture and communicate our identities and relationships. Do we receive a new name in the temple to remind us of a heavenly life before this earthly one? Is a new name supposed to reinforce the idea that there is much more to our identities and personal stories than we know under our earthly names? Or maybe a new name reminds us that we are to become new creatures in Christ, leaving behind our old identities and self-definitions. Perhaps receiving a new name suggests all that and much more.

2. A special creation. The creation accounts in scripture are surprisingly similar to each other whether we reads the account in Genesis (chapter 1), Moses (chapter 2), or Abraham (chapters 4-5). Yet those accounts are different in intriguing ways from the creation story recounted in the temple. While the scriptural accounts focus on God (or the Gods) adjusting the lights and waters and installing animals on multiple days, the temple creation account has a different focus. It is simple, orderly, and hierarchal.

Why are the accounts different? I don’t have a definitive and authoritative answer. Yet it seems to me that the scriptural accounts are about creating worlds. Their advances and recursions are exactly what we might expect in an account of setting up a complex world populated with all manner of creatures. I think that the temple account is different because it is not about creating worlds but about creating gods. When we study the specific activities of each period of temple creation, God shows us a pattern for spiritual progression.

3. Covenants and promises. It is no small thing that God offers to make sacred covenants with us in the temple. Covenants are an invitation and contract for blessings. As we bind ourselves to God, we are connecting with the richest and most gracious Being in creation. We should rejoice to be invited into covenants with Him. As we strive to honor our covenants, He endows us with power from on High and He fills us with joy beyond description.

I believe that the temple sealing contains more glorious blessings per word than can be found anywhere else in this world. Consider the related promises in D&C 132:19: “Ye . . . shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths.” When God says that He will install us among the great patriarchs of the human family, we should each gasp in humble wonder. God is determined to bless and redeem those who will come to Him.

4. The life-saving grasp of the atonement. In the temple we might have expected great sermons about the life of Christ, but God is the master teacher and has chosen another way. Rather than provide sermons, He uses the story of Adam to dramatize the path Home. However, the temple drama is not really Adam’s story; it is our story. Adam and Eve represent each of us. God is teaching each person who attends just how to find their way back to Him.

For example, when we have sinned, we are tempted to hide from God. That is foolishness because He is our only hope. In the temple, we are taught that we must run to God and bind ourselves to Him through covenants. In response, Jesus and His atonement get a tighter and tighter grasp on us, pulling us ever closer to Father.

5. Power in prayer. Many of our prayers are trite beg-athons that are devoid of power. In the temple, we are taught a special process and attitude of prayer. While the process may be restricted to use in the temple, the attitude should carry into our daily conversations with God.

I think that is exactly the point of the story of the brother of Jared. He was chided for failing to use the power of prayer. Then he launched a prayer that pushed him into the divine presence.

Through the brother of Jared’s example, we can identify four components of powerful prayer (See Ether 3): 1. Father, thou art holy and dwellest in the heaven. 2. We are fallen. Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually. 3. Look upon us in pity. Have mercy. 4. Grant according to our desires.

These four parts seem to me to correspond to the pattern taught in the temples of God. What a sacred gift that God has taught us how to access heavenly power!

6. The climax. The preparatory ordinances of the temple endowment feel like the beginning of a coronation. So we might have expected some ceremony or celebration upon our arrival in the Celestial room. Instead, the temple endowment concludes when we are pulled into God’s presence. We peacefully relax into the companionship of our Father and innumerable loved ones.

When we finally arrive in the Celestial Kingdom on high, a whole new set of lessons will prepare us for our work in eternity. Coming into the presence of God is the focus of temple worship on earth.

In the temple, we have the luxury of shutting off the mundane and profane chatter of daily life so that we can focus on God’s invitation to us. As each of us opens our hearts to Heavenly Father’s lessons, we will extract personal instructions and meanings. As we seek to see God’s purposes in temple ceremony, we will be tutored on the process and power for getting Home. I believe that the temples offer far more than a nap to those who seek to be taught from on High.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Joseph Atwater July 18, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Words of wisdom from a brother who “sees” and endorses the Temple Endowment as God intended, not as man would perceive.
    Thanks Wally

  • Reply William Kernazitskas July 18, 2011 at 5:47 am

    I always enjoy reading your insights into life’s challenges. I’d like to add something Brigham Young said to your thoughts on prayer. It points to a little different focus that you might want to consider:

    “I will now ask this congregation, how many of you thought of mentally repeating my prayer as the words came to your ears? Did you realize that the order of prayer required you to mentally follow the words of the person who was praying? With us everyone should mentally repeat the same words and ask the same things as does the one who leads vocally, and let all say, amen. There are times and places when all should vocally repeat the words spoken, but in our prayer meetings and in our family circles let every heart be united with the one who takes the lead by being mouth before the Lord, and let every person repeat the prayers, and unite in whatever is asked for, and the Lord will not withhold, but will give to such persons the things which they ask for and rightly need.” (Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. III, p.53)

  • Reply Lynn July 18, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Beautifully, lovingly, and reverently expressed. Thank you!

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