The genesis of my topic is a talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton, entitled "We Did This For You." This is a very nice talk about the sacrifices our pioneer forefathers and foremothers made in order for us to have temples. As I was reading the talk and pondering on what I should talk about, I felt my thoughts directed to Mormon Women’s relationship with the temple. My thoughts are often drawn towards the situation of women in our world. I received a degree in history with an emphasis in women’s history and women’s studies. As I mentioned before, I work on behalf of women, and the post-baccalaureate degrees I will be pursuing deal primarily with women’s issues. I have felt a great deal of inspiration over the past few days from the Lord and I pray that I can convey what the Lord desires. Though I am talking about women, given from a woman’s perspective, the things that I will be sharing are equally applicable to men. I hope that the history, quotes and thoughts I share with you will help those of you who are preparing to go to the temple and give deeper meaning to those of us who are preparing to return to the temple.
We have all heard the faith-promoting story of early Mormon sisters crushing their precious china to put on the outer walls of the Kirtland Temple so that the temple would gleam from a distance. LDS women’s history with the temple, however, is much more complex and fascinating. When Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society in 1842, he promised them that he would give them, as well as the elders and the church, the keys of the kingdom "that they would be able to detect every thing false." He then turned the key over to them in the name of God and declared that "this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time." Reynolds Cahoon later confirmed Joseph’s intent to the Relief Society, saying "You knew no doubt [that] this society is raised by the Lord to prepare us for the great blessings which are for us in the House of the Lord in the Temple."
When the Lord called on the saints to build the Nauvoo temple, women were instrumental in its completion. Mercy Fielding Thompson received inspiration to have the sisters subscribe one cent per week for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the temple. She was able to collect nearly $1000 from the sisters in Illinois and England. Another interesting contribution from Sarah Kimball provides a great example of the ingenuity of women.
Three days after the birth of her son, Sarah Kimball asked her well-to-do, non-Mormon husband what he thought the son was worth. Her husband had a difficult time assigning a price tag to their new son, so Sarah suggested $1000. Hiram Kimball agreed to the sum. Then Sarah asked "And half of him is mine". He agreed again. Sarah then said, "Then I have something to help on the Temple…and I think of turning my share right in as tithing." Some days later, Hiram related the conversation to Joseph Smith. "I accept all such donations," Joseph promptly answered, "and from this day the boy shall stand recorded, Church property." Then he added, "You now have the privilege of paying $500 and retaining possession, or receiving $500 and giving possession." Hiram Kimball readily deeded to Joseph a piece of property well worth the $500, thereby gaining title to his child and closing the transaction. So sisters, here is a new way of getting money from your husbands. Some of you could be doing very well for yourself.
It is easy to see that the temple meant a lot to these early sisters, but why? The temple ordinances are applicable to both men and women and promise the same level of exaltation, this was incredibly significant to women of the time. The Victorian Era, in which time the church was formed, was particularly oppressive to women; they could not vote, own property, speak in public forums.
The temple opened up a new concept of spiritual participation relating to the "privileges, blessings and gifts of the priesthood" which not only enhanced their position in the church but also offered limitless potential in the hereafter. The introduction of temple ordinances in Nauvoo opened to all worthy Mormon women a new understanding of their place in the plan of salvation and in the church. They joyously received temple ordinances for the new dimension of spiritual life and hope they offered. They accepted the opportunity to participate in temple work as an honor and cherished the sacredness of their temple experiences. Eliza R. Snow recognized that Mormon women were on the forefront of a new dispensation for women and declared, "We are at the head of all the women of the world." And she was absolutely correct. The gospel was, and is, the most progressive and revolutionary of all religions and teachings on this earth. The temple plays a key role in giving us this revolutionary knowledge.
When Joseph Smith met with the Relief Society in 1842 and spoke of giving them the keys of the kingdom, it was clear that he was exhorting them to put their lives in order to receive the "knowledge and intelligence" that he would soon reveal to them. Joseph Smith told Mercy Fielding Thompson at the time of her endowment that "this will bring you out of darkness into marvelous light." The temple can provide the miracle of knowledge and intelligence for us as well, but how do we prepare ourselves for the marvelous light that can be ours.
There are, of course, the fundamental principles that we must live in order to get into the temple. These principles are asked about in our temple recommend interview. We need to keep the commandments, including keeping ourselves morally clean. There are temple preparation classes that provide a good, basic understanding of what we learn in the temple. True scripture study and prayer are an invaluable tool for helping us gain understanding into what the temple is trying to teach us.
Though the principles I mentioned above are important and helpful, we may need more help in order to understand the knowledge and intelligence that Joseph Smith promised was in the temple ceremony. Might I suggest several things that were invaluable to me as I prepared and learned about the temple? These measures are helpful to all preparing to go to, or return to the temple.
The first is education, both spiritual and secular. Training one’s mind to understand the complexities of our world allows us to see and understand the complexities of the temple ceremony. The temple ceremony is veiled in symbolism; it is our job to decipher those symbols and use the knowledge we have gained in order to get back to our Heavenly Father’s presence.
The second is an understanding and belief in the goodness of the Plan of Salvation. Of all the doctrine in our gospel, the Plan of Salvation is perhaps the most simple and beautiful, and yet the most misunderstood. We cannot break through the symbolism of the temple unless we fully understand our roles as sons and daughters of God within His glorious plan.
