Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Making the temple a sacred space

I recently came home to find my old tattered and yellowed temple recommend sitting on the counter. Upon inquiry, I found that a family that lives a block and a half away had found it in the debris at the base of their back fence while doing spring yard work.

My mind was immediately pulled back to the day my recommend went missing late last November. Until that time my practice had been to remove my recommend from my wallet and put it in my shirt pocket prior to heading to the temple. This served the purpose of making sure that I didn't arrive at the temple without a recommend.

This practice also put the recommend in the same shirt I would be wearing while serving in the temple. Years ago a member of a temple presidency suggested to me that it would be a good idea to keep my recommend on my person while worshiping in the temple (when possible) for identification purposes. That advice came shortly after a patron had passed away in the temple, causing officials to awkwardly scramble to discover the deceased man's identity. I'm sure that possible death isn't the only reason it might be a good idea to keep some identification with you.

That fateful day last November featured gale force winds blowing out of canyons to the east of us. This kind of thing strikes our neighborhood with some regularity, including this past weekend. That day as my wife, my recently endowed son, and I prepared to leave for the temple, I noted that the garbage can had blown over. I righted the can before climbing into the car.

Upon arriving at the temple I discovered that my recommend was no longer in my shirt pocket. It quickly dawned on me that it must have slipped out while I was dealing with the garbage bin. Given the force of the winds, I figured that the recommend was halfway to Nevada by then. I urged my wife and son to enter the temple without me, saying that I would return to pick them up later.

My wife gave me the firm message that we are an eternal family and that we accordingly would only enter the temple together that day. She and my son waited while I discussed the matter with a temple worker. The worker collected my bishop's contact information and asked us to wait. A few minutes later he returned and authorized me to enter the temple with my family members. So we were able to worship together in the temple that day.

I didn't bother trying to find the recommend that was gone with the wind. Where would I look for such a small piece of paper? Two days later I was able to arrange for a temple recommend interview with a member of my bishopric. As luck would have it, an unexpected opportunity arose that same day to have an interview with a member of my stake presidency. So I had a newly authorized recommend scarcely 48 hours after my old recommend had blown away.

Losing my recommend has caused me to change my former practice of putting my recommend in my shirt pocket prior to leaving for the temple. I now check my wallet prior to leaving for the temple to ensure that my recommend is indeed where I expect it to be. After passing the recommend desk at the temple I put my recommend in my shirt pocket until I change clothes following the session, at which point I return my recommend to my wallet. At least, that's how it works when everything goes well.

On a side note, I used to keep my recommend in my temple bag along with my temple clothes. Once when I was on a business trip, an unanticipated opportunity to attend a nearby temple arose. I was eager to go, only to realize that my recommend was at home in my temple bag. That's when I started carrying it in my wallet.

Seeing the beat up recommend on the counter has caused me to reflect a bit on its loss. My first feeling upon realizing that my recommend was missing at the temple that day was alarm. Once I got over the initial shock, I felt regret, frustration, and concern about being separated from my family members. That lasted only a few minutes until I found that it would be alright.

Pondering the matter further, I realized that part of the disappointment I felt when I thought I wouldn't be able to enter the temple that day was the knowledge that I would miss out on the peace and serenity I regularly experience while worshiping in the temple. This is a difficult (if not impossible) thing to describe to others. I can and do find tranquility and spiritual connection in many settings. But what I experience in the temple is unique.

In the April 2003 general conference, Dennis B. Neuenschwander, then of the Presidency of the Seventy gave a talk titled Holy Place, Sacred Space. I have found myself returning to this talk with some regularity. Elder Neuenschwander says, "Our ability to seek, recognize, and reverence the holy above the profane, and the sacred above the secular, defines our spirituality."

Humans have sought sacred and holy spaces since before recorded history. Every religion (and nearly every nonreligious philosophy) has its holy places. People do not equally experience these places as sacred. Elder Neuenschwander explains that "The faith and reverence associated with [holy places] and the respect we have for what transpires or has transpired in them make them holy."

Elder Neuenschwander makes it clear that we must commit more than just reverence to experience the sacred. "There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice. Sacrifice sanctifies the sacred." What might we sacrifice? Among other things, "We sacrifice time in search for our ancestors and time to attend to our temple responsibilities. We also strive to live the highest standards of personal worthiness, which qualify us to enter the sacred space of this most holy place."

What would you sacrifice to have a sacred moment with God in His holy house? A friend of mine likes to say that your visit to the temple can be one of the holiest moments of your life. Or it can be no more sacred than a trip to Burger King. It's really up to you. If you're not having a sacred experience in a place that others consider holy, just realize that it's you, not them.

Sometimes we inadvertently do things that detract from the sacred nature of places we believe to be holy. I have noted that wedding parties waiting outside temple doors sometimes break into boisterous cheering when a newly wed couple exits the temple doors. While rejoicing can be sacred, some celebrants exhibit behavior that is more at home in a sports arena, being so loud that their clamor penetrates the walls of the sacred edifice, disturbing worshipers.

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. This can even be true of temple workers, who sometimes treat their activities in the temple with less reverence than that holy place should warrant.

While my personal experience of temple holiness varies (mostly due to me rather than external circumstances), some of my life's most sacred moments have occurred in holy temples. My wife and I still cherish the moment when I proposed to her in the celestial room of the Ogden Temple. (Having served a mission, she was previously endowed.) Months later we knelt across a sacred altar in the temple and were sealed together for time and all eternity.

A few years later as we struggled with infertility, I gained a clear understanding while fasting and praying in the temple that we would have four boys and a girl born to us. We eventually did. I watched tears roll down the cheeks of my stoic German father as he was sealed to his deceased parents, for whom Mom and I acted as proxies. After the ordinance, my visionary father told me that his parents had been present during the ordinance.

On three occasions I have welcomed a newly endowed child of mine into the celestial room of a temple. I once sat in a temple session and prayed to have the oppressive darkness I was experiencing during a period of depression and unemployment lifted. My Savior immediately took that burden away and filled me with incredible light. The darkness did not return.

On one occasion as I sat in the baptistery chapel of the temple with my then 12-year-old daughter. I felt a marvelous sacred spirit as I watched patrons being baptized on behalf of their kindred dead. I realized that my daughter was feeling this too when she leaned her head onto my shoulder at the perfect moment, causing me to experience one of the greatest joys a daddy can have.

I have, of course, had many more sacred experiences than these in the temple. So many that I can't count them, although, I have recorded a number of them in my journals. The temple is a holy place because many people work and sacrifice to make it a sacred space. It is a place to experience greater contact with the divine. But only if you choose it. Choose wisely.

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