The 70,000-square-foot structure of white Sardinian marble on a hill overlooking Boston is certainly substantial. (The addition of a steeple--still embroiled in litigation--would add aesthetic grace to the exterior.) The intimacy of the temple was partly accomplished by designing the interior space with many small rooms. These are tastefully appointed in light fabrics and predominantly blond wood. Each room is luminous, infused with light from a combination of sunlight streaming through pale stained glass and expert electrical technology.
As the 100th Mormon temple to be dedicated, the Boston Temple fulfills church President Gordon B. Hinckley's dream of having 100 temples by the year 2000. Located in suburban Belmont, Mass., the temple--like the 99 others worldwide--is not a meetinghouse for Sunday worship services or weekday auxiliary meetings. Mormon temples are designated for the faith's most sacred ordinances. These ceremonies turn human attention heavenward and link families together "for time and all eternity."
For Latter-day Saints in New England (there are 60,000), having this local refuge will be a coming full circle from the church's beginnings. Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, were both born in Vermont, and Mormons first preached in Boston in 1832, just two years after the founding of the church. Many contemporary Mormon leaders have genealogical ties to the area. Even President Gordon B. Hinckley's ancestor Thomas Hinckley was governor of Plymouth Colony from 1681 to 1692.
When the Mormons trekked west in the mid-19th century, the church presence in New England was still minimal. But in the 20th century and onward into this new one, the church in the Boston area has grown into a complicated mix. There are hard-working immigrant families (currently missionaries teach in English, Haitian, Cambodian, Portuguese, and Spanish); inner-city units with high unemployment and low literacy; university students and professors; native Yankees with their celebrated know-how; temporary Western implants (who sometimes think only they have adequate church "know-how," much to the exasperation of the locals) ... and more.
But now, in this building on the hill, they will each sit side by side, dressed alike in white clothing, bringing their common faith and their private burdens for respite in the House of the Lord.
It is, in fact, the "unexplain-edness" of the temple experience that draws me to its doors. (Well, that and my conviction that the work I do by proxy really does benefit those who have passed on.) Because aspects of the temple are not talked about outside the temple, or even very much inside the temple, I am left to discover meaning on my own. My quest for further light and knowledge is fed in ways uniquely suited for me.
The best preparation I had for the temple came not in any Temple Preparation classes or Gospel Doctrine seminars but in a Tribal Metaphysics course I took long ago in graduate school--though certainly that was not the professor's agenda. I learned in that class that the Native Americans we studied do not share our Western European/American urge to figure out, analyze, and intellectualize. Spiritual encounters in particular are to be experienced as grass experiences dew.
This is the healthiest way I have found to experience my personal temple visits. "Understanding what happens" is not the right paradigm. "Allowing it to happen" is better. Or perhaps it is an "instilling," which the Oxford American Dictionary defines as "to introduce into a person's mind gradually; to put into something by drops."
Not long ago, I visited our temple in Sweden. I speak very little Swedish, but that wouldn't have mattered, since the session I attended was in Danish. I wore a headset that, with a flick of the dial, provided the service in several languages. I enjoyed comparing subtle translation differences and the overall experience of just letting the event settle on me. Two months later, I attended the temple in Provo, Utah. The session was in Spanish (a language I don't speak), and there weren't enough headsets to go around. These were two of my most satisfying temple visits ever. Maybe, since I work and play in words, not having them available made me more present for other kinds of communication.
At the beginning of the Boston Temple open house, I walked past the baptismal font that rests on the backs of 12 majestic marble oxen. My eyes welled up. I don't know why they did, but I don't have to. Intellectual sell-out? Some may say so. Some might even write it off to feminine emotionalism. I don't need to justify my reactions. I don't even have to understand them fully myself. For me, this is the most potent intimacy of the temple--private, personal, undeterred by prejudice, unscripted by dogma.
In this place, I am uniquely known and independent, yet linked to humanity through all generations of time.
This, more than any square footage, is what makes the new temple huge. Within its walls I see that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something vast, cosmic, beyond dimension. Even beyond time. Something that in a silent, emphatic way makes me want to hush my mouth. And shout "hosanna." Simultaneously. The temple with its many paradoxes reminds me that my soul is a work in progress.