“And this time, there will be no angel”

By July 30, 2008

There are quite a few reasons I have not been the best of perma-bloggers here at JI during the past six months. And, I know it has caused my fellow bloggers at least a tiny bit of grief (and perhaps even full-blown frustration?), and I do apologize. I really do.

But, as I was talking to Ben at work this morning, and finding myself a bit embarrassed at yet another good-natured question about my JI sabbatical, I felt that it would be a good time to come clean. So, here’s my confession:

Of course I do history. Of course I do research. Of course I write. But, the only thing that really interests me in all of that is simply how history affects how we understand ourselves today (see the ending of my “Asian Race” post to get a hint of what this looks like), how we live our lives, and how we can live our lives better. How to live my life better, how I understand myself. My interest, then, is rather excessively egocentric…and much more about questions and struggles and the everyday than it is about, well, really fantastically researched historical analysis.

And so, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s just that I’ve doubted whether what I did have to say would be what the other bloggers and our audience expected and wanted. I can guarantee that all the other permas here know about a Kolob’s-distance more about Mormon History than I do, and they keep abreast of every amazing forward (and sometimes backward) stride in the field. But me?….well…

::cue “One of these things is not like the other” song::

And so, I offer (with fear and trembling) a short glimpse into the questions I ask and the issues I think through…and a type of writing with no footnotes… And I won’t be offended if we decide it doesn’t really fit in here. Maybe I don’t want it to fit in. Because maybe I want to “go forward where there is no path, and leave a trail” or something like that. And you can footnote that baby with the name of our favorite American philosopher, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Two weeks ago, I sat on an old couch in my grandparent’s basement and wept. This wasn’t crying, this was weeping. I think you must know what I mean. People cry all the time, but you always remember the times you weep.

My mother sat to my left on the love-seat and my father sat to my right, in the old rocking chair. I don’t think I have to explain everything I tried to say then. I’m not going to go through the parts that hurt the most or my year-long journey through trying to find peace and answers (and I have to an extent). There have been countless posts on it and anyone even vaguely familiar with Mormon Studies is pretty well-versed.

It was about the endowment. It was about the different wording of the sealing ceremony. Men vs. women and covenants and distinctions.

Yeah Yeah, I know that you’re thinking “Oh no, not another one.”

But my question here isn’t going to be about interpretations or placing the ceremony in historical context or freemasonry or “can you believe Temple President so-and-so told my sister that it meant such-and-such.”

My question is about choice and faith and how important they are in LDS theology. Don’t we hear from our most basic primary manuals that we came to earth so that we could learn to choose? That Christ’s plan was superior because it gave us agency? That we now can see good and evil and have a responsibility for picking the right one? That we can know truth through a confirmation of the spirit and the mind.

But…none of that talk came up in my year-long struggle trying to come to peace with taking out my endowment. Instead, I heard the rhetoric of blind faith, stepping to the darkness, trusting that we may not know the whole picture yet…but we should still do it. Because it is right. Because we know the rest is true.

Is this yet another one of Givens’ paradoxes? The emphasis of rational/spiritual/personal revelation OR the emphasis of blind, trusting obedience to an unknown ending? There are quite a few scriptural examples to back up either view.

And I believe in both. I think both work in different ways. And I have acted on both in different situations because it seemed like each separate action clearly warranted a separate response.

For example: I chose to become engaged to my particular fiance because I knew both rationally and spiritually, that it was right after having good information and confirmations to consider. On the other side, sometimes I’ve acted on impulses that made no sense at all, only to find that it put me in the right place at a perfect time to learn something or help someone.

But…what do you do when you are faced with something that requires you to choose one way of acting or the other? What happens when one choice you may make would stay true to your personal truths…but the other requires you to deny those, saying that they must be incorrect or incomplete.

Do we trust the spirit and mind God has given us or do we replace them with a faith that has no foundation except trust?

Near the end of our parent-child weep-fest I finally cried out in frustration, trying to make them both understand how soul-tearing this decision has been and is for me,

“Dad, I’m being asked to sacrifice my Isaac…and this time I’m pretty sure there will be no angel!”

He bowed his head and offered, quietly,

“But you don’t know. What if there is?”

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I don’t have any particular words of consolation or insight; but this is a poignant and wonderful piece of reflection. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    My particular take on the Abraham story is that it required a profound level of intimacy with God to be anything other than insane. I know I don’t know God’s face.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  2. I guess I never intellectually struggled with the point you are sticking on, but I do know this feeling you have. When I was a convert of one year, I felt like everything I loved and cared about was being put on the alter as I was being pressed to serve a mission. After much prayer, I decided to put it all on the alter, and no angel came. Things I loved and held dear were chopped away and lost forever. In the end though, what was left behind and what was added thereto was worth it.

    I guess I am saying I hope that down the road you will have the same experience.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 30, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  3. I appreciate Matt W.’s comment. The angel doesn’t always come. Had it not come for Abraham, Abraham would have gone on. He went into it with an expectation of the worst, and it would not have been the end for him had there been no angel. It won’t be the end for any of us either w/o the angel, just a new beginning.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 30, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  4. Thank you, Heidi. Let me say that for me at least, I appreciate what you add to the blog (I was afraid that you were going to resign or something in the intro). This is a great post that explores questions that I perhaps can’t fully identify with, but I can definitely feel what you’re trying to convey.

    Comment by David G. — July 30, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  5. Heidi, this (and everything else you’ve written to this point) definetely “fits” here. Thanks for opening up and providing such an insightful and thought-provoking post. Like J., I don’t have any words of consolation, and like David, I can’t fully identify with your struggles, but your post highlights issues and paradoxes within Mormonism that all of us should probably think about more.

    Comment by Christopher — July 30, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  6. Heidi,

    Although I cannot relate directly with the circumstances, I thank you for the poignant and soul-searching narrative. I hope you find peace.

    Comment by Joel — July 30, 2008 @ 11:40 pm

  7. Heidi: you know, and well, I think what I have to say about all this. So I’ll just say that I deeply feel for you, and am, as you know, around.

