Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Will Partake

Occasionally when I am inspired by something or have a unique experience that enlightens me, I have a desire to share it with a larger audience. Often that audience is within the silent outreaches of this blog, where I have no idea who is reading, or when or from where. Most of the time, though, the interesting things that I experience end up in my personal journal and are just kept to myself. Yet, there are times when I go back to my journal to read and relive those unique situations, and suddenly I have the new desire to tell people about it.  

This blog post has formed from two separate experiences that I had, each of them about a year apart. I had written what happened in my journal, and then recently came across it again and thought I would expound upon it. Because of the nature of the experiences, which discussed some details of Latter-day Saint practices, I was apprehensive about posting it to my blog. I didn’t want to confuse or mislead anyone who wasn’t familiar with the Mormon faith, or offend any Church members who might declare a breach of sacred boundaries.

I would like to begin by expressly declaring that I am not an official representative or spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). But as a member of said Church, I have covenanted to strive to be a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ by taking upon myself His holy name. The paragraphs that follow are my own interpretations of Holy Scripture and specific Latter-day Saint teachings that I revere as sacred. I have given them my own “spin,” if you will, and made them applicable to my own personal situation.  

I desire to expound upon doctrine, not to change or eradicate it. It is my hope that you can find similar parallels within your own life situation using the opinions that I have creatively attempted to convey using figurative language. In “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” the ancient-American prophet, Nephi, taught us by example that we should “liken all scriptures unto [ourselves], that it might be for our profit and learning.”

My desire now, before I share the experience that led to my enlightenment, is to offer a brief glimpse into some religious practices that are unique to Mormonism. These insights provide the backdrop for my story so that anyone, Mormon or not, will be able to more clearly understand the message. A great portion of this post will discuss the one place that is the most sacred on earth to Latter-day Saints (and particularly dear to me)—the Holy Temple. A better understanding of the work performed in Mormon Temples and why that work is so important will set the stage for an exploration of scriptural accounts and the gospel truths they teach, many of which are also taught in the Temple.

The 14th president and modern-day Prophet of the LDS Church, Howard W. Hunter, emphasized the importance of the Lord’s House during his leadership from 1994 to 1995. He encouraged all Latter-day Saints to follow the example of Jesus Christ in order to prepare us for being worthy always to enter the House of God to receive saving ordinances that are necessary for our eternal progression and salvation. Further President Hunter declared:

          “If we will be true and faithful to the Lord’s principles, then we will always be temple worthy, and the Lord and His holy temples will be the great symbols of our discipleship with Him.”

The Lord gave Moses all the instructions for building
the tabernacle, from its measurements to the
materials used to construct it.
The great Biblical Prophet, Moses, who led the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, was commanded by the Lord upon Mount Sinai to build a portable tabernacle in the wilderness where the ordinances of the Priesthood could be performed on behalf of men, where the Israelites could worship God through ritual sacrifice, and where the Lord’s presence could be felt and witnessed. This structure was the temple of the Israelites.  Other ancient temples, like the one later built by King Solomon in the city of Jerusalem, were modeled after the portable tabernacle that Moses and his people carried with them during their forty-year sojourn.  

The symbolism, ordinances, and purposes of these temples were the same—they provided an edifice where ancient Jews could feel the presence of God, make and keep their covenants with Him, and secure the blessings of Deity through worship and sacrifice. The ultimate teaching or truth that ancient Temple worship provided was the foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would deliver His people from their sins by the shedding of His own blood.

King Solomon’s temple was
destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Modern Mormon Temples are still patterned after this manner. One difference, though, is that sacrifice to God is no longer given through the proxy blood of a slain lamb, as it was anciently; because Christ came in the meridian of time to shed His blood and atone for all sin, the law of God has been satisfied. At some time after His death and resurrection, the glorified Christ appeared to a faithful people in the ancient America’s and declared unto them His new law, saying:
         
          “…for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. …
          “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
          “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”


Many of these sacred truths are taught in Mormon Temples in a ceremony called the “endowment.” In such ceremonies, faithful Latter-day Saints who qualify are taught about God’s plan of happiness, as it has been set forth since the foundations of the world, and as it was given to our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. In these temple ceremonies, attendees make sacred covenants with God to obey His commandments and to endure to the end of our lives as we look forward to living again in the presence of the Father and the Son. These covenants are made in these Temples which have been dedicated by the Holy Priesthood of God (which I will discuss a bit more later), whereupon the structures become literal Houses of the Lord, where His Holy Spirit can dwell, and where we can be more closely within His presence.

