That was actually the feeling I had walking through seemingly identical, bright, white, pristine rooms with all the bright, white, pristine furniture. I almost expected to see an aging Dave Bowman walk around the corner in a bathrobe.
I actually enjoyed the tour. I am currently reading Timothy Kurek’s book The Cross in the Closet in which he describes his entry into the gay world, navigating the strange world of gay bars. The feelings engendered by visiting the Mormon temple feel akin with the oddness he describes at entering the gay scene. This is not a place I would have ventured into in my former churched life. I would more likely have been part of the crowd of protestors on the sidewalks, imagining that being tacky was one of the gifts of the Spirit.
But there I was. First in the ward, then walking through the temple grounds.
The booties they put on our feet as we entered the temple (not for religious reasons, they assured us, but strictly for pragmatic ones) would fit on my size 13 shoes. My heels tore out the back of both booties (and I wasn’t even wearing the springy shoes!). An evangelical heel.
I was struck by the kindness and courtesy of our hosts – a stark contrast with some of the signs I’ve seen protestors carrying outside the temple over the past month (my favorite: “The Temple of Doom” written with a background of flames).
I was struck by the continuity I sensed between what I saw and heard and the rest of modern Christendom. In the ward it was the padded pews, the organ, the hymnals, the hymn board on which hymn numbers could be posted. This feeling of continuity would no doubt be disturbing to all parties: to the Mormons because their whole existence is based on a restored ancient order that is contrasted with flawed, existing forms of Christianity. How flawed can those ways be if there is ultimately no real difference between them? Disturbing to the rest of Christendom because, well, they’re Mormons, and our job is to point out the differences between us – which on a creedal level are significant; on a level of religious practice (Sunday-go-to-meeting religious practice), not so much.
I was struck by the honesty of the “recommendation table” at the entrance to the temple. At least I think that’ what it’s called. Only those who have the recommendation of authorities in the church can enter the temple. I see this as honesty because they openly identify the table and process for entering. The rest of us tend to practice it much more subtly.
But mostly I was struck by the “alien” feeling of those rooms in the temple as we walked through them. Maybe antiseptic isn’t the right word. Untouchable. Yes, that’s closer. I was afraid to touch, let alone sit on any of the chairs. This is the place where the presence dwells, and it looks far too clean to risk smudges left through careless touch.
Suddenly my mind was taken to the Shack – the run down country shack were Mack encountered God in the fictional, best-selling novel. A run down shack as sanctuary – a place of divine encounter. How fitting for the One who was born in a cave. It reminds me of one of the stories that Peter Rollins tells in The Orthodox Heretic. Jesus and his disciples are sitting around a fire at night as he tells them of the glories of heaven and it’s many mansions and streets of gold. As the disciples drift off to sleep, one remains awake. He asks Jesus about these mansions in this heavenly kingdom – wondering if there might be a place in all of that opulence for a poor man like himself who had never even seen a mansion, let alone been in one. Jesus tells him that in that kingdom there is an old stable – and through the cracks in its roof you can see the stars shining in all their celestial glory and feel your face gently caressed by heavenly breezes. “Can I go there?” asks the disciple. To which Jesus answers, ‘Yes, of course, for in that heavenly kingdom this is where I live, and I would love for you to stay with me.”
This is hardly a new observation: though God can and does show up in any of the earthly temples and sanctuaries we construct to facilitate his presence, it is in the midst of the living stones of human hearts where he most readily dwells. “Wherever two or three of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you” – spontaneously or deliberately constructed relational spaces in which he delights to show up. Relational spaces that are usually darker, smudged, and hardly pristine. Relational spaces where we can all relax, kick off our shoes, and on which we can prop up our dirty feet.
I love Rohr’s observation (nice combination, I must say – an evangelical blogger quoting a Catholic mystic in musings inspired by a Mormon temple):
You are like Jacob awakening from sleep and joining the chorus of mystics in every age. “You were here all along, and I never knew it!” he says. He anoints the stone pillow where this happened and names it Bethel, or the house of God and gate of heaven.” Jacob then carries the presence with him wherever he goes. What was first only there is so everywhere. The gate of heaven is first of all in one concrete place, better if carried with you, and best when found everywhere. That is the progression of the spiritual life.
Now we’re talking temple!