After almost a week of Big Love aftermath, I very much enjoyed reading Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article in today’s Salt Lake Tribune, entitled: Sacred ceremonies: Latter-day Saints say temple worship must be experienced to be understood. I think the title says it all. It’s a good lead, for one of the better media pieces on the whole Temple ceremony story.Despite HBO airing a portion of the Temple ceremony on cable television, to those who have never experienced the ceremony first hand, it is quite unlikely they know any more about it than before the latest Big Love installment:
Still, Mormons feel that few outsiders have a full sense of what temple worship means to the faithful, or why they hold it so sacred. That’s because the ceremony is richer and more powerful, they believe, than the architecture, the special clothing or even the ritual re-enactments.
It has to be experienced to be understood.
And, Peggy’s exactly right. It does have to be experienced to be understood, as quoted by some prominent LDS bloggers, who wrote in the Big Love aftermath:
J. Nelson-Seawright, a professor in Chicago, says it’s a place out of time. “When I enter, I lose track of clocks, hours, minutes and obligations,” Nelson-Seawright writes. “We leave behind the cycle of appointments, bills and paychecks, of crimes and misdemeanors. The temple doors … bring us into a radically streamlined sacred timelessness. The creation of the world and all its subsequent ages pass before our eyes. The immense, even colossal, realities of the physical world become a striking backdrop for the eternal drama of us.”
I concur with Julie and J. Nelson-Seawright. The Temple ceremony is completely participatory–which is the whole point. It’s also a very other worldly experience, in the midst of the chaos and cacophany of mortality. It’s amazing just to walk the grounds of the Los Angeles temple in the midst of America’s second largest city, and yet be so far removed from the city, as to feel you are almost in another dimension. Participating in the ceremony itself takes it to an entirely different level–one indescribable, and really understood only by personal esperience.
After studying LDS temple rites and talking with believers, Mark Leone, a professor of anthropology at University of Maryland, concluded that the experience helped Mormons navigate their conflicts with modernity.
“The temple takes the reality a Mormon lives with, calls it true, necessary and painful; shows the bliss that comes from being valiant in the face of it; takes the fears out of it by immersing him in it inside the temple; and then sends the individual back out to start again,” Leone wrote in a groundbreaking essay, “The Mormon Temple Experience: A Non-Mormon look at a Latter-day Saint’s Most Sacred Ritual.”
The whole experience is about order, Leone wrote. “They create a continuous line of relatives stretching back through the otherwise personally meaningless epochs of history.”
It gives participants a “foretaste of eternal bliss,” he wrote.
Kathleen Flake agrees. The temple ritual is an embodied experience, not a logical argument, says Flake, a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “It is not a sermon. It is not didactic. It makes use of other ways of knowing.” In the end, says Flake, a Mormon, the temple is an “instrument of sanctification. It leads us towards this thing called holiness.”
I say, more holiness give me. Nice job, Peggy. Thanks!