    Comment by matt b. — July 31, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  8. I think though, another facet of this is important that I didn’t really clarify above.

    I feel as if I don’t really have a choice a lot of the time. I know what I want more than anything: I want to be sealed to my fiance. But, to get there I have to “kill Isaac” so to speak. And there is no explanation from an angel (a la Nephi killing Laban) as to why it would be good other than “you just have to do it.” How does this situation allow me to use my agency? I feel as if I have not been given enough spiritual or mental information to even begin to try and make the right choice, because there is no choice.

    How do we make this jive with our theology of agency and personal revelation? Or do we apply the blind faith principle wherever there is a hole? How can we know if we are making the right “faith-choice” then and not just running head on into blackness? How do we know when blind faith is needed and when we need to search and ponder and figure things out (a la brother of Jared with the stones/Nephi with the bow)?

    Comment by Heidi — July 31, 2008 @ 8:35 am

  9. I guess I should comment just so you know that there are people who identify with your struggles (and I am one of them!) I like how you compared your sacrifice to Abraham’s — I’ve found that the scriptural record, and especially the archetypal stories in the OT can really assist me in working through the difficult decisions of life.

    Something you said earlier in the post really resonated with me, also. You said that the thing that really interested you was how history affects how we understand ourselves today, how we live our lives, and how we can live our lives better. It’s helpful to look back on the choices our early Mormon forebears made and the lives they lived to help us either emulate the ennobling decisions or avoid the tragic mistakes. I think your study of history will be a comfort and a strength to you as you pass through these things.

    Thanks for being so open with all of us.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — July 31, 2008 @ 8:46 am

  10. Wait…where’s the footnotes? What kind of writing is this! 😉

    In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Important questions on an important topic.

    Comment by Ben — July 31, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  11. But no one has any answers?

    Comment by Heidi — July 31, 2008 @ 9:56 am

  12. Some One does have answers. I’m unable to discern from your OP what you believe you’re killing, but may I propose the following?

    Plant the seed by getting on your knees and staying there ’til they’re bloody. You’ll get your answer. Go out in the woods, kneel in your closet, crawl under your bed. Find your Sacred Grove. Bring nothing with you but a jug of water, and tell God you’re not leaving without an answer.

    One day? Two days? A week? It’ll come. You need only outlast whatever part of yourself is putting up a barrier to hearing.

    Comment by Juanita — July 31, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  13. BTW, don’t even bring your scriptures. It’s too easy to turn them into tea leaves when hunger kicks in.

    Tell Dad you need an unmistakable answer, and that it’s so important to you that you’re willing to die for it.

    Then prepare to die.

    You may want to be near a thicket when you do this.

    Comment by Juanita — July 31, 2008 @ 10:33 am

  14. I’ve never commented on this blog before, but I can really relate to this post.

    Like you, I’m mostly interested in history if it somehow feels pertinent to my life. Have you found any historical material that has given context and made the temple more understandable or more bearable? I’d be interested to hear anything you come up with. (Heidi, or any of you).

    I take some comfort in knowing that the temple ceremony has changed over the course of history. I imagine it will change again. Maybe the church is learning line upon line, and maybe there will eventually be a version of the endowment ceremony that will feel less gut-wrenching and painful and wrong to me. I hope so, but I don’t know.

    ZD has had some very interesting discussions on this topic.

    Comment by jane — July 31, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  15. Heidi, having heard you talk about this before, I feel for you, and think I can appreciate where you are coming from. I don’t remember agency coming into that discussion at that time. I think the point about changes to the ceremonies is an important one and that came up in that discussion. With regards to the agency issue, let me set up a quick (and by no means exhaustive) scenario. I guess the traditional view would be the following:


    -What God wants is what we should do.

    -God provides blessings conditional on obedience to him.

    -Our desires are not always in line with what God wants.

    -We have to bend our desires to what God wants to receive the promised blessings.

    If the question there is “Where’s my freedom to choose?” I think the traditional answer would be that “agency” has never meant to be able to choose our own path to the blessings we seek, it’s about being free to choose God’s path to those blessings. We alway have the option of choosing not to go along with that, so “agency” is always preserved.

    In this case, the blessing is sealing to a spouse, and the proscribed path is the ceremonies and ordinances as presently given. Therefore, you are free to choose the path to the blessing or choose a path that will not yield that blessing at this time.

    1) Is that a fair representation of the standard, traditional approach to agency?
    2) If so, where do you (if you do) differ in the assumptions or logic involved?

    Thanks. I hope you don’t mind this as it is certainly oversimplified.

    Comment by Jared T — July 31, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  16. I second Juanita’s point and question. What is it you are sacrificing? What are you placing on the altar?

    I agree with Jared T’s characterization of agency as being free to choose God’s proscribed path to obtain desired blessings.

    Sorry to be so simplified and not understanding all the complexities of the issue. The desire is to help.

    Comment by Tim Malone — July 31, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  17. Tim, though you’re only one vote, I’m glad that my characterization seems accurate.

    From that perspective the traditional mind might come off perplexed at what is at issue, really, and wonder why the seeker doesn’t just pray and get an answer, not to find out “if” you should go through the ceremony, but to feel settled about doing it.

    Given this scenario, I can see how someone can feel forced, like there is no other option, and that agency is being violated.

    The question: Does this “forcing” jive with “our our theology of agency and personal revelation”? I think to a traditional mind it would.

    Comment by Jared T — July 31, 2008 @ 11:31 am

  18. Heidi,

    Your question is relevant for all of us, and answering it probably will require a lifetime of observations, but I hope to at least offer some thoughts.

    Your reference to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is very apt and I think describes part of this paradoxical relationship with God we all experience at one point or another. But, a couple of important points must be made about this story. First, for Abraham, there was no angel. At least, there was no reason for him to expect an angel or divine intervention when he climbed the mount, strapped his son to an altar, and raised the knife. All he knew was that he was commanded, and he pressed forward. Second, he didn’t actually sacrifice Isaac in the end. There was deliverance, the promise God had made was never broken.

