Here’s a section from our manual this week:
Ask class members questions similar to the following:
- Have you ever been excited while watching a sporting event or some other kind of entertainment?
- Have you ever been so excited at such an event that you stood and shouted or cheered?
- Can you think of sacred events that have been or will be accompanied by enthusiastic expressions of joy and gratitude?
When our family lived in California, we were associated with an amazing performing arts director. She taught those she directed not to participate in standing ovations which are now common following every performance from a kindergarten program to a junior high band concert. She said that a standing ovation should be reserved for a performance that was so thrilling that immediately after hearing it, the audience spontaneously leaps to its feet. Otherwise, this type of appreciation loses its meaning. I can think of two sacred events I have observed which were accompanied by the type of enthusiastic joy our director was describing, and to which the manual seems to be referring.
At the end of the first week I was in the MTC as a young missionary, the entire group came together for a fireside at which an apostle spoke. At the end of the evening, the auditorium filled with hundreds of missionaries sang “The Spirit of God,” all in the languages that they had been learning. At the top of their voices, these enthusiastic young souls raised a cacaphony of different words from different linguistic traditions, yet all in perfect musical harmony. Sometime while singing, we jumped to our feet. I couldn’t even hear my own voice in the throng, and I felt I had indeed joined with the “armies of heaven.” I’ve never heard such an amazing sound.
The next experience came years later, while I was serving as Primary chorister. In the program that year, we learned a song titled, “Scripture Power.” While teaching the song, I had the children grab their Book of Mormon, and stand and hold it up high when the words “scripture power” were sung. During our rehearsal in the chapel two weeks before the program, I thought my heart would burst with joy when we came to the conclusion of the practice and that song was sung. With great joy and enthusiasm, the children waved their scriptures high above their heads and veritably shouted the words.
Unfortunately, following the rehearsal, when the children had been dismissed, I was told that we had been instructed that the children had to remain seated and not hold up their books during our final song. It was explained to me that these actions weren’t “reverent enough” for the chapel. I was sorely disappointed, as I felt that I had just participated in one of the most reverent acts of my life. Reverence truly is more than “just quietly sitting,” and I’d wanted the children to know that.
The scripture block in Ezekiel this week speaks of the latter-day temple and the symbolic rivers that will flow forth from it. A topical search of the word “water” in the scriptures shows that it often stands for salvation. Rivers are also highly symbolic in the Old Testament, representing life (among other things). There is much to be discovered here in Ezekiel by looking at the different types and allegories, and the manual encourages this. (I hope in the comments people will share the things they are reading into this chapter!) But all too often, the symbolic elements and teachings in our temple worship, instead of flowing out into the world in rivers of joy as Ezekiel prophesies, have become as dry and boring as a valley of bones. Sometimes I think it is because as Latter-day Saints we have come to see reverence as peaceful and quiet, sitting still in sacrament meeting instead of leaping to our feet; or praying with heads covered instead of public dancing in the street.
I attended my first temple dedication, that of the Palmyra Temple, in 2000 when the first widespread broadcast of temple dedications in stake centers was held. A big deal was made to sanctify the building, clearing and cleaning it, and then letting only those with a special recommend enter. I was excited that we were to participate in a “Hosanna Shout.” I won’t elaborate on the expectations I had for this event, but it was along the lines of what had happened in the MTC as we sang “The Spirit of God.” What did ensue was disappointing. Holding aloft the corners of white handkerchiefs, the audience of thousands in an overflowing stake center halfheartedly chanted the words: “hosanna. hosanna. hosanna. to god and the lamb…” In an effort to be circumspect, an audience that could have blown the roof off the building with half the energy my missionary companions exhibited missed the power of the event. Nothing could be further from the “river of joy” Ezekiel’s vision promises.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do see the temple as a magnificent symbol of membership, a place of revelation, of communion with the Divine. The Psalmist’s words when extolling the temple resonate with me: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” I hope that throughout the Church the study of Lesson 44 is replete with gratitude and testifying of the life-giving, healing strength that is found in the temple. But I also hope that this includes a bit of that excitement that is invoked by the mention of the cheering at a sporting event. I am one that doesn’t feel the spirit when humbly, quietly sitting. I want to jump, and dance, and shout, and sing. I want to wade and splash in the water. I want to get wet in that river of joy.