The following is a guest-post from J Washburn:
In December of 2012, I toured the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Washington D.C. (thanks to having recently read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol).
Our guide led us upward through that Masonic tower, telling us cool facts about each room—one of which was a replica of the Masonic hall Washington himself presided in. I tried to get our guide to tell us about the hidden parts, but she had a pretty good excuse not to: “I’m not a Mason, and couldn’t be if I wanted to—it’s for males only. So I’ll tell you as much as I know, but I’m an outsider just like all of you.” And then she’d try to answer my questions, but it was never enough.
And the more we saw, the more I felt I didn’t get the full picture. As I walked between paintings and statues of Washington in his Masonic apron and sash, I wanted to look him right in the eye and demand, “What is it you’re not telling me?”
To be honest, I was considering joining the Masons, hoping to do a little more good in the world. Yet I had no way of knowing what the organization was like on the inside. So how could I know if I actually wanted in?
At the end of the tour, I stood on the balcony of the 333-foot tower, with powerful winds trying to push me over as I looked out across the vast, tiny city of D.C., and my question for George kept ringing in my head: “What is it you’re not telling me?” I hated that feeling of not knowing—like the Masons were collectively looking at me and snickering. And not knowing what I would be getting into was enough to keep me from getting into it (at least so far).
My reaction to the Masons reminded me of a discussion I’d recently had with a friend about our LDS temple: For someone who hasn’t gone, the temple is shrouded in mystery. And even for someone who has gone, people don’t discuss it for fear of saying something they shouldn’t. Along these lines, my friend said,
My first time through [the temple] left me frustrated for multiple reasons. First, you’re told you’ll be making the most important covenants of your life, yet you’re not allowed to know what they are until you’re making them. Second, nobody ever told me how ritualistic it was going to be… and it definitely took me by surprise.
My quest to demystify the temple for my friend and others led me to write a book for my younger brother, titled DEAR JEFF, because I didn’t want his experience to be frustrating or shocking. I didn’t want him asking, “What is it you’re not telling me?” before he went, or, “Why didn’t you tell me?” after.
The temple is a sacred topic, I know. But I can’t help but think our LDS culture is over-cautious—so cautious that we actually avoid talking about one of the best things the gospel has to offer.
As I prepared to teach my younger brother, I was excited to find many precedents where the brethren have reverently spoken of holy things. For example, though most people didn’t notice, Elder Hales listed the covenants from the endowment in his April 2012 General Conference address. Or, as another example, Apostle Neal A. Maxwell wrote,
Among the transcendent things restored as a part of the ‘restitution of all things’ were… the initiatory ordinances, the holy endowment, the true order of prayer, baptism for the dead, [and] the sealing power. (A Wonderful Flood of Light)
I’ll admit: I still feel uncomfortable saying one of the phrases he used in there (that is, when I’m outside the temple). Yet he felt comfortable saying it, so I made sure to share it with my little brother. After all, my goal was to explain to him as much as possible rather than as little as possible.
Still, as I continued, I was wary of the Lord’s suggestion that we ought to be respectful when talking about these things:
Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit. (D&C 63:64)
You can see there are two sides of this coin—should I say more or should I say less? As a general rule, I think we should speak about the temple more directly and more often, and that’s one reason for my book. But I realize that balance must be kept, and we should be cautious “to avoid the too frequent repetition” of holy things so that we don’t turn the sacred into the desecrated. I guess the best way to keep the temple sacred but not keep it secret is to do what the Lord said in that scripture: Focus on what the Spirit instructs in any given moment.
Since DEAR JEFF launched, most people have told me they’re glad the book’s so straightforward. Yet a few have told me that it could be still a little more direct (and I think they’re right).
Sorry if you were hoping for a clear-cut answer, but I’m still not always sure exactly where to draw the line—except, as I said, in drawing it where the Spirit says to. It will be interesting to see where that takes us as a group of Christ’s followers.
In closing, let me share a favorite scripture of mine. This is what Abraham wrote in his temple journal, nearly 4,000 years ago:
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness… and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. (Abraham 1:2)
I love how Abraham knew what the temple had to offer and how, because he knew, he sought out those blessing—he focused on them, made them a goal; he strived for them. And we can do that too; we can follow his lead in pursuing these blessing, together—whether we’re temple veterans or whether we’re about to go for the first time.
J Washburn is the author of several books, including DEAR JEFF: Candid Advice from an Older Brother on Preparing to Enter the Temple. You can learn more about him and subscribe for his free ebooks at http://www.jwashburn.com.