The Kirtland Temple was dedicated March 27, 1836.
Traditionally, all Latter-day Saint Temples are built to the highest standards of beauty and craftsmanship, using only the finest materials available to the saints who construct them; this was established even with the first latter-day Temple built by Mormons in this last dispensation at Kirtland, Ohio, in the eastern United States. Mormon Temples not only provide the only places for faithful members to receive sacred ordinances required for their salvation, but they offer a place of quiet solitude and pristine beauty where members can reverently ponder, pray, and rest as if they were in the very realm of heaven with their Eternal Father.

Latter-day Saint Temples have evolved in their construction and design since the Lord first commanded that His house once again be established on the earth. As knowledge and invention have expanded, giving way to newer techniques and technologies, the ceremonies performed in temples have adapted, while never changing the significance or sacredness of the ordinances. This modernization of Mormon Temples has helped the holy buildings to be become a more convenient part of Latter-day Saint worship, and has also allowed Temples to be constructed in greater numbers throughout the world.  

The Salt Lake Temple was dedicated
April 6, 1893, after 40 years of
construction.
A handful of the earliest Mormon Temples were designed specifically to give attending patrons every chance to feel as connected as possible to the symbolic ceremony in which they were participating. Early temples, like the famed one in Salt Lake City, Utah, houses separate rooms where elaborate murals cover the walls depicting artistic interpretations of the earth as it would have appeared in previous gospel dispensations.

Elder James E. Talmage served for over twenty years as a modern-day Apostle of Jesus Christ until his death in 1933. Among his many distinguished talents, Elder Talmage was a prolific writer and historian. One of several books Elder Talmage completed during his lifetime was a history and explanation of Temples, both those built by Latter-day Saints in modern times, as well as their ancient equivalents. “The House of the Lord” was published in 1912, and included select photographs of the interiors of all four Utah temples built at that time, the first ever released.  

Without desecrating the sacredness of the ordinances of the Holy Temple, Elder Talmage’s book gives an accurate and thorough presentation of the purposes and practices of Temple work in our day. I would recommend it to anyone, particularly those not of the Latter-day Saint faith who might want to know more about the purpose of Mormon temples and what goes in within their sanctified walls.

In his book, Elder Talmage offers this supplement to what I’ve explained thus far:
         
          “The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensible condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements.
          “… The temples erected by the Latter-day Saints provide for the giving of these instructions in separate rooms, each devoted to a particular part of the course; and by this provision it is possible to have several classes under instruction at one time.
          “No jot, iota, or tittle of the temple rites is otherwise than uplifting and sanctifying. In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God. The blessings of the House of the Lord are restricted to no privileged class; every member of the Church may have admission to the Temple with the right to participate in the ordinances thereof, if he [or she] comes duly accredited as of worthy life and conduct.”

          ~ (James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries,                  Ancient and Modern, [1969], pp. 83-84.)

Hopefully now, I have provided enough detail about the modern-day Temples for readers to realize their importance to Latter-day Saint worship and faith. Now comes my story and the great insight I learned because of it. Later I will attempt to invite you within the walls of the Temple, to travel back to the first dispensation of time and into the Garden of Eden as we explore the related gospel truths.

It was the fall of 2011, and I was attending college at a local university. The rigors and stresses of my student responsibilities were overwhelming me, and I desired a Priesthood blessing to help get me through it all. All worthy male members of the LDS Church can have bestowed upon them the power and authority to act in the name of God—the same power given to prophets and apostles of old, with the authority thereof coming directly from Jesus Christ.  

