The Frustration of Temple Symbolism

I’ve really enjoyed the past few posts by Guy Templeton over at Wheat and Tares regarding some topics of the temple.  I’ve also enjoyed the interactions with Jettboy and Forgetting here at by blog.  Guy has discussed temple symbolism.  I have expressed frustration at this symbolism, because to me it seems just like a puzzle  I have said in my previous post,

I suck at symbolic language. It’s very difficult for me. The temple is repetitive, and I don’t know what I am supposed to notice. To answer Jettboy’s question, as Guy posted [last week] at W&T, am I supposed to notice the carpet and butterfly symbolism, or is this straining at gnats? If it is what I’m supposed to be noticing, then I suck at symbolic language. Because it feels like straining at gnats to me. Some people may enjoy this puzzle and may find personal inspiration and enjoyment out of looking at carpet and butterflies, but my brain just doesn’t work that way, and I find it frustrating if my brain is supposed to work that way. Perhaps that is why I don’t get much from the temple.

I went on to say

I first went pre-1991 when they still had the penalties. My mission pres, a former temple sealer, once remarked that he wondered why the first signs and tokens had penalties, but the last one did not. He came to the conclusion that was because if we don’t live up to our covenants, the penalty is not living with God, and that was the worst penalty of all.

Of course these penalties have been removed completely from the ceremony, probably as a response to the Godmakers assertion that these penalties were Masonic in origin. This leaves me to wonder if my mission president’s speculation was even important. If this can be removed, was it really a necessary, important part of the endowment? I mean it probably was there because it was borrowed from teh Masons. So did he find spiritual enlightenment in something that just didn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things? And are butterflies and carpet important at all, or are they really tangential?

I think they are tangential, as were the penalties. So when people say they learn so much from temple attendance, I just wonder if they are straining at gnats that aren’t really important. And if you agree with me that these are not important, then what are the important things that I am supposed to learn?

I’ve been told that the temple is about the atonement and/or the plan of salvation. Well, I get more out of a Sunday School lesson on these 2 topics then I ever get attending the temple.

I understand the covenants. I love the sealing ordinance. I like doing temple work for my ancestors. But I don’t “get” what people “learn” from the temple, and it feels to me like it is really weird stuff when I hear explanations about penalties, butterflies, and carpet. Like I said, my brain doesn’t work that way. If your brain does, that’s awesome. I don’t get it.

Both Jettboy and Forgetting have given me a library of books to contemplate the temple.  I hope to find time to read them, and I do thank them for the recommendations.  I asked Jettboy specifically what he has learned from the temple.  He said,

That is a complicated question to answer, because like I said its both butterflies and carpets, and something different. That is like asking someone who studies algebra if what they have learned is along the lines of multiplication or division. Um . . . yea, but those are subsets of the whole that allow you to figure the equations. Another hard part is we are getting into things that are beyond the allowable discussion outside the Temple walls (and I know how frustrating that is to say to someone who finds that a disturbance to learning). Besides, even from what I know there are things that I don’t, and that is what makes each visit intriguing is the possibility to learn, by the Spirit, something different.

While I appreciate Jettboy’s response, it still leaves me frustrated.  He went on to talk about his own personal conflict between creationism and evolution.  While I am sure it made sense to him, his answer didn’t really resonate with me.  I guess the temple is the one place where our Church teaches us “uncorrelated” lessons.  Perhaps that is why they don’t want us talking about it.  These uncorrelated lessons might be personally fulfilling, but when shared with others, it seems to me that they probably would end up being contradictory.  While not communicating about the temple has the advantage to the church of not worrying about contradictory messages, for people like me who suck at symbolic language, it is a major source of frustration.  I go out of duty, but when others express how wonderful the temple is for them, for me it just leaves me frustrated.  And not being able to talk about it leaves me even more frustrated.

I originally asked these questions to Jettboy, but I would like to throw out these questions to all of you, especially those of you who feel that you learn significant information from temple attendance.  Do you mind sharing some things you’ve learned in the temple? Is it along the lines of butterflies and carpets, or is it something different?

5 comments on “The Frustration of Temple Symbolism

  1. I think for me a lot of what I learn is about the order, sequence and relationship between various gospel principles. For instance, my mission president who was a salt lake temple worker for years explained in a zone conference how the various covenants build upon each other from obedience and sacrifice to sanctification. In effect it teaches the proper sequence of progress for mankind.

    To give a personal example, I’ve written elsewhere about how my testimony of families/ the family proclamation came in the temple. One element that contributed to that growing understanding was the placement of the law of chastity in the sequence of covenants. Realizing that it was one of the last and highest covenants ( a melchizedick priesthood one) really shifts my perspective and helped me realize the eternal nature of family/chastity.

  2. symphonyofdissent, thanks for that. Next time I’ll have to ponder the covenants made under the Aaronic and the ones under the Melchizedek sections. I already worked out the order that they start with personal, go to family, and then end in communal covenants.

  3. I’ll send you a copy of http://dearjeff.jwashburn.com if you’re interested. It’s short, easy to read, and very straightforward. Not the last temple book you’ll ever read, but I do think it’d help. Thanks for posting. You’re not the only one who feels this way : )

  4. J, would you call your book an introduction, or is there meat? I’ve read plenty of introductions, and I think I’m looking for meat.

  5. I find that the temple experience for me is more contemplative. There are many opportunities for scholarly and intellectual study of the gospel outside of temple walls. Going to the temple offers me a chance for introspection. While I do believe that there is a lot to learn from the symbolism, I also believe that a great value of temple worship is the ritual. Allowing myself to relax and escape from worldly cares for a couple of hours lets me more deeply feel the spirit. Sometimes this leads to personal revelation about meanings conveyed by the endowment. Other time it leads to personal revelation about other questions or trials in my life. Most often it just provides a place of peace and rest from my troubles.

    I know this doesn’t directly answer what you asked, but most often the things I learn are very personal and sacred. Some of them I share as directed by the Spirit, but most of them I would not publish beyond my journal.

    Please note that I am not suggesting that trying to get more out of the temple symbolism is not a worthy endeavor, just that what I describe above is what works for me.

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