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We Are Not Particularly a Symbol-oriented people

OneClimbs reader, Richard N., posted a portion of this quote in a comment a few days ago. He was kind enough to transcribe the full quote from an audio CD by S. Michael Wilcox.

“Part of our problem is that we are not particularly a symbol-oriented people.

We like prose; well-written sentences laid out so carefully that you can’t misunderstand them. We are not big on poetry; we don’t read very much of it, particularly any serious kinds of poetry.

We like the Doctrine and Covenants. It lays out ideas line upon line, precept upon precept, building upon each previous idea. We’re not big on the Old Testament. It is so large, and it is full of strange things that are going on there that we’re not always familiar with.

We like Nephi. He says, ‘My soul delights in plainness.’ We’re not wild about Isaiah. Isaiah uses all kinds of word-pictures. And he loves pronouns and doesn’t particularly feel it necessary to give you an antecedent to the pronoun.

Now the temple is more poetry than prose. It is more Old Testament than Doctrine and Covenants. It is more Isaiah than Nephi. So our challenge as members of the Church is to learn how to learn through the use of symbols.” (S. Michael Wilcox – House of Glory)

The good news is that you can learn this stuff, and it is very rewarding. I grew up completely oblivious to most of what I know now, and I acknowledge that I am still only at the very beginning of a long journey.

I drive back and forth from Nevada to Texas a few times a year so I’m not a big fan of long journeys. Perhaps thinking about it as a journey is part of our problem. We mark out a “point A”, a “point B” and sigh as we consider the distance.

Why do we do that when we do not even comprehend what lies at “point B”? I’ve found greater peace in just appreciating what I am becoming day by day; is there even a “point B” in eternity?

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    Here is another gem from S. Michael Wilcox’s talk, “House of Glory.” I’ve been in a transcribing mood lately. And in the mood for food. Specifically Chipotle. But here’s some food for the soul:

    “The
    first time I went to the temple, when I came out if you had asked me about the
    experience I would have said, ‘The symbols of the temple are really different.’ I may have used the word ‘strange.’ It took me a long time and a little more
    maturity to realize that in God’s wisdom He deliberately made them ‘unique’ –
    that’s the word I would use now – because their very uniqueness forces the mind
    to ask the questions God wants us to ask.
    The first time I went through the temple I asked, ‘Why does the clothing
    look like that? What’s the meaning of
    this? Why are we doing this? Why is that story being told? Why are those people here at this time?’ These are the very questions God wanted me to
    ask. The danger is not that we will ask
    the questions; the danger is that we become so familiar with (the endowment)
    that we stop asking the questions.” – S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory

    • Richard J. Nobbe III

      That really didn’t turn out too nicely…I copied and pasted it from a word document. Oh well, the words are correct and in the correct order.

    • oneclimbs

      This is one thing that I feel we don’t do a good job of. I could even go so far to say that we do a terrible job at preparing people for the temple.

      It took me quite some time to get where I am and to understand what stood between me and understanding what we have there with temple ordinances. It’s mostly a cultural disconnect between the ancient world and way of looking at things and modern Western thought, that’s a big part of it.

      David Littlefield’s Mormon Mysticism does a great job at approaching and illustrating this.

      It seems like we just throw people into an environment and expect them to understand. One of the Church presidents lamented that we don’t speak enough about the temple to our children. We’re so concerned about saying anything we shouldn’t that we say nothing at all.

      Technically there are only a few things we covenant not to reveal. Everything else is in the scriptures so why is everyone so hesitant about discussing the actual covenants we make before we enter?

      On the one hand, we are supposed to teach it, but on the other, the culture of the Church (which I believe is wrong on many points, this being one of them) manifests a palpable resistance to discussing anything related to temple ordinances.

      On the one hand, you want some kind of an official statement or guide from the Church. Everyone always wants the Church to do everything. On the other hand, do we really want another handbook?

      So we’re left either safely saying nothing, or causing contention by trying to bring certain things into a discussion that are perfectly fine, but that get trounced upon by pharisaical members who look at you as an apostate.

      So what do you do? Well, I have found it helpful to keep my Evernote account loaded with quotes on all manner of topics. That’s also a function oneClimbs.com serves too. That way, if I bring up something that sounds borderline, I can refer to a public talk a general authority has given and that tends to diffuse the Pharisees, because they’d never speak ill of the brethren ;)

      We’re all growing together. We’re all at different levels teaching truths mixed with our own philosophies. It’s a challenge, but that’s life everywhere, not just in the Church. It is frustrating, challenging but at times refreshing when we can start to see man-made traditions give way to true doctrine and principles from time to time.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        I understand exactly what you mean. I’ll even take it a step further by mentioning not just the everyday pharisaical members, but the everyday pharisaical members IN the temple.

        Let me illustrate: My wife and I were sitting in the celestial room about a month ago and we were very quietly discussing spiritual impressions with one another. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Well, something we were talking about apparently did not agree with the sister ordinance worker who started eavesdropping in on our conversation. The next thing I knew she reprimanded us for talking about the sacred ordinances of the temple. No joke. She told us we were not to discuss such sacred things……in the celestial room.

        I get that it would be bad if I climbed up on a table and started to shout some temple ceremony word for word – but this was not the case. We were seated in the very back of the celestial room, in a close embrace, discussing things that related to us, and this probably well-meaning, (and I have to believe that she was well-meaning), sister starts eavesdropping and then just proceeded to rebuke us.

        With the understanding that there are some personal things we never share with anyone but the Lord, the celestial room is the place appointed to us to discuss sacred things that just can’t be spoken of outside of that sacred space.