    This story to me is one major irony. God had promised Abraham a posterity through Isaac as numerous as the sands in the sea, then he commands him to kill that posterity in one fell swoop. Through this ironic experience, Abraham was made more like the Savior. Nothing is more ironic than Jesus, the creator of the world, the very one who etched the law into the stone tablets with his own finger, being crucified by that same law by his own children and creations and forsaken, in the height of his obedience to his father, the very moment he was more deserving of oneness with the father, he was left alone for dead. If one of God’s purposes is to make us like him, to make us like his son, then there will be significant ironies ahead of us to undergo and understand. I think Abraham’s experience was refining in that he was given a very real experience with irony similar to what Jesus endured.

    Also, I suspect that Abraham didn’t offer Isaac out of duty or a desire to obey. I believe Abraham first and foremost loved God more than anything else, and sincerely desired to do anything God asked of him. Jesus, too, suffered not because of obedience or to be right, but because he loves–he loves us, he loves his father, and would do anything to glorify him and to glorify us. In the moment of trial, of irony, of injustice and confusion, Abraham loved God more than himself, and while he didn’t understand why God would be so heart-wrenchingly cruel to ask him to kill his son, he knew he loved God and he wanted to obey out of that love. Jesus, too,

    This is getting lengthy, and I apologize, but with regards to the endowment and the struggle to understand our individual agency and the covenants and commands of God, I believe that such covenants will be quite ironic at times, and in this way, God makes us more like his son and like Abraham. Also, I see these ordinances as invitations from God to love him and to trust him, even when we may feel like he is asking so much of us. In this way, we get a glimpse into what it felt like to be Jesus in Gethsemane, and we increase in our appreciation of him, in our love for him, and in our ability to comprehend and be like him.

    Comment by Dave Golding — July 31, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  19. Let’s just say the temple ceremony in its current state is flawed. It is still enacted through the authority of God. It accomplishes the purpose of bringing you and your fiance together for what we believe to be eternity.

    Take school (an accredited school) as an example. We all go to classes in which teachers make mistakes. They do their best to provide foundations of knowledge. They are not all knowing and sometimes as the teachers are speaking, we find inaccuracies or misinformation. In our minds, we know that what they are saying is wrong, but we do not necessarily challenge them at every point because that could lead to a chaotic classroom environment and an erosion for the respect of the teacher. Nevertheless, we take their tests. We pass their classes. And then, in the end, we get a diploma. Regardless of any inaccuracies that were conveyed to you through the educational process, the diploma still means something.

    I personally do not believe that it would be disingenuous to go through the temple ceremony without accepting the infallibility of the wording. What is most important is what you believe in your heart of hearts you are covenanting with God to be and do. You can work out the details later with Him.

    Comment by M — July 31, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  20. Sorry, the first sentence of the last paragraph is somewhat wordy.

    Try this: “You don’t have accept the infallibility of the temple ceremony wording in order for your covenants to be sincere and in good faith.”

    Comment by M — July 31, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  21. M: your comments have come the closest to the current place I’ve been able to settle. Thank you for putting it so succinctly. Really.

    Dave: And thank you for your comment. I think it’s full of some major, major ideas we all should think more about. Thank you.

    Comment by Heidi — July 31, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  22. Something my wife and I did while we talked through the wording of them Temple was decide what that meant for us.

    We came to two different thoughts. Adam and Eve represent all of us respectively, so Eve represents the Husband and the Wife in making her covenant and Adam represents the husband and the wife in making her covenant.

    And at a different level, Eve represents Men and Women in making their covenants and Adam represents Christ in the convenant and action he takes.

    That’s how we’ve chosen to interpret them in our relationship, and personally, I believe the most accurate way to interpret them.

    Also, the temple has changed in the past, and it will change again in the future, and I think these things will be more clear.

    In a larger scale, I don’t call it blind faith when I have an issue that bothers me, and based on my collective experience it is reasonable to say the good outweighs the bad. This is still reasoned faith. It may depend on past experiences I have has with Personal Revelation. Camilla Kimball used to call this putting things up on the shelf…

    In Comment #2, I mentioned an experience I had with choosing whether or not to serve a mission, and how I basically had to give up friends, family members, my career, and my art to serve. I also had on the chopping block my parents, my fiance, my life, and my membership in the church. I don’t know what’s at stake for you, but it may feel like that to you. It sure did for me. But It all worked out. I am better now than I’ve ever been.

    Every major choice we make limits our agency, because we are no longer free to make that choice. That’s what committment is.

    Ok, now I am being too preachy. I aplogize if this is all “pick your self up by your bootstraps” kind of talk. I don’t mean to be that way.

    Let me tell you what really helped me when I felt like my agency was limited and I felt like I was on Abrahams alter. My fiance turned to me and said It was up to me, and it was my choice, and she’d love me no matter what choice I made. My mother turned to me and said she loved me, and it was my choice and she’d love me no matter what choice I made. I fasted for about 30 hours and God told me he loved me, and it was my choice and he’d love me no matter what choice I made, but that there were consequences to my choices, and I’d have to live with those.

    I hope you know you have a choice, and God loves you no matter what.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 31, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  23. I realize that I will not be the most eloquent one here, nor will my argument be the end all of this issue, but I feel that maybe I ought to share.

    First, I would like to say that I feel for the turmoil involved in your current predicament.

    The point I’d like to bring across in this agency vs. blind faith problem is a simple little choice. To choose to give up your all, and your will, and follow those feeling that just seem to scream “You have to do this,” is in and of its self, a choice. We have to exercise our agency to follow. However powerful said feelings may become, to the point of almost seeming overwhelming, one can still make a choice to not follow them. Blind faith, may be blind, without a logical reason behind the path you choose to take but it’s still a conscious choice one needs to ponder and make of their own accord. Even if all we can see infront of us is nothing but steeping into the unknown, we should always be aware, as much as we are able to believe of course, that our Divine creator and father will never do anything without a purpose, will never require anything of us without a reason. We may not see the reason but he does. Maybe that’s where the final choice is though, we aren’t choosing between agency and blind faith, we are choosing between our logic and reason, and God’s logic and reason. Which Bible/BOM story has a person followed God and not ended up with a better ending?

