Friday, July 6, 2012

Turn Up the Volume: Adjusting Sound Levels in Temple Phraseology

I sat next to my mother in the instruction room as I escorted her through the temple for the first time and listened to the assistant to the matron say, “Some women are put off by the phrasing ‘queen and priestess unto your husband’.”

That was the closest thing to validation of a major feminist objection to LDS temple rites that I had ever heard from an official source. It felt good for this feminist, I will admit.

I joined the church in 2001 as a senior in high school and spent the next 10 years with the hope of converting my widowed mother so my fairy tale could come true. I dreamed of the day when she would be sealed to my deceased father in the temple and I would be sealed to them. I was heartbroken when I stood in the undedicated sealing room of the Sacramento temple with my mother in 2006. By that time, I had given up on her joining the church in my lifetime and had become resigned to performing her temple ordinances for her after her death. At least I had her permission for that.

After my own feminist awakening during which I broke from orthodoxy, I understood better than ever before some of the reasons why she showed little interest in being affiliated with the LDS church. During what I call my crisis of culture, I turned to my mother and she consoled me when I discovered that LDS women had once enjoyed the freedom of anointing and blessing others. She heard my anger and frustration at the sense of betrayal I felt when I learned that Goddess-loving feminists had been excommunicated for writing and speaking about Mother in Heaven.

At that time, I would have been more likely to guess that I would encounter church discipline before I saw the day of her baptism.

Interestingly, it was partly my culture crisis that led her to seriously entertain thoughts of being baptized LDS. Through organizations like WAVE, Sunstone and Mormon Stories she encountered Mormons like her—feminist, liberal and non-literal believers.  Along with me, she also encountered Dialogue, The Exponent II, Daughters of Mormonism and Feminist Mormon Housewives.  She saw me flourish in a way she had never seen before. In May of last year she was baptized. In preparation for the temple she read Packer’s The Holy Temple and the temple prep manual and also Maxine Hank’s Women and Authority.

As her date of eligibility to attend the temple approached, I had no idea how I would help her prepare or how I was even supposed to feel. With my awareness of the troublesome parts of the temple, I vacillated between warning her about what she would find objectionable there and letting her discover things for herself.

And yet, we still found ourselves sitting side by side in the temple as she pondered her initiatory. The assistant to the matron gave us pause. Her statement was more than I had ever hoped to hear regarding the troublesome subordination of women under their husbands. The matron then went on to stress the supreme importance of women having a strong personal relationship with God.

As she spoke, it was like she was showing me a control panel with levers to adjust sound levels. Language does not come with scales illustrating how certain phrases are more important than others. If the words of the temple were laid down likes tracks of a song, I began to sense that “unto your husband” would be laid down much softer in volume than “hearken to the counsel of God.”

To our ears, it sounds as if the phrases are equal in importance or maybe that hearkening to one’s husband is more important because it is stated first. Maybe it follows the academic tradition of the most important being placed last and the emphasis is really on our relationship with our heavenly parents.  Perhaps the phrasing implies that hearkening to one’s spouse is just as important as hearkening to God. In any case, the statements themselves seem to indicate that it is very much open to personal interpretation when determining the relationship between the two.

I went through the rest of the session thinking of the sound volumes on each phrase and thinking that my responsibility was to remember the primacy of my personal relationship with divinity.

I still wish to someday hear men counseled in the temple to hearken to their wives. Until then, the personal nature of temple attendance allows each person in attendance to determine how loud certain tracks will be when laid down for the final cut. I cannot all together reject outright the value of being a team player and counseling with my husband, but I can choose for myself how loudly I will hear it when I play the message of the temple in my mind.

Thanks to the wise counsel of a temple matron, I choose to turn up the volume of the counsel and direction of God so that the Holy Spirit will be my guide.

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