Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking My Family to the Temple

Yesterday, during our stake conference, the temple president of the St. Paul Temple and his wife were invited to speak. Sister Archibald shared inspiring stories of miracles and personal revelations that had blessed the lives of faithful members who had attended the St. Paul Temple. President Archibald spoke about the importance of personal revelation, the importance to each of us of engaging in our own personal quest to know our Heavenly Father. He pointed out that there are many things we cannot learn except through the Spirit, things we can only understand through the Spirit. And he underlined the role that is played in being able to be worthy of personal revelation by the process of becoming worthy to enter the Temple, and then regularly participating in its magnum opus, its great work. Other speakers at Stake Conference underlined the importance of temple work, and the importance of personal revelation as well.

Through all this, I felt the Spirit tugging at my heart. I felt incredibly happy and privileged to be at Stake Conference, surrounded by the Saints, in the beautiful chapel at our stake center in Crystal, Minnesota which was decorated for the occasion with beautiful flowers. The chapel was filled with light -- both physical and spiritual. All I could do was pray gratitude that I could be in this place where I felt such peace and happiness and the unmitigated presence of the Spirit. But the sweet was intermixed, as it often is in life, with the bitter too.

Later that afternoon, Göran, Glen and I were driving around the Twin Cities. Glen has his learner's permit, and our friends Betty and Sarah have generously allowed us to regularly borrow their car so he can practice drive under my watchful eye. (He has become a very safe, skillful driver, so there's very little I need to watch any more!) I realized that, though the St. Paul Temple was dedicated in 2000, I've never actually been there. I've never seen it, even from the exterior, and I felt a sudden hunger to be there, to see it.

Glen is always asking us to come up with ideas for new places he can drive to while practicing his driving skills. So I suggested we ought to drive to the temple. I called my friend, Sister J., and she gave us instructions on how to get there over the phone. After getting a bit lost on the highways, and after having to find an unexpected path around all the highway construction presently happening on Interstate 94E going to St. Paul, we eventually made it. The above photo is a picture of the temple that Göran snapped with his i-Phone. He uploaded it to his "Loopt" account, with the caption, "John needed to go see the Mormon Temple @ Oakdale, MN."

As you can see from the photo, when we arrived there it was starting to get dark, and it was a bit cloudy out. I expected there to be lights outside the Temple, but there were none. There were lights on inside the temple, illuminating some of the stained glass windows on either end. Unlike the temple my family attended when I was growing up in Rochester, NY, the Washington, DC Temple, this temple is very small and inconspicuous. While the Washington Temple leaps out at you as you're driving down the beltway toward Bethesda, MD, like some shining castle recently descended from Heaven, the St. Paul Temple is invisible until you are almost right on top of it. If you are not looking for it, you can easily miss it and drive right past. It's short and rectangular, and has a mausoleum-like feel to it, the more so given the cemetery-like manicured and fenced grounds around it, and the chapel/visitor's center nearby, which is as big if not bigger than the temple itself. I marveled a bit, actually. I'm accustomed to temples being enormous, overawing structures, and this one definitely is not. All the same, I felt the same happiness in this place I had felt earlier in the morning at the Stake Center in Crystal, the peaceful recognition that this was a sacred place, that I was standing on sacred ground. After a while, we got back in the car and drove back to Minneapolis, where I dropped Glen and Göran off and then returned the car to Betty and Sarah.

I confess my desire to go to the Temple. I long for the opportunity to participate directly in its great work of uniting all the families of the earth, both living and dead. I participate only indirectly now through genealogical research and data extraction work. I long to be in this sacred place, to stand on sacred ground, and be qualified to receive the revelation that being in such a place qualifies us to receive. But while most Saints enter the temple for the first time in order to be sealed forever to the loved ones they have chosen, in order for me to enter that place again I would have to say goodbye forever to the loved ones I have chosen. Others enter the temple in order to seal their promises to each other for all eternity. In order to enter, I would have to break the promises I have made to my other. And that, I cannot do. Thus the bittersweet of being in that place. Thus the heartbreak.

