Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Temple, Garments, and what Sacred looks like

I've been reading a lot this morning about the speculation surrounding Ann Romney and her wearing of garments. Pictures of her wearing very short sleeves and above-the-knee skirts have led some to question if she in fact wears Temple garments. I think the whole thing is ridiculous and that how someone chooses to explore their faith is no one's business but their own (not to mention that some women's garments don't actually go to the knee), but I don't want to talk about Ann Romney.

Instead, I want to talk about how we think of the sacredness of Temple ceremonies and garments.

If you are unfamiliar, here are some basic definitions: Mormons practice ritualistic ceremonies in Temples which we believe are patterned after ancient Temple ceremonies. We also believe that those who have participated in a particular ceremony, called the Endowment, have the opportunity to wear garments. Garments are white underclothing consisting of a short sleeve top and a bottom which extends almost to the knee (there are some other kinds, such as long-sleeve garments for cold weather and one-pieces). Endowed Mormons are asked to wear them at all times except when doing things than can not be reasonably done while wearing them, such as bathing or swimming. We can compare it to clothing worn by members of other ritualistic religions, because they serve the same purpose: a constant, outward reminder of an inward covenant with God.

To think that we can keep these things from those outside the Church is naive. Anyone can do a quick Google search and see videos and pictures of things sacred to Mormons. Often times, Mormons become offended when someone reveals these things to the public, and for good reason. We are taught that the Temple is the most sacred place on earth and we generally associate revealing it with anti-Mormon antagonism. But even though our first reaction is offense, should we remain offended? I think exploring what sacred means in a Mormon context would help us not to be.

It has been said (which, if someone can source this for me, that would be wonderful) that the difference between reading about or watching the Temple ceremony online and actually experiencing it in person is like the difference between reading the score and watching the symphony. I think this is a fantastic analogy, and one with which I agree. I'll be honest, I have sat in Temple ceremonies and thought, "If I didn't believe in the ancient pattern or symbolism of all of this, I would think it was really, really, really weird." I'm sure if I read about it online before my own Endowment, I would not get the same feeling that I get in the Temple: the active participation of my body and soul feels like the way I was designed to worship God. While I enjoy the intellectual satisfaction of thinking about the Temple ceremony, I go for the spiritual fulfillment.

I often wonder if our reasons for keeping the Temple and garments sacred are misguided. We often use the idiom "Sacred, not secret" in reference to the Temple. But is this how we practice it? I would argue that the reason we are asked not to reveal Temple ceremonies or garments is not a pearls-before-swine rationale. Rather, the experience we have in the Temple is incommunicable to those who have not experienced it. It is more than just words and ritual. The sacredness of the entire experience gets lost when we try to communicate it outside of its context. It's not because it's our own little secret which only gets shared with a select few, but that to willingly share it outside of its context shows a complete misunderstanding of the reasons behind it.

I also think we get confused about what in the Temple is actually sacred. The symbols and the words used are not what are sacred. What the symbols and words mean are what is. One big criticism of the Temple ceremony is its similarity to Masonic rituals. However, I would argue that the symbols and words in the Temple ceremony could be anything, so long as they still represent what God intends them to. So what if someone records it and posts it on Youtube? So what if someone is selling garments on Ebay? The sacredness no longer exists in it. It becomes only a satisfaction of curiosity and nothing else.

I hope that we can get to a point where we get a better understanding what sacred means and how our experience with the Temple and garments fits into our culture of information and curiosity. And I hope for myself that I can be okay with the decisions of others to discount the Temple's sacredness because those decisions do not affect my faith and my Mormon experience.