The power to give blessings to others by the laying on of hands, among many other responsibilities, is referred to as the Melchizedek Priesthood, after the order of the High Priest Melchizedek, as mentioned briefly in the Holy Bible. Further light is shed upon this mighty servant of God in the Book of Mormon, by the ancient-American Prophet, Alma.  
On top of school problems, I was feeling a bit stressed with the burdensome weight of issues revolving around my attractions to other men that were conflicting at the time a great deal with my spiritual life and my desires to remain in harmony with strict LDS teachings regarding things like chastity, purity, and perseverance. I went to visit a couple I know, two very good friends of mine. Because of my close relationship with this couple, who both are well aware the issue of homosexual attraction I experience, I felt that a blessing that this male friend would be even more encompassing and well-related to all my issues.  

All worthy Latter-day Saint males
may hold the Priesthood.
This friend laid his hands upon my head, and bestowed a beautiful blessing in the name of Jesus Christ. He reminded me, among other things, of the love that my Heavenly Father and Savior have for me, and blessed me with the ability to successfully meet my responsibilities as a student, and encouraged me to trust faithfully in God and the plan He has for me. The spiritual boost was refreshing, and I felt a little better about the responsibilities I was preparing to tackle.

It felt so nice to rise from the chair, as my friend’s hands left my head, and to embrace him and feel the love that he had for me. I was thankful for the power of God that my friend held in righteousness, and that he had taken the time to pour out blessings upon my head in the name of the Savior, and according to my faith in Deity. I remember turning to see my friend’s dear wife, who was present for the blessing; her smile was big as she engulfed me in her arms, and expressed her love for me.  

After we separated, she began speaking of some themes from my blessing, and sharing her own insights. One of the things she expressed was related to God’s eternal plan of happiness for is children, and how that plan has been in place since the beginning of time, since the dawning of man with the creation of Adam and Eve. My friend, her husband, and I have all studied the scriptures and also received the Temple ordinances that taught us about previous gospel dispensations. We knew the story well. Come with me now as I recount it, and try to place yourself in the Garden with our first parents. Imagine you are a fly on the wall (or tree) when Satan entered the paradise spot to tempt our first parents.

"Adam and Eve"
by Lowell Bruce Bennett
© 2010 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden and told by the Godhead not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that they would be cast out from divine presence and be subject to death if they did. But at some time, Eve was approached by Satan, who tempted her using his cunning to convince Eve that she needed to eat the fruit to become like God. Imagine what the decision must have been like for her! How she loved her Father, and surely pined to be more like Him!  But she knew that the Godhead forbade her to eat of that fruit.  With the choice before her, and being reluctant, surely Eve could only ask, “Is there no other way?” But she was deceivingly told by the evil one that there was not, to which we can almost hear her respond, “Then I will partake,” and then bite into the forbidden fruit.

“Now think about it the other way around,” said my friend with a smile, “Put yourself in Eve’s place, but imagine you are not being approached by the adversary, but by your Heavenly Father or Savior.” I slowly began to see where she was heading, and I was struck by this radiant insight. My friend suggested that in our lives there are often times when we turn our faces towards God and ask, “Is there no other way?” But often the Lord can only whisper to us through His Spirit, “My child, there is no other way.” And then, even when we are afraid, or reluctant, or confused, just as Eve was, our priority as disciples of Christ is to respond, “Then I will partake.”

When we take what we’ve been given in life and try to make it work for our good and benefit, sometimes we feel confined to hopelessly travel lonely roads only to reach bitter ends. But even though we may realize that we are consigned to certain things in life, restlessly we ask God if there is a second option. Do I really need this pain? Do I really need to learn this lesson? Will this really turn out for the best? Can’t I just skip this part? But when God tells us that there is no alternative that is better for us, it is our duty to partake of the bitter fruits of our existence that we may later reap the things that are sweeter.  