    I know I know, it’s mostly a rehash of been done arguments, but now I’ve said my piece.

    Comment by Arlin — July 31, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

  24. Heidi, I am new here, so please excuse me if I do not have the needed credentials. For anything to be a true act of faith it requires that we enter it blindly, if we are previously enlightened we exercise no faith.

    We are told in the 6th lecture on faith (you could substitute women for man) ?For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his house, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also? for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge,??

    Each of us will be required to place our own Isaac on the alter and raise the Knife, before hope, or belief, or logic, or learning gives way to a Knowledge. We need to be willing to sacrifice or exercise faith as stated above. Why do you think the only thing in the temple that has never changed is the alter?

    It is too refreshing to see a young person these days that has thought of those things you express, usually they come to the temple with less forethought. But if you are sure he is the one and you think you love him for forever, go place yourself on the alter and see what you learn.

    The knowledge you will receive as you join hands across the alter, will be impossible to express and faith will still be blind.

    Comment by Jim B — August 1, 2008 @ 1:52 am

  25. Heidi, thanks for sharing your story. It’s unfortunate that the temple experience sometimes gets wrapped up in family dynamics, faith struggles, commitment anxieties, or any other spiritual loose end that follows us around. It is supposed to be an uplifting spiritual experience, but alas, life is messy. I hope that, in the end, it works out that your temple experience, like the experience with any other ordinance or doctrine, can have a positive effect on you and your life.

    Comment by Dave — August 1, 2008 @ 6:51 am

  26. The only thing that helped me in this situation was to pray very directly about what was bothering me. That was very difficult for me because if the answer had been, “Yup. That’s exactly the sexist slant I was intending there.” eternity would have been pretty much ruined for me.

    So needless to say, it was a great relief when that wasn’t the answer I was given. But don’t take my word for it . . .

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — August 1, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  27. Heidi, there are angels. They just don’t look much like we expect, and sometimes they show up painfully late. But they sing beautifully, always, and usually that’s enough.

    Comment by Kristine — August 1, 2008 @ 9:55 am

  28. Heidi,

    My well-intended, wholly inadequate, possibly unhelpful response is here. Good luck may God grant you a Ram in the bushes.

    Comment by John C. — August 1, 2008 @ 10:58 am

  29. Heidi, I’ve been pondering your post for awhile. I have different issues than you do, but they affect me deeply. A few things happened in the past months which took me straight into a crisis of faith, which I confessed to only a few people. But I didn’t quit doing the things which are so deeply a part of my faith–serving as a veil worker, meeting with missionaries, partaking of the sacrament, reading scriptures. Then I began noticing that I was running into the same scripture all over the place–at the MTC, in random openings of my Bible, in a talk. I noticed the repetition, and did not discount it. In fact, I started smiling every time it was quoted. I won’t cite the scripture, but it simply told me to keep doing what I was doing and leave the rest to God. I have never had a “This Church is the only true church” testimony moment, but I have had many moments of awe and soul-stretching love. I rely on those moments and look for little messages and miracles, in the midst of the mightier doctrines. God hasn’t failed me.

    Comment by Margaret Young — August 1, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  30. Heidi, thank you so much for this post–a lot of what you said really resonated with me. Some of what I believe to be right and good doesn’t resolve itself easily with church teachings (mostly around feminist/gender issues), and I feel like I sometimes having to make decisions between following guidelines that I’m taught at church and what I feel in my heart is right.

    Typically what I do is I take the issue to God (which what I’m sure you have done). While I’ve found that God won’t necessarily give me an answer that resolves things for me or that answers all my questions (i.e. he has not given me any kind of explanation for the temple ceremony that resolves my issues with it, and he has not explained what’s up with the whole patriarchal order), he will usually give me guidance about whether he wants to me to take the “obey in faith” or “follow my own heart” route. When he asks me to go the “obey in faith” route, he usually grants me enough peace (eventually) that I can do what he asks. And when he allows me to go the “follow my own heart” route, he usually grants me enough peace so that I’m not overly neurotic about being disobedient to his commandments. Luckily this has worked pretty well for me, though it hasn’t always been easy.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God sometimes asks difficult things of us and what that means. Your post really resonated with similar questions that I’ve been pondering, so thank-you. BTW, if you don’t hang out on Zelophehad’s Daughters already, feel free to stop by–there are quite a few of us who struggle with the kinds of questions you’re asking, and as another commenter already posted, we’ve had a lot of discussions on the temple (especially with regards to gender).

    Comment by Seraphine — August 1, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  31. Plant the seed by getting on your knees and staying there ?til they?re bloody. You?ll get your answer. Go out in the woods, kneel in your closet, crawl under your bed. Find your Sacred Grove. Bring nothing with you but a jug of water, and tell God you?re not leaving without an answer.

    One day? Two days? A week? It?ll come. You need only outlast whatever part of yourself is putting up a barrier to hearing.

    Juanita, I’m not sure about this. All I can say is that this hasn’t been my experience of God–that I can decide I desperately need an answer to a problem and demand one. I took my endowments out in 1993, and I was married in 1996. The temple was an absolutely devastating experience for me; it rocked me to the core of my faith, my trust in God, everything I had ever believed. In 2008, still answerless after periods of regular temple attendance and some intense, miserable episodes of bloodied knees and bruised heart and tears, the only conclusion I can come to is that God evidently expects me to live significant parts of my life answerless, and to continue in the faith of other experiences.