        As a former temple worker who was always trained to treat patrons with the utmost respect, sometimes I get a little frustrated when I feel like I am being “policed” in the House of the Lord. Now, we were trained to give gentle correction at certain key times, but only during the actual ordinances. Even then, if a patron seemed to be unwilling to receive correction, we were told to back away and let it go. I think this is symbolic of the Spirit. The Spirit will always try to guide us and even correct us in a still, small voice. But if we don’t want to listen to the Spirit, then He simply goes away until we are ready to receive him.

        I agree with you that just as we learn, the Church learns and adapts to the times. I laugh when I dig out my “purple dinosaur” missionary guidebook that I used to teach with. The accompanying audio cassettes are downright laughable – probably because they have aged so much. But we do missionary work so much differently than we used to – even 10 years ago, and of course this is only one example.

        With this being said, I think a brand-new Temple Prep book is down the road. The Church seems to be pretty good about responding to sociological changes and anticipating the needs of millions of people in hundreds of countries. How ’bout that constant revelation thing!!!

        • oneclimbs

          Yeah, that’s definitely inappropriate. We’re all learning and growing and I think people’s intentions are in the right place. In situations like that I think it’s better to be the bigger person and no project one person’s inappropriateness onto the church as a whole.

          I don’t think a new manual has to be a revelation thing. To me, these are just policy issues. I understand that there are a HUGE amount of things the leadership has to deal with. We don’t really see how a Church of this size functioned anciently, we see small groups of hundreds or thousands.

          Here we have the church transplanted in another age under very different circumstances. Not surprising that there are going to be challenges and flaws. But when we go around saying “I know the church is true”, we don’t like to think that it’s been a work in progress since the beginning.

          Even Uchtdorf said in the last conference that we think of the restoration as something of the past but it is still ongoing.

          I look forward to seeing what happens in the future for the church as a whole. In the mean time, we prepare our own family members and friends accordingly for the temple and have great success, I feel, in doing so.

          • Richard J. Nobbe III

            As always, I really appreciate your thoughts. As far as that one temple worker went, we simply apologized for saying anything that was inappropriate, continued to meditate for a bit and then left like normal. As I pondered this experience, I even feel a special love for that sister, who obviously loves the Savior : )

            I loved Elder Uchdorf’s talk. It’s easy to forget that the restoration of the church is an ongoing thing. Kind of like we sometimes forget that we are still in day six of creation.

            The ancient Church of Jesus Christ is a huge fascination of mine. In one sense, that Church had no chance of ever surviving without falling into apostasy. We are blessed to live in a time with advances in transportation and technology – temporal blessings that really make the spiritual blessing possible.

            However, in another sense, the ancient Church of Christ was needed in the world. Yes it sparked wars and revolutions, (you can always look at the negative aspects of things), but it also introduced the Savior into many lands. Although many plain and precious truths were lost, many truths remained that served humanity for nearly two thousand years. Being raised as an “active” Catholic, (they do exist after all), I was blessed for 18 years of my life with some truths that served me well. In fact, being a Catholic helped me recognize the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as soon as I saw it because I was already familiar with a lot of basic doctrine that was “surprisingly” similar or even the same. It made finding the true Church easy. I was lucky.

            Just like having some kind of truth or knowledge helped me realize the true Church of God when I saw it, the remnants of the ancient Church of Christ throughout the world made it possible for the restoration to occur. Incidentally, my story, just like humanity’s story, is really Adam’s story, and is found in all its plainness in the temple.

          • Richard J. Nobbe III

            *Prez Uchtdorf

  • Carlh

    Serendipitously, I belatedly happened on this post quite tangentially (through a search about the temple in the Psalms as a matter of fact). The quote in the main post was great enough, but the additional quote in Richard’s first comment convinced me I needed to find the talk.

    As luck woutd have it, there is video of a 1999 BYU Education Week talk by Michael S. Wilcox (titled “Blessings of the House of the Lord”) available at the BYUtv website. The direct link is:

    Blessings of the House of the Lord (1999)

    Looks like this might be one of the original Education Week talks that Deseret Book later recorded as “House of Glory.” (I’ve now acquired the “House of Glory” CD set, and this video includes most of the material in the first of the talks on CD–including both of the quotes here, as well a little of the material in the second talk on CD.) Personally, I prefer the video over the CD, perhaps because the latter seems more “sanitized” and the video allows Bro. Wilcox’s personality to come through a little more. But be forewarned, the audio and video on the website are badly out of sync. And it was much easier to access than it was for me to track down the “House of Glory” CD set. (There is a book with the same name, and with the same cover illustration, by Bro. Wilcox. But from comments on the internet, I get the impression that the book has less than the talks. Would be interested in any insight on that from you or Richard.)

    Thanks again (to you and Richard) for the GREAT quote. The Old Testament/Nephi-D&C contrast is such a great way to illustrate, in a positive way, the difference in approach. I’ll probably get a chance to use it in my Gospel Doctrine class lesson when we get to Isaiah (it just didn’t fit well with what I ended up doing with the Psalms lesson) and I hope my class will enjoy it as much as I did.

    • oneclimbs

      Awesome talk, this is a good one for temple prep! Thanks for sharing, I particularly liked this quote:

      “In God’s great wisdom he has deliberately made the symbols of the temple unique, because their very uniqueness demands the mind ask the questions: Why do we do that? What’s the meaning of that? What’s the significance of this? These are the very questions God wants us to answer, the danger is not that we will ask the questions, the danger is that we become so familiar we stop asking the questions.”

      • mahlerscholar

        That’s my favorite part too. I would add that this CD is awesome for temple prep as well as for people who’ve attended the temple for years.