Content in the Fire

By February 17, 2010

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.

Dante

If you imagine

others are there,

you are there yourself.

From Wendell Berry, Given (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2005), 8.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Nice.

    Dante and Milton sure are useful.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 17, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  2. “During the endowment I thought of a paper I wrote as an undergraduate…”

    This is why I love JI.

    “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.”

    I needed that reminder. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — February 17, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  3. Lovely. Didn’t Richard Burton in his Kingdom of the Saints say that the temple sounded to him like a dramatization of Paradise Lost?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 17, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

  4. Very interesting, Steve. Here’s the passage you were talking about: “The public declare that the ceremonies consist of some show, which in the Middle Ages would be called a comedy or mystery—possibly Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained” (The City of the Saints, p. 220). Thanks for pointing me to it.

    Comment by Elizabeth — February 17, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  5. Thanks for this post. Quite lovely.

    I remember hearing from a Milton scholar at BYU that he was regularly chastised in his Gospel Doctrine class for quoting the temple ceremony, when, in fact, he was quoting Milton.

    Comment by Paul B — February 17, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  6. Wonderful post, Elizabeth.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 17, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

  7. OK, now I have to go back and read Milton, which some how slipped through my required reading list.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — February 17, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  8. These are the posts that make my happy to be part of the bloggernacle.

    Comment by Ben — February 17, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

  9. Liz, this is wonderful. Thank you.

    Comment by Christopher — February 17, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

  10. Just when I’m ready to abandon the bloggernacle, this comes along and, to quote Michael Corleone, pulls me back in.

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 17, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  11. Way to go Elizabeth. And thanks.

    Comment by WVS — February 17, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

  12. 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.

    Well said. It is a wonder that there aren’t more full-fledged tree hugging environmentalists among us. I know Nibley was practically there. Perhaps his reverence for the endowment ceremony is why.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 17, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

  13. Thanks, Liz. Congrats on your wonderful day!

    Comment by Jared T — February 17, 2010 @ 11:20 pm

  14. Beautifully written. Thank you.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 18, 2010 @ 12:19 am

  15. Enjoyed your thoughts and feelings, Liz.

    Comment by Ryan T. — February 18, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  16. What a lovely post. Thank you.

    Comment by Tracy M — March 7, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

  17. Beautiful post, Elizabeth! We need more people with an eye for literature talking about the temple! It’s great to hear you talk about your experience. I really didn’t know what I would think of the temple when I went. I was hopeful, but I was pretty sure it would be a very different thing from anything I had encountered before, and the Church is an institution built of human beings, even though they are generally doing their best to (and often do) act by the Spirit. As the day unfolded, somehow everything seemed very strange and very familiar at the same time. For me, I think it was crucial that I had spent a lot of time with the scriptures in the weeks and months beforehand. The temple brought together a whole constellation of ideas, I think the main ideas, from all over the scriptures, and put them together in a fresh way. It also did so in a way that seemed to highlight some of my favorite parts of the scriptures, including things that I had thought seemed neglected in my other dhurch experiences. It made the church as a whole a lot more interesting, and somehow both more timeless and more open to the new. Thanks for writing!

    Comment by Ben H — March 16, 2010 @ 6:04 pm


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