    I’ve heard many answers to questions about gender inequality in the temple, very sincerely offered, usually some kind of textual re-interpretation more or less along the lines of what Matt W. offers above. But in the absence of any hermeneutical authority for that kind of radical textual license (radical in the sense that it attempts to make the text mean the opposite of what it most evidently says), personally I can’t see how such re-interpretation differs from the sort of free-wheeling speculation we’ve all sometimes heard in gospel doctrine.

    If God really does consider women equal to men–and I hope desperately that God does, although there’s unfortunately a lot of evidence to the contrary in every aspect of our religious life–I pray that the day will come when that equality will be made manifest in our holiest places. For me this is an ongoing–maybe THE ongoing–trial of my faith.

    People have different relationships with God and different spiritual gifts, and some–perhaps like Joseph Smith–seem to have the power of getting direct, clear answers to their questions. But some of us don’t, maybe even most of us, although of course I have no way of knowing the content and form of others’ private spiritual lives (!) My concern would be that making that kind of communion with God normative we might set people up to expect Enos or Joseph Smith revelations about all of their gospel questions. For me, anyway, God is not nearly so forthcoming. In my prayers God almost always tends to direct me toward the practical, daily considerations of living my religion; how forgiving am I? How honest with my fellow human beings? How generous? How productively am I using my time? How kind and understanding am I toward my husband? Etc.

    Sorry for the epistle–this post really touched a nerve for me, obviously!

    Comment by ZD Eve — August 1, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  32. Heidi, I think your sense of integrity is beautiful and right, and God will honor that.

    I can kind of relate to your situation because I also feel strongly that I need to be making the choices in my life. If I’m not making the choices, how is it my life? and why would I get credit one way or another? I don’t think you should necessarily set aside your concerns. I think faith is being loyal to what you know, especially what you know about God, even in the face of challenges and opposition. Part of what I know about God is that he is pretty trustworthy, so I can rely on what he tells me to do. But when you aren’t sure if God wants you to do X, hesitation is not necessarily lack of faith. On very important matters of faith, I think you at least deserve a specific answer from God. That is not to say you will get one in the near term! I’ve prayed for years on some things that I thought were rather urgent before getting an answer. And I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t perhaps go ahead and be sealed despite some lingering uncertainties. But I don’t think we understand the story about Abraham well enough to know how it should apply in your case. At the very least, if God wants you to do something that is very perplexing and difficult for you, you deserve some specific spiritual witness, like Abraham had.

    Those who want to brush aside the specifics of the temple ceremony because some have changed before I think are wrong. To be sealed, you participate in a particular ceremony. I think you need to make your peace with that ceremony, or else do something else. If God has another ceremony planned for some other set of people down the road, or for us at a different stage, fine, but this is the one he has given us now. That you take the ceremony seriously is a manifestation of your integrity, and I think that is right.

    The most important thing I see here is that the sealing, and the relevant portions of the endowment ceremony, are meant to define your relationship with your (future) husband. Therefore the most important thing is for you two to talk about the ceremony and come to a shared understanding of what that relationship should be. Your husband is the person you are being sealed to, so what matters most is how he thinks about your relationship. If you are on the same page, then I think you are in good shape. If you are not on the same page about what that relationship should be like, then maybe you aren’t ready to be bound together for eternity. Perhaps these conversations will deepen your relationship is ways that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

    But I would also say that your sense of agency needs to evolve a bit if you are planning to get married. You are bringing another person into your life in the most intimate way, and you will be deeply affected by each other’s decisions, including sometimes the other person’s misjudgments, whims, and mistakes. Whether you mean to or not, in getting married you give someone a lot of power in your life, and you acquire a lot of power in his, and you need to be okay with that. If you think about it, the same is true for parents and children–they both have a lot of power in each other’s lives, if the parents love them. We have power to hurt God because he cares about us so much (see Moses 7:28 and 37). Indeed, Christ allowed us to nail him to a cross because he loved us. So, there’s a difference between agency and autonomy, and freely embracing that is part of what it means to learn God’s ways.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Ben H — August 1, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  33. I have no doubt that many here believe I made the wrong choice when it came to the temple: I had my membership annulled specifically in order to have my endowment annulled, because I don’t personally feel I can honor those covenants with integrity. What I finally concluded, after shedding countless tears over it, is that there really is no way for me to worship God in conditions in which he asks me to violate my own sense of right and wrong, without explanation. I’m happier if I’m true to myself than if I trust and feel violated by that trust.

    Sometimes thinking about the temple still makes me weep, though.

    Comment by Kiskilili — August 1, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  34. A few other thoughts, and then I’ll take my demonic ruminations elsewhere:

    To some degree, the issue of how/whether/in what ways the temple is inspired seems irrelevant to me. I think there are aspects of it that are flat-out morally wrong. In the possible event that God turns out to be good, I can only hope that accordingly he’ll respect my decision to turn away from what I wholeheartedly find repugnant.

    Also, sometime in the future I’d like to further explore the intersection between agency and gender: supposedly we place a premium on agency, but it seems to me there are ways in which men’s agency is valued quite a bit more than women’s.

    Comment by Kiskilili — August 1, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  35. I’m with Julie in #26. You should seek exactly the revelation that you need, making sure that you are living up to your covenants to the best of your ability so that there is no sub-conscious hedging of bets.

    The other night my wife and I were talking about her perceptions of gender inequality in the church. My wife isn’t a member of the church. I met and married her while I was outside the chuch. She was a pretty virualent pagan atheist when I met her, and has settled into a kind of satisfied agnosticism since. My son had come home singing the Primary Adam Was a Prophet* song, that gets in your head and irritates for hours. She commented that she wondered why she wasn’t hearing any songs about Eve. As we talked, I explored some of my ideas about equality, in this life and in the next. She resisted them on much the kind of line I imagine ZD Eve is taking. Then something broke through for me – I knew that the celestial relationship was between equals. It had been my understanding before, and my hope. I have never experienced the presense of the Holy Spirit any more strongly than when I, in my own way, bore my testimony of it. It was like the light went on and the Spirit filled the room.

