The invitation for mortals to enter the presence of God and secure a fullness of His blessings did not originate with Joseph Smith. In fact, it’s a theme as old as mankind.
An Ancient Invitation
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they didn’t lose just a paradisiacal home; they also lost the blessing of being in the literal presence of God (see D&C 29:41). Mercifully, after the Fall, the Lord spoke to our first parents and taught them how to return to Him, causing Eve to declare “the joy of our redemption” and Adam to proclaim that “again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10–11). From the beginning, God gave ordinances and authorized rituals—or sacred, symbolic, religious ceremonies—to help teach His children that process, giving them heavenly knowledge and power to one day part the veil and come again into His presence.
Before permanent temples were built, these sacred truths were communicated in gardens (like Eden), deserts, mountaintops, and the wilderness. In Moses’s time, the Lord desired to make the entire nation of Israel a holy “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), inviting them all to come into His presence and behold His face. Although the people weren’t yet ready for that blessing (see D&C 84:23–24), the Lord instructed them to build a portable sanctuary where Jehovah could appear to the prophet Moses in the holiest room to commune with him “face to face” (Exodus 33:11; see also Exodus 25:21).
Later, King Solomon built a larger, permanent house of God in Jerusalem. Much of this temple’s interior design was made to emulate the Garden of Eden, with symbolic trees and fruits—including two 15-foot-tall statues of cherubim that, like the cherubim that guarded Eden’s tree of life, guarded the passage through the veil into the holy of holies. The message of Solomon’s temple was clear: Here is the presence of God; here is where you come to commune with Him; here is the power that brings people into His presence.
While all the sacred rituals given to earlier dispensations and practiced by them are unknown, God clearly gave them the invitation, knowledge, and power to behold His face and secure a fullness of His blessings. As part of the restitution of all things, this holy knowledge and invitation were given anew to Joseph Smith and extended to men and women of this dispensation.
Recognizing Feelings in the Temple
When Joseph Smith dedicated the Kirtland Temple, he prayed “that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness” (D&C 109:13). Notice how Joseph used the word feel twice in that revelatory prayer. Because the temple is a house of glory, order, and prayer, it is also a house of feeling. The Church and its leaders work diligently to make the holy temple a special place where the Spirit of the Lord can be present. As an Ensign issue dedicated specifically to temples explains, “The temple is a peaceful, sacred place, set apart from the cares and turmoil of the world. All areas of the temple are beautifully and carefully maintained to preserve a spirit of reverence. Because it is the Lord’s house, and because of the sacred work performed there, in the temple we can feel the Spirit abundantly and feel close to the Lord.”
As you enter the temple to participate in the endowment ordinances, pay attention to how you feel and to what it is about the temple experience that is helping you feel this way. What do the temple’s orderliness and cleanliness help you feel? What do its workers help you feel? What does the clothing and instruction help you feel? What helps you feel clean, pure, or worthy? What helps you to feel God’s love?
Joseph Smith prayed that the temple would “be filled, as with a rushing mighty wind, with [God’s] glory” (D&C 109:37), a reference that includes the Holy Ghost and His accompanying spiritual gifts. As you worship in the temple, pay attention to the Spirit of God’s influence upon your spirit. You will know when something is from the Holy Ghost when it produces results such as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). Sometimes the Spirit gives people heavenly gifts, such as testimony, revelations, visions, prophecy, or healing (see D&C 46:11–26). How the Holy Ghost works with individuals varies, but His role is to deliver Christ’s atoning blessings, leading you to love God, serve Him, and follow Him.
As you worship in the endowment, seek to receive the Holy Ghost, His gifts, and His influence. As you do so, you may feel that you need to repent and you may feel a profound trust in God. You may feel a surge of optimism or an increase in hope. You may suddenly feel a need to forgive, or a sense of awe or humility. You may feel a prompting to serve someone better. You may feel God’s fatherly love for you as His child, causing you to love Him and your fellow man more deeply in return. The Spirit can deliver these divine gifts, and many more, to you in the temple.