Only God knows our hearts and minds perfectly, therefore only He can understand what travails in the now will prepare us for exaltation in the hereafter. Moreover, in the case of Adam and Eve, Heavenly Father knew that our first parents’ transgression was the next necessary step in shaping the world in which Adam and Eve’s posterity would need to grow and learn, using their agency in the midst of evil to refuse temptation and cleave to the Lord.
In the Garden of Eden there was perfect leisure and contentment; luscious fruits to be enjoyed and the aroma of flowers to breathe in. Upon Adam and Eve’s transgression, after both ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Heavenly Father told them that they must leave the Garden, and that work would from then on be the norm for they and their posterity. Pain and suffering would be felt, and the corruption and death of their bodies was an inescapable fate.

But there was to be joy also in their new way of life—a truer joy—for they were no longer complacent in the shady refuge of God’s immediate presence; their minds and senses were now enhanced to perceive all that was around them, both the good and the evil, the bitter and the sweet, the pain and the joy. For without the presence of one of these, how could they experience the other? Mortal and eternal progression would now be possible, and through a Savior, Jesus Christ, it would still be possible for Adam and Eve to return to God’s presence. And with obedience to God’s commandments and statutes, the lone and dreary world of mortality could still be illuminated with the light and grace of the Godhead. God’s plan of happiness was now if full force, thanks to our first parents.

"Gethsemane"
by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) 
In pondering this insight in relation to my own life, I’ve thought of Jesus Christ’s experience in a different Garden, called Gethsemane, thousands of years after Adam and Eve. Even He, our perfect example in every way, asked His Father if there was another option to the troubling, painful, and distressing path that He was about to traverse by taking upon Him the world’s sins. But with faith is His Father, He partook of the bitter cup that was given to Him, after His Father told Him, “There is no other way.” And even in His immense, incomprehensible pain, the Holy Father did not forget His Son, but sent an angel from the realms of glory to comfort him.

There is a scriptural phrase that I love which states that the Savior “drank the dregs” of the cup given to Him by the Father in undertaking the Atonement and crucifixion. This phrase refers to the ancient art of wine making, which was done by smashing grapes in a large vat, or wine press, with one’s feet. Unavoidably, bits of grape flesh from the smashing process, called dregs, ended up in the finished wine vessels, even after filtering, and would therefore end up in the bottom of a drinker’s cup. The dregs were the unpleasant end to a cup of wine in Jesus’ time.  

But modern scripture says that the Lord figuratively drank the entire bitter cup, including the dregs, and finished His purpose triumphantly as Savior and Redeemer. Again in modern revelation, Christ has declared, “I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me.” He partook of the bitterest experience possible, so that He could prepare for the sweetest powers and blessings of the Resurrection, later to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Overall, I see this analogy in my own life. There are some days, for example, when my alarm goes off to get up and start my day, and I ask myself (and God, probably, too), “Is there no other way? Do I have to do this?” But as I try my best to create purpose in my life, and be an active part of my Church, my family, and my community, I consistently find myself sustained by God’s strength and blessings. Every time I have a responsibility placed upon my shoulders, even just for a few grueling hours, I can find myself whining and wishing that I was someplace else doing something different. It could be work, school, family responsibilities, volunteering, and so much more. Sometimes I think we all wish we could tell our boss, spouse, parent, child, or even our Heavenly Father, “No, I will not partake of this responsibility. Not this time.” But how then would we learn? How would we know what good might actually come of the evil, or the struggles we have in our lives?

On a larger and perhaps less trivial scale, I think there are many times when it is wise for us to admit to our Heavenly Father that we are scared, and that we don’t want to do this (whatever it is) right now, or this month, or next year, or for the rest of our lives. However, I have learned through such difficulty that we need to somehow find the willingness and trust to grit our teeth and bear it, relying constantly on the Savior’s grace. And it shouldn’t make us feel weak, or stubborn, or lazy, or defiant to admit to our God sometimes that our hearts are not in this fight. I’m confident that our Heavenly Father wants us to be at our most honest when we are with Him, in the seclusion of mighty prayer. It very well may be, for some of us, that pressing forward through certain trials can feel much like our own personal crucifixion. And we may forget in those moments (I know I do!) that our Lord experienced it before we did—all of it!  