    May I suggest that next time you do an endowment session, note carefully when there is segregation between men and women, and where that segregation ceases. Also, listen closely to the blessing that men and women declare before they pass into the place where the segregation is done away.

    * Fortunately, Alex started singing the song like this:

    Muffin was a prophet, first one that we know,
    In the land of muffins, he made muffins grow …

    Follow the muffin, follow the muffin, follow the muffin,
    he knows the way!


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — August 1, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

  36. “For me, anyway, God is not nearly so forthcoming. In my prayers God almost always tends to direct me toward the practical,”

    You didn’t see any irony in juxtaposing those two thoughts?

    (I realize that you meant to make a distinction between the doctrinal and the practical, but still . . . )

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — August 1, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  37. Julie, I guess my irony detector is offline again–I’m afraid I just really don’t get what you’re getting at. But I’ll certainly be interested in what you have to say if you wouldn’t mind elaborating.

    Comment by ZD Eve — August 1, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  38. Sentence #1 says that God isn’t very forthcoming with answers.
    Sentence #2 says that God answers your prayers.

    I assumed that you meant that you wanted *doctrinal* answers and were getting *pragmatic* advice, but I wondered if your pragmatic advice was a doctrinal answer.

    (And, just to be clear, I am not in any way picking on you or trying to start an argument. And now I suspect that I’m misreading you entirely.)

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — August 1, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  39. I truly do recognize the sincerity of feeling and the seriousness of the issue — I’ve had struggles seemingly as painful and longlasting as the one being discussed, but surrounding other issues.

    Without wishing to cast the slightest shadow on the sincerity expressed by so many here, I think it is important to note for the sake of casual visitors who might land here that not *all* women in the church share this particular struggle. I do not, not in the least. That might be surprising — where the women commenting here see a barrier thrown up between them and God, as a single woman I can’t even approach the barrier. For single women, there is a foggy, yawning gulf, not the gauzy veil of a beloved companion with whom you stand as one. Yet it doesn’t bother me at all, because although He hasn’t explained how or what He will do, I *know* God won’t forever shut out millions of his faithful daughters just because too many of his sons weren’t suitable mates.

    I just thought it important to say that. And also that Jared T’s excellent #15 should appear in a great many threads around the ‘nacle.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 1, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

  40. Gotcha, Julie. (And no worries–I was just genuinely confused and pretty sure I wasn’t following you.) Yeah, by “answers” in this context I had something relatively narrow in mind, some sort of doctrinal explanation or at least an assurance of God’s commitment to gender equality. But God just doesn’t seem to talk to me in those terms. Which, in general, is perfectly fine with me, but now and then just a little doctrinal revelation on subjects of immense emotional importance to me personally would be nice.

    But of course we all have to live in ambiguity of one sort or another, or more accurately, in a lot of different kinds of ambiguity. It’s just part of mortal life.

    Comment by ZD Eve — August 1, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

  41. Ardis, I definitely don’t want to cast any doubt on your sincerity either, but I will admit it bothers me somewhat when mid-conversation on this and similar issues someone turns to address casual visitors to assure them that not all Mormon women feel the way that I do. For one thing, given the general image of Mormons in the North American media, I’d be really surprised if there’s anyone left out there who could possibly think I’m any kind of representative Mormon woman. My casual and more serious interactions with non-Mormons all suggest that they view me as unusual in my feelings about and perceptions of patriarchy.

    Everyone’s experience of this is different, of course, but for the record I could handle the temple as long as I was single. It was my marriage–to a completely loving, non-domineering, kind man who would never dream of pulling priesthood rank–that made the temple finally unbearable for me. (Not to say that will necessarily be your experience, Heidi. )

    Comment by ZD Eve — August 1, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  42. ZD Eve, I’ve been following this conversation from the beginning. My participation is not a mid-stream drop-in, nor was I addressing you in particular.

    Nor was I addressing non-Mormon drop-ins. I’ve seen too many one-sided conversations that I don’t believe are all that representative of most of the Mormons, men or women, that I know. The more one-sided the conversation, the longer it goes, the more difficult it is for anybody with a different point of view to speak up. Sometimes I speak up — and just as often take the wrath from supporters of the established thread position — so that other readers who share my opinion but aren’t willing to be a target know that they aren’t alone.

    But naturally your wounded feelings and your marital experience are more important than anything I have to offer. Opposing viewpoints not welcome. I get it. Ignore me.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 1, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  43. Heidi,

    I keep thinking about your post and wish that I had answers. I hope that I am not being too presumptuous by even commenting. Any answer that I give cannot come from a true understanding of your situation or spiritual struggles, and I am speaking from a position of gender privilege that I readily acknowledge. I just wanted to say that as a historian, I always want to figure things out; I want to understand the nuts and bolts of every aspect of existence. Nevertheless, as a believer I have come to grips with the fact that we all see through a glass darkly: me, you, and everyone else, even church leaders–though I hope that their view is not quite as dark as mine. In my mind religion is ultimately about hope. I hope that if I do the best I can that God will ultimately make up the difference. I hope for a better world. I hope that some day when the blinders come off my eyes I will understand and love and know. I hope to some day be with my wife forever in complete spiritual rapture. I hope the Lord will bless you in your sincere questions. I take great comfort in the idea that Heavenly Father knows the thoughts and intents of my heart. I do the best I can. I am not suggesting that you should adopt my coping strategies, but I am just offering my own formula for dealing with my own questions. I try to trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing, I hope for the time that I will develop a greater understanding of the Lord’s will, and then I try to do the things that I think the Lord wants me to do. Although I’m not always 100% effective I usually eventually find some measure of peace and joy.

    Comment by Joel — August 1, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  44. Ardis, I hesitated about bringing up my discomfort precisely because I didn’t want to irritate/anger/hurt you, and clearly I have, for which I wholeheartedly apologize. But I also think you’re misreading me. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that you had just dropped into the conversation or that you weren’t following it all or even that your comment was addressed to me. I’m just bothered by the fact that so often in these conversations I see people invoke a previously unaddressed audience and announce that women like me are in a minority, that not all LDS women feel the way I do. I’m simply wondering why that insistence is necessary. This wondering doesn’t mean I have any interest in silencing anyone else.

    But naturally your wounded feelings and your marital experience are more important than anything I have to offer. Opposing viewpoints not welcome. I get it. Ignore me.

    OK, I’m not quite sure how to take your tone here, Ardis. But it sounds to me like martyred sarcasm. I don’t think anyone on this thread has suggested that opposing viewpoints or different experiences are unwelcome or that some feelings and experiences trump others. At the very least I can assure you wholeheartedly that’s not what I intended by offering my experiences–just trying to do what I think you’re trying to do: give another point of view.

    I somehow doubt that what you really believe is that my “marital experiences and wounded feelings” (intensely dramatic and important though undoubtedly are to me! 😉 ) are “more important than anything you have to offer” or that what you really want is to be ignored, or I don’t think you’d be participating in the discussion.

    Truce? Can we call a truce?

    Comment by ZD Eve — August 1, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

  45. Heidi,

    I’m not sure that we have to find answers to everything we don’t know or which bothers us. Sometimes, it is simply important to make decisions and to do it in a way that is consistent with our views of the gospel and God. This is not an excuse for us to simply do things that we like, or to create new theology, but rather a way to test our own fiber and to reveal to ourselves what kind of people we are and whether it is consistant with who we want to be.

    Brigham Young once said that some of us may be so different that we might not fit in even within the church. But if we are pure in heart, it doesn’t matter. God will want us near Him (badly rephrasing). If we try to resolve every contradiction we face in the Church, we will spend out lives unable to grow spiritually or intellectually. Even worse, we will live very miserable lives.

    Living a righteous life is not about understanding everything or even about agreeing with everything. It is simply doing what furthers the gospel in our public and in our personal lives. If getting sealed in the temple gets you where you want to go, then do it and live a life that trancends the wording of the temple covenant. If being sealed does not, then don’t get sealed and accept the consequences which might mean losing the person you most love now or finding that he loves you enough to be willing to be with you here and possibly alone over there.

    Life is not easy nor was it meant to have solutions to all things. Remember Jesus wanted a solution to the crucifixion but found there was none and so he made the decision that was right for him and it turned out right for all of us. This decision, of course, was made with the love he had for us and his father in mind. For you the decision will also be based on love, the one you have for your Heavenly Father and for the man you love. So make the decison that is right for you and let the consequences make you a better person. That is what agency is about. If you are the person that I think you are, you will come out ahead. If you don’t, then you will have learned a great lesson and you can make the necessary adjustments.

    Comment by IMG — August 2, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  46. […] Heidi: “This time there will be no angel . . . “ […]

    Pingback by Virtual Oases, August 3 « The Exponent — August 3, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  47. Well, I’m not sure exactly what the specific issue is that concerns you so much. But I don’t think that was your point.

    Your point is that we are asked to use our reason to make choices so that we can learn the difference between good and evil, yet at the same time we are exhorted to exercise faith in God’s commandments and obey- even if we see no reason to them. I think that is the dilemma you perceive and want answered.

    I can only express the way I handle these times in my life. I am not a visionary man, I am a man of reason, and rationality. Yet most people who know me would put me down as a doctrinaire “do what God says, even if it doesn’t make sense” kind of person. However, I think most of them do not understand why I do.

    I have faced many times in my life when what God was asking me to do seemed, well, not well thought out. Sometimes this was personal revelation through the spirit, other times it was through a Priesthood leader. When I experience this, my response is to go back to the beginning. To remember.

    I remember the first time I came to realize that God did exist, and that He had just answered my prayer. I remember when I felt my sins washed away after repenting. I remember receiving guidance that did not seem to make sense, but when I followed it, things worked out. I remember all the times God has shown His love and care for me. I remember Priesthood blessing, both those I received, and those I have given. I remember all the small little miracles I’ve seen, as well as the few large ones. I remember the stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I remember the spiritual experiences I’ve had in church and Sunday school. I remember the sacrifices my parents made, and how happy they are to have made them. I also remember all the times that I ignored guidance that I received from God, and how badly things turned out when I did.

    I remember all these things, and then I look at the choice I’m being presented now, where I am being asked to step out by faith, blindly into the dark, or maybe even into what I would think is a foolish mess. The way may look foolish to me, but the person asking me to step onto the path- I know Him, and I remember, He has not lead me astray before.

    Suddenly my faith doesn’t seem so blind. Maybe I don’t see whatever He does that makes this such a rational choice, but I see Him. So in my mind, I am making a rational, reasoned choice. And it makes sense to me. After all, learning who to trust, and who to not trust, are important lessons in earthly life. Why wouldn’t the same lesson be important in Spiritual life?

    How did I learn who to trust? My choices, the results of those choices, and reasoning from those results.

    So to me, I don’t feel the conflict as harshly anymore. Not since I came to look on it that way.

    I hope this helps you in your own efforts to reconcile these two doctrines.

    Comment by Cicero — August 3, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

  48. I’m not a regular on this site. I’ve read several postings here with interest and no small amount of compassion for the angst expressed by Heidi and others. I suspect I’m probably a lot older than most of those who have posted here. I don’t believe my age gives me any inherent advantages, but it does allow me to have some perspective, at least for me if not for others. I have been endowed for 45 years. I have attended the temple fairly regularly whenever possible. My wife is a temple worked. I was a veil worker, but they were released here in favor of using called temple workers. I have observed many changes in the temple ceremony over time. It doesn’t bother me any more, although it caused some questions early on when changes were most pronounced. To that degree, then, I guess I would agree that the actual wording at any given time does not need to be treated as directly commanded by God. But I am comfortable with changes directed by the First Presidency, even if they change what previous First Presidencies decreed, because I think I am less fixated on the exact wording that the broader picture of what is taking place.