When You Don’t Understand
Though your feelings in the temple will hopefully be primarily positive, you also need to pay attention to what makes you feel confused, challenged, or perhaps even unsettled. These feelings can be equally important and instructive. Some people have introduced the idea in Mormonism that anything that causes discomfort is inherently incorrect or not from God. That simply cannot always be true. If it were, the pioneers wouldn’t have trekked to Utah, Abraham wouldn’t have offered Isaac, young men and women wouldn’t venture out to uncertain mission fields, and Jesus wouldn’t have atoned for us. An old saying is that the gospel is here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and the temple is no exception. In the endowment, there are pointed lines of instruction, warnings for the unfaithful, dialogue to discern, difficult concepts to grasp, and unfamiliar symbols and gestures.
There may even be aspects of the temple that contradict your own cultural or doctrinal viewpoints, causing mental discomfort as you try to reconcile why your thinking may not be aligned with what is presented in the temple. An apt example of this may be that women with authority administer priesthood ordinances for other women in the temple—a cultural and doctrinal surprise to some who are accustomed to only men providing ordinances. Beginning with Emma Smith in Nauvoo in 1843, however, women have had authority, in the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.”
It’s possible that as you participate in this ancient order you may feel a little uncertain at times, but remember that many people feel uncertain when experiencing something unfamiliar, even when it’s right and good. Rest assured, “All that occurs within the walls of the temple is uplifting and ennobling,” but don’t confuse being uplifted with being fully comfortable and familiar. To uplift means to edify, to grow, or to bring nearer to God (see D&C 50:20–22). God desires our growth and development, but that growth usually requires some discomfort to move us off of spiritual beaches where we have been resting too long. Don’t flee from this discomfort or think it erroneous. Like Jacob, wrestle with what God and His angels place in front of you (see Genesis 32:24–30). This wrestle will enable God to bless you to see Him more clearly.
Overall, the temple endowment ceremony is a divine tool to stir feelings that accelerate spiritual growth in the mysteries of godliness. Because these sacred ordinances are meant to help you gain the power and capacity to come into the presence of God, the greatest feeling to pay attention to is how the holy temple helps you feel nearer to your Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. As President Monson summarized, “I think there is no place in the world where I feel closer to the Lord than in one of His holy temples.”
Coming into God’s Presence
Endowing Saints with the divine power and capacity to part the veil and stand in the presence of God was one of the summative teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. More recently, in the August 1999 Ensign, President James E. Faust wrote a piece called “Lost Horizons.” He wrote:
“One of the horizons that can profitably be expanded in all of us is spiritual excellence. I would surmise that all who are members of this great Church have a desire to see the face of the Savior. This is an available blessing, for He has said, ‘It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am’ (D&C 93:1). Too few of us catch sight of this horizon as we fail to avail ourselves of God’s promises.”
While striving to realize this promise, let us remember that God manifests Himself in many different ways and many different means—not just through visions or physical appearances. In mortality, there is more than one way to enjoy the presence of God. The most common way that God manifests Himself to us—and according to President Joseph Fielding Smith, the most powerful way, even more powerful than a vision—is through the sublime influence of the Holy Ghost. As we intentionally seek to know God through study, feel of His influence through receiving the Holy Ghost, and do the actions that demonstrate discipleship, through the grace of Jesus Christ we can experience the glory, majesty, love, power, and presence of God always (see D&C 20:77, 79), even if we don’t literally see Him until heaven.
You may feel a little intimidated when you're preparing to enter the temple for the first time. Fortunately, The Holy Invitation can help. It offers answers about the endowment by providing a frame for you to understand the purposes and procedures of its ordinances.
Explore the temple endowment from three different vantage points: the why, the what, and the how, so that when you go to the temple—whether for the first time or the hundredth—you can more fully absorb the learning and truth the Lord has in store for you.
The Lord has extended to each one of us a holy invitation: an invitation to enter His house, to learn of Him and His ways, and to prepare to return to His presence and receive a fullness of His exalting blessings. Learn how you can accept the invitation the Lord has extended to you personally and find profound meaning in the sacred temple endowment.