On Saturday I emerged from the Boston Temple a changed woman, a stronger woman. I am more Mormon than I was before, and I am okay with it. Let me explain why.
I have resisted the temple for a while for a number of reasons. Among other things, I was ambivalent about the distinct linguistic possibility that women are inferior to men in God’s eyes. Language notwithstanding, I fundamentally don’t think God loves women any less than God loves men.
But, I feared that going through the temple to receive my endowment would throw me into even greater turmoil of belief than I had already experienced in the last year and a half. It didn’t. Even though it did not answer all my questions and certainly provided me with a few more, it was a beautiful experience.
My religious and literary education began to fall into place in very personal ways. As I was climbing the stairs before beginning the endowment, I imagined myself as Dante climbing toward Paradise, the celestial room, and God’s presence. The endowment, however, put me squarely back on earth, back on mount Purgatory, where we are to work out our salvation before God with fear and trembling.
During the endowment I thought of a paper I wrote as an undergraduate on unity and procreation in Paradise Lost. According to Milton, in the Garden, Adam and Eve perceived themselves to be separate, self-sufficient. The fall, however, taught them the need for each other and for God, a unified relationship they could only achieve through procreation outside the Garden. Procreation allowed unity, not just of human flesh, but of the human and the divine. Adam and Eve learn independently that Christ will come through their lineage (see Paradise Lost, 12.378-82, 623), and Christ reconciles humanity to God.
The temple teaches the same kind of narrative Milton did, that of humans seeking unity with God and their ultimate dependence on Christ’s power to effect that reconciliation and unification. It is precisely the inseparability of the human element (earthbound beings in time), and the divine element (God’s salvific action in time and for all time) that I loved about the temple. The endowment is an exploration of humility. The endowment represents a sacrifice of ego, accompanied by the desire to fulfill the will of the Lord, and contains God’s promise to ratify that sacrifice with power. It serves as an inescapable reminder of our divinely human mixture of spirit and clay, incapable of returning to God on our own. It is surrender.
Finally, the temple taught me about the beauty of the earth and the beauty of human life in God’s sight. Christ died for the beauty of the earth. In the temple, I dedicated myself to uphold that beauty to the best of my imperfect ability.
The temple is God’s creation. The temple is God’s love for humanity. The temple is God’s garden on earth. The temple is heaven now. For God so loved the world.
The day before my endowment a couple of friends and I went to Cambridge and spent the afternoon. We went through the Harvard Natural History Museum, which contains some of the earth’s beauties. Enjoy.
If you imagine
others are there,
you are there yourself.
From Wendell Berry, Given (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2005), 8.