    I know gender equality issues often come up. Do men get preference over women? Why are covenants worded the way they are? I’m biased, being a man, but ultimately, all promises relate to keeping God’s commandments, and obedience is predicated on observance of God’s laws, not the whims of men. I know one thing is important: being sealed to my spouse and both of us being able to return to God’s presence. I see the promises I made in the temple as achieving that goal, if we maintain faithfulness to the end.

    I’m puzzled by some postings from those who sincerely believe the temple asks them to do something immoral. I cannot think of what that could be, and I’ve participated in those ceremonies hundreds of times. My heart goes out to those of you who feel that way.

    There’s one sacrifice we are asked to make that is unbelievably hard, and that is to lay our pride on the alter. Our pride would sometimes like to appear as free agency, especially when that agency directs us to something contrary to what God has commanded. Pride is a hard thing to overcome, and I certainly don’t think I’ve completed the task yet.

    Comment by RFB — August 4, 2008 @ 12:17 am

  49. I just wanted to say thanks to the ZD folks who have commented. Their posts on the subject have been a big help for me over the past year.

    Comment by Heidi — August 4, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  50. Stop trying to understand the temple in the terms of your own limited worldview. Open yourself to the possibility that reality is much bigger and stranger and more wonderful than what you currently know. Instead of weeping, try to understand.

    If you were visiting Paris and wanted something to eat, would you gripe about not being able to find a Burger King, or would you order something new at a sidewalk cafe? Would you expect your waiter to speak English, or would you try to practice your French?

    David O. McKay, in his old age, came out of an endowment session and remarked, “I think I’m starting to understand.” When I was young, I pooh-poohed that story, but I’ve learned more in the past couple of years than in my previous 35 years of temple attendance. And the things I’ve learned have been deep, specific, highly personal, and related to the Savior.

    Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s running over! No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

    I’m not advocating blind faith here; I’m advocating trying to understand the temple on its own terms. Then see if you still want to weep.

    I wish you all the best in your quest for understanding.

    Comment by EditorJack — August 5, 2008 @ 9:59 am

  51. Thank you for sharing this, Heidi. I think my heart broke while reading it. And thank you for bringing sincere, contemporary spiritual autobiography within the scope of historical inquiry where it belongs. This gives me courage to search and to question and to find answers.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 5, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  52. Elizabeth. You pretty much made my day.

    Comment by Heidi — August 5, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  53. Hm. Praying and pondering and praying fervently in expectation, or at least hope for a satisfying response, is always a good idea. Sometimes I haven’t gotten an answer for years, and perhaps more often than not, my answer has come through something I read or something someone said or something that happened to me, that made something click. With subtle guidance, over the years my perspective on all kinds of spiritual things has changed drastically, though it happened bit by bit, flash by little flash. It makes me sick sometimes to think how much I seem to have lost over years living without some piece of understanding. Yet I do think I have learned things I wouldn’t have learned any other way. Lehi’s dream is a great metaphor for mortal life. We spend a lot of time in the wilderness, feeling our way through the mists of darkness, and feeling some degree or another of despair.

    One day I was talking to a friend about a pretty serious doubt I had–about the very idea of faith, actually–and she told me to look in the scriptures for an answer. I said there was no point because I knew what was in the scriptures. She pushed and insisted that I try anyway. On that occasion I went looking for something else first, but the first place I opened to gave me a completely direct response to my (more important) question, giving a very unexpected sort of answer.

    I do think there are amazing resources in the scriptures that we don’t see because we are so used to reading them with a certain set of questions in mind, to which they produce a certain set of answers.

    When Christ washes his disciples’ feet, and Peter initially refuses, then is rebuked, and gives in, and Christ says, “The servant is not greater than his lord,” what is he telling us about equality?

    Comment by Ben H — August 5, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  54. Heidi,
    I’ve shared your struggles. My moment of real crisis occurred the third time I actually did an endowment and really paid attention to the words. I wept and wept and haven’t been able to bring myself to go back to the temple since.

    And that’s been ok. I have no regrets that I made those promises. The results were that I was able to marry a fantastic man. I’d pay the price of those words again. And I live in hope and faith the words will change with time. I’ll go back when they do.

    Comment by Caroline — August 6, 2008 @ 12:30 am

  55. Ben H–Yes, I also think that submission and service is a beautiful and holy thing. It’s a foundation of our religion (actually, most religions if not all). I only ask why one gender is the one kneeling the whole time. Shouldn’t this promise to serve be made both by men and by women?

    Caroline: Thank you for your comment. It meant a lot to me.

    Comment by Heidi — August 6, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  56. […] it? Eve’s “To Some it is Given: Knowledge, Doubt, Mercy” Heidi Harris “And this time there will be no Angel” Lisa’s “Hollow” Ardis ?I?ll Let God Keep the Records? Gay LDS Actor, […]

    Pingback by Last Chance for Niblet Nominations at Mormon Matters — July 1, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  57. […] And This Time There Will Be No Angel […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: Posts You Might Have Missed, June-August 2008 — July 3, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  58. […] Heidi Harris ?And this time there will be no Angel? […]

    Pingback by 2008 Niblets: Rock the Vote Here! at Mormon Matters — July 6, 2009 @ 5:48 am

  59. […] even the only two) posts I published on Juvenile Instructor won nominations in the “Top 10 Spiritual/Historical Posts” for the Niblet Awards of […]

    Pingback by Well, what have we here? « Pinto’s Beans — December 8, 2009 @ 9:24 pm


Recent Comments

David G. on Book Review: Colvin and: “Thanks, Charlotte!”

J Stuart on Book Review: Colvin and: “Can't wait to read the rest of the review in JMH. Thanks, Charlotte!”

Ben S on MHA 2020 Networking Materials: “Thanks for this.”

Th. on Book Review: Jake Johnson,: “. Just commenting on your first paragraph: Egad.”

Steve Fleming on A note on the: “No but haven't really looked.”

J. Stapley on A note on the: “Have you seen anything like on this side of the Atlantic, Steve?”