The third tool that was useful to me was a process that Abraham Maslow called Self-Actualization. Inherent in the nature of women and men is a desire to become the best person they can. To press towards "unity of personality, toward spontaneous expressiveness, toward full individuality and identity, toward seeing the truth rather than being blind, toward being creative, toward being good…That is, the human being is so constructed that he presses toward what most people would call good values, toward serenity, kindness, courage, honesty, love, unselfishness, and goodness." The steps to self-actualization are the same ones we should be taking in order to get back to the Kingdom of Heaven:
- Experience things fully, vividly, selflessly.
- Shut out the distractions of the world. Let your true self emerge and then let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel.
- Be honest with yourself. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing
- Listen to your own tastes. Know your moral being. Be prepared to be unpopular.
- Use your intelligence. The glory of God is Intelligence.
- Make spiritual experiences more likely by getting rid of illusions and false notions.
- Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don't like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you are going, what your mission is.
- The gospel challenges us to become better people, to become self-actualized.
We do not have to be our very best when we enter the temple, but we should have the desire to become our best through what the temple teaches us. The sincere desire to receive light and knowledge is often enough for the Lord to bless us with it.
I now would like to share with you my first experience with the temple. I do so with some trepidation because it is very personal. I ask for your compassion and understanding. I do not offer myself up as an example of faithlessness. Rather I am sharing with you one woman’s relationship with the temple and how a loving Father in Heaven has blessed her because of that experience.
I did not go on a mission, so a month before Brandon and I were to be married we met my parents and Brandon’s parents at the Winter Quarter’s Temple in Omaha, Nebraska (which was the closest temple to where my parents were living at the time). I had gone to temple preparation classes, studied my scriptures and prayed, discussed with Brandon a little bit of the temple ceremony.
I was not prepared, however, for the actual ceremony and I quickly became overwhelmed by the symbolism and language of the endowment. I was also unprepared for what I saw as the hierarchy of men over women put in place by Eve’s choice to partake of the fruit. This simply did not, and does not, fit with my understanding of the gospel and Plan of Salvation. Towards the end of my endowment, I broke down and sobbed. I sobbed through out the remainder of the ceremony and into the Celestial Room. I could not contain myself. I was embarrassed; I felt I had let down my future husband and my parents. And yet my sense of duty to those I loved could not overcome the feelings of hopelessness that were rushing at me. Brandon and I spent an awkward evening with our parents and then went back to BYU.
I pause here to remind you of something I said earlier. If we have a sincere desire to receive truth and light, the Lord, in his infinite mercy, will grant it to us. In my case, the Lord had already given me a tender mercy in the form of a beloved professor and mentor. This woman had helped me with understanding my purpose as a woman in this life and the next.
Monday afternoon I went to her once again, sobbing, begging her to give me peace. And she was able to. What I learned in her office is too sacred to share, but it stands as a testament that our Heavenly Father desires to bless his children with marvelous light.
Brandon and I visited the temple frequently before our wedding. A week before we were to be married we went to the temple to do a sealing session. The officiator was the old temple president of the Provo Temple. Half way through the session, the man stopped and said that he had a prompting and that he needed to share important truths with us. The temple president then proceeded to reiterate almost word for word what my teacher had shared with me in her office. It was so important to the Lord that I receive the light and knowledge that I so desperately needed that he provided two separate ways to bless me.
My experience at the temple, while not perfect, has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, the relationship with my husband, and it has continued to bless the lives of our families.
I said before that the restored gospel is the most revolutionary for women of all those taught on this earth. This is not to say that there are not problems, the church is an imperfect earthly institution populated by imperfect people. But the gospel is perfect, and in it there is full equality between woman and man. The gospel, which is the only concern of the Church, was devised by the Lord for men and women alike. Indeed, our prophet recently said, "Now, my dear sisters…I remind you that you are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. You are His divine creation…Without you, our Father's plan of happiness would be frustrated and have no real meaning."
The temple ceremony provides the proof of women’s equality. Both men and women officiate in the temple ceremony. Eliza R. Snow recognized the unique blessing it is to be a Mormon woman. "They [Mormon Women] occupy a more important position than is occupied by any other women on the earth…sharing in the gifts and powers of the holy Priesthood…participating in those sacred ordinances, without which, we could never be prepared to dwell in the presence of the Holy Ones." Women are just as much saviors upon Mount Zion as men are.
D&C 132:20 promises married couples that they "shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things." The truths taught in the temple give us a glimpse into eternity and the blessings that are ours as women. If modern scripture is correct, a woman’s godhood, which, like a man’s, is "above all" and encompasses "all power," is neither limited nor subservient. No distinctions are made as to the dimensions of male and female godhood. Elder James E. Talmage taught that "woman [shall] be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state."
It is our duty to prepare ourselves for the glorious knowledge and intelligence that can be ours through temple attendance. Once we have prepared and received truths, it is then our calling to be instrumental in restoring the equality which existed when the world was created. We are literally endowed with power from on high when we go to the temple. This gives us a sense of divine grace and approbation that sets us apart from the rest of the world. We have the assurance that we can become like Christ.
Whatever indignity is forced upon women in this world; the meaning of the temple is clear. Its power, its purpose, and its promises for women are eternal. I pray that all of us, women and men, will prepare themselves to receive the marvelous light that the temple can bring.