O hear, O hear, O hear us, O Lord!
The Washington DC temple is situated on a wooded hill above the Capital Beltway. For drivers rounding the curve of the highway, the temple rises into sight, out of the trees and with a backdrop of sky. When I was a child, we would always sing out “there’s the temple!” as it came into view, and I would feel pure joy and wonder at its gleaming gold and white marble beauty. Before I ever went inside, the temple was a symbol of heaven, an image of peace that rose above the hectic and the mundane.
Now, many years later, the temple doesn’t exist just as a symbol against the sky but as a tangible part of my real and complicated life. With that change, I’ve developed a more complicated and sometimes discouraged mindset toward temple attendance.
At times my temple struggles are simply a matter of scheduling. It’s never easy to set aside a block of a few hours for temple worship. Or, my discouragement can arise out of loneliness. I attend without a spouse, without certain friends and family members who have decided that the temple is not the place for them. This can be emotionally challenging when the temple itself offers such vivid reminders of family, kinship, and unity.
And finally, sometimes the struggle is one of doubt. The temple isn’t always an easy place to feel noncommital or tentative about one’s faith. It can present itself as a frighteningly high stakes environment, a place where perfection is expected.
But when I read D&C 109, the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple, I’m struck with sympathy for the neediness at the heart of Joseph Smith’s words. This prayer is one of pleading, one in which Joseph reminds the Lord of the “great tribulation” of these early Mormons, and that “out of [their] poverty” they built the temple in the hopes that “the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” (v. 5).
With bold humility, Joseph asks for blessings of all kinds: on behalf of his country and government, for the temporal welfare of friends, family, and followers, for the blessings of eternal spiritual progression and forgiveness of sins. He concludes his prayer with this utter plea: “O hear, O hear, O hear us, O Lord! And answer these petitions, and accept the dedication of this house unto thee, the work of our hands, which we have built unto thy name” (v. 78).
This must be the longest prayer in scripture, a reminder that the temple is the house of prayer. When I read this section, I realize how much a sense of humility and prayerfulness should be present in my own temple worship. Without it, the temple becomes just a great and spacious building, a sterile symbol of perfection that I can never achieve. With it, the temple becomes a vital key to recognizing the Lord’s grace in my life.
The temple exists because we have weaknesses, because we want what is beyond our power to achieve on our own, because we desire for the Lord to be manifested in our lives. Women of the Bible visited their temples and tabernacles for these same reasons.
In the Old Testament, Hannah came to the tabernacle with tears and discouragement, but with a fervent prayer for a child. She later became the mother of the prophet Samuel. In the New Testament, the prophetess Anna came to the temple in her long years of widowhood and with prayer and fasting looked forward to the Savior’s coming. She became one of the first witnesses of Jesus’s birth. The early Mormons saw their own poverty and offered it to the Lord, and he responded with an outpouring of his Spirit. Likewise, whether I feel a lack of time, fellowship, or faith, I come to the temple with hope as well.
Wendy Ulrich’s wonderful book on temple worship, The Temple Experience: Passage to Healing and Holiness, points out the need for prayerful questions: “If we want to receive, God invites us to wake up and to ask, holding out our hands to be filled” (21).
The temple must be a place where our own weakness are laid bare and questions of faith can rise to the surface. When we present our needs to the Lord, we can be filled both spiritually and temporally.
My heart still rallies when I round the bend in the road and see the temple rising above the highway. For me it is still a beautiful symbol. But I have also learned that to fully engage in temple worship, I need to do my part to establish the temple as a house of my own prayers. Only then can it fulfill its part to bring me closer to the Lord. Only then can the temple’s symbolic beauty become a real instrument of grace.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Dressed Like A Queen, Rosie Card
“I also feel like temple work is part of the most important work that we can partake of in this earth.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Sharing Your Light, Neill F. Marriott
“I still fight my weaknesses, but I trust in the divine help of the Atonement. This pure instruction came because I entered the holy temple, seeking relief and answers. I entered the temple burdened, and I left knowing I had an all-powerful and all-loving Savior. I was lighter and joyful because I had received His light and accepted His plan for me.”
Here to Serve a Righteous Cause, Carol F. McConkie
“The early Church leaders and pioneers of the past pressed forward with heroic courage and determined faithfulness to establish the restored gospel and build temples where ordinances of exaltation could be performed. The pioneers of the present, meaning you and me, also press forward in faith, ‘to labor in [the Lord’s] vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.’”