A lot of Mormons love Temple worship and regularly get something out of it. Plenty don’t. This is for the plenty.
No doubt you’ve heard and understand what transcendental transactions take place in the Temples. Salvation, even exaltation, is individually distributed throughout an unreckoned multitude of the spiritually uncredentialled. Yet you feel nothing. Probably you’ve heard others describe highly detailed solutions to problems they received in the course of Temple worship. You receive no such thing. Let’s talk about this. Clearly, they’re feeling and receiving stimuli you’re not. How? You’re all attending to the same rituals, going through the same motions and postures, donning the same apparel; what variable then, by its presence or absence, is neutralizing your Temple experience? It’s perspective or what you do (or don’t) bring to the Temple, in regard to expectation.
I want here to offer a perspective to the dissatisfied: The Temple is theatre. It’s poetry. As such, it requires an informed approach. Let’s unpack this. Aristotle wrote that poetry is concerned with articulating the universal, with clothing truths in such terms as have the broadest appeal. This, he explained, is its difference from history, which is focused on particulars, on facts (Poet. 1451b). Thus, in the Temple you identify with Adam or Eve, the universal man and woman, and not specifically as you. Why? Because our Heavenly Parents, like the Ancient Greeks, knew that every kind of person from every conceivable circumstance could view the drama that is the Temple and therefore had to be able to relate not it to them but themselves to it. This brings us to Aristotle’s explanation for the function of tragedy: the cleansing of pity, fear and other crippling emotional states from the audience. This is accomplished as far as the audience is able to identify with the characters who dramatize the action which is, “serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude” (Poet. 1449b). Thus, we are directed in the Temple to consider ourselves as Adam and Eve (and not consider them us) in order to share in their triumph.
So, maybe the first thing to do is not look at the Temple as though it’s presenting history or fact; it’s not. Maybe a sacred history, as in a timeless dramatization of the human story, but not an historical retelling of facts that took place in some point in the past. As a history, it would not possess any point of entry for the spectator (you) to advance to the position of participant; it would be mere narrative. As poetry, as universal truth, the Temple drama can happen daily, enabling the victory it depicts (in spite of all the loss and failure and hurt) to be regularly available to the weary Temple goer in need of that victory.
Understanding the Temple as poetry involves discarding the utilitarian mindset. “Utilitarian” describes anything having to do with practical, functional use. Poetry is art, and art is, by its very nature, useless – therein lies its divinity, its potential to elevate humankind. The pursuit, and especially the creation, of beauty, is the godliest of pastimes. Humans are mired in the pursuit of utility, inasmuch as we must struggle for our survival. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were to dress a garden and be happy; having entered the world, their time was given to thorns, thistles, briers, noxious weeds, and bread eaten by the sweat of the face. Therefore: outside the Temple is utility, inside there must be beauty, there must be art. Taking the utilitarian mindset into the Temple is about the most counterproductive approach to Temple worship, this side of worthiness at least. The utilitarian mindset manifests itself with the “I’m here to get my answers” approach. When those answers are not received, that mindset deems the effort wasteful and pointless.
So, here