There is a quaint garden of olive trees outside of Jerusalem, and a rocky hill just to the northwest of that where the soil was once soaked and stained with the blood of a God—a God who was willing to let His blood flow freely for the sake of all mankind. The winds, rains, and progression of over 2,000 years may have washed away that sacred offering long ago, but the miraculous power His atonement still remains, and is within our reach to utilize. Jesus Christ is our leisure in trials. He is the yoke in our burdens. He is the succulent fruit of perfection and the guide back to God’s presence. He is the sweet aroma of the beauty and goodness of earth. He is our Redeemer and Savior, the Only Begotten Son of God.

I feel that few have expressed better the emotion of the atonement and crucifixion of Jesus Christ than one of His witnesses, Jeffrey R. Holland—a modern-day Apostle of the Lord. In a famed Easter-time address given to the entire LDS Church in 2009, Elder Holland offered this witness and insight of the Savior’s mission:

"The Crucifixion" by Harry Anderson.
© 2010 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
         “Now I speak very carefully, even reverently, of what may have been the most difficult moment in all of this solitary journey to Atonement. I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ …
          “Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.         
          “But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that He never flees nor fails us. When the uttermost farthing had then been paid, when Christ’s determination to be faithful was as obvious as it was utterly invincible, finally and mercifully, it was ‘finished.’ Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair. With faith in the God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’”

The House of the Lord—the Holy Temple—teaches me about Jesus Christ and what He did for me and you. The Temple allows me to covenant with my Father and my Lord to obey their commandments and sacrifice the ungodly within me for the promise of exaltation. The Temple gives me confidence that every effort I give to be more like Jesus Christ in word, deed, thought, and action, every day of my life, is received by the Lord and His Father and returned to me with a blessing upon my head.

I know there will be times every day that the evil one will approach me with temptations that seem too intriguing to pass up. And I’m sure my heart will sink, and I will ask myself if there is any other way out of this moment. Like Eve, I may partake of the appealing fruit to find that in the end it is bitter. Yet if my heart is in the right place, I will know even then that I have not consigned myself to a life of misery, for a Redeemer has been provided to help me escape the clutches of my adversary and the chains of sin.

Likewise, with the trials I have already been given—a few that I know I will face for the rest of my life—as well as the daily responsibilities of mortality, I know that my Father in Heaven will often approach me with opportunities to partake of certain fruits as well, that I may grow and stretch and progress. And in some of them my heart may still sink, and I may ask Him, “Father, is there no other way?” And with the quiet reassurance of the Spirit of God, my answer may surely be, “My son, there is no other way.” And as difficult as it may be, yet wanting to please my God and my Savior, I will reply, “Then I will partake.” The only difference then, when I take that first bite, will be that the fruit that Deity offers me will be sweet, above the sweetness of all other fruits, and it will remain so as long as I am steadfast and faithful to the statutes and words of God.

"Christ Calling Peter and Andrew"
by James Taylor Harwood

© 2010 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
We are all in this together. God has not forsaken us, and He never will! Jesus Christ stands at the forefront, beckoning us back to heaven and life eternal with Him and God the Father. His words are clear, “Come follow me.” It is my hope that all of us will strive to be more willing, more determined, more trusting to partake of all that God has given us, the good and the bad, and to make the best of it. The road to Celestial glory will not be easy; at times it will be downright frightening. But I find it easier to endure as long as I remember that we are trying to be like Jesus—and even He, our Exemplar, was at least at one point in His perfect life a little reluctant about what was coming next.

5 comments:

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    1. Thanks always for reading, Fe. :-)

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  2. look at what God has made of you Wade! Not that the Wade i knew so many years ago wasn't great, but you are 10% that man and you're only what 27 or 28. you've inspired me to be more diligent so that 10 years down the road i can see a similar growth in myself! thanks for sharing!

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    1. you're probably 10x the man not 10% :)

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    2. Thanks, Jen. I appreciate you reading! I will be 27 on Saturday, and I do feel like I have come a long way. Thanks for your comments!

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