During Stake Conference, our new counselor to the Stake Presidency, brother Jeffrey Kerr, compared being married to having two hands that can work together, that help one another accomplish all the work in life that we have to do. That much I can also testify. Losing Göran would be like losing my right arm. It would be worse. I'd rather lose my right arm. I'd gladly put it on the chopping block before I'd lose him. To hurt him would be like jabbing a knife in my own right arm. I consider the journey we've walked together the past 17 years, and I consider the many ahead, and I don't want to imagine it without him. Everything of value I've learned in life, I've learned because I've loved him, and because, through thick and thin, through heartache and exquisite joy, we've been there together. This testimony that I have of the Church, and my hunger to join the Church again, has been perhaps the greatest trial of our relationship. But even through that, there is no one else I would rather wrestle with. What is the point of having an eternal family if you can't have it with the one you love eternally?!

These are the feelings that have welled up in my heart the last twenty-four hours. It's painful. But I have also been blessed and comforted by the Spirit. There's a reason he's called the Comforter! The Spirit has promised good things to me. He has reminded me that there's only one path forward for me, and it is to keep my promises -- all my promises -- the very best I can. To love and have faith and to hope. To pray without ceasing, to bless the lives of others through service and optimism, to always, always bear witness to the truth. There is no sacred ground -- for me -- without moving forward in that way, with a joyful heart. And my heart is filled with joy, even if it aches occasionally.

I want to go back there again. I want to stand on that sacred ground and feel the Spirit there, even if -- for now -- I can only stand on the sacred ground outside the temple.


Bravone said...

As always, I felt the spirit reading your thoughts, and am challenged to live better, to be more sincere, to keep my covenants. Thank you.

J G-W said...

Hey, Bravone! Thanks! I am very glad for that.

During much of the day yesterday (and so far today too) I have wavered between feeling sad and feeling sorry for myself (a state in which I definitely don't feel the Spirit) and being hopeful and grateful and patient (a state in which I definitely do). Remembering the Spirit's assurances to me yesterday during Stake Conference keeps me in the latter.

Visiting the temple yesterday gave me hope, and made me feel happy. It feels good to bear my testimony about the temple, and to let the chips fall where they may. Even though being there was painful in some ways because it was a reminder that I am currently excluded, I am certain that my greatest joy lies in going forward with that testimony, allowing myself to feel and work through the feelings this raises (painful as they are), and resting in the Spirit's reassurance that if I am faithful to my partner (and faithful in every other way I possibly can be) all will work out.

It sometimes seems complicated trying to explain it to people. But it doesn't feel complicated. It feels as simple and clear in my heart as anything possibly could be.

adamf said...

Beautiful and heart-wrenching post. Thanks for being so open about your emotions.

Sarah said...

Thank you for the reminder that I often take my temple recommend for granted. Your post puts things back into the right perspective for me. I will not soon forget it.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you have read jan shipps. at a regional sunstone conference she predicted ("prophesied"?)
that the next big change in the church would be to bring the temple and its ceremonies into the 21st century (not a direct quote).

temple architecture is always an interesting subject. when the odgen/provo temples were built, sterlin mcmurrin said the "true church" wouldn't have such bad taste in architecture. i felt bad when i heard that because whatever else, at least the g.a's were trying for something different. the negative comments burned and so they retreated.

i'd like to go back to the days of the mesa and cardston temples whose designs came out of anybody-can-enter contest

Bill McA said...

I'm glad you felt the Spirit at the temple. I just have to disagree with part of one thing you said: "In order for me to enter that place again I would have to say goodbye forever to the loved ones I have chosen."

Only one loved one, actually. And you wouldn't even have to say "goodbye" (and certainly not forever), just "see you later." And as it stands now you would have to say that anyway were one of you to die.

sara said...

I envy your place, having a place that does feel special, rites and rituals.

J G-W said...

Sara - thanks. It does feel special, and I do feel blessed to have this place where I can go to feel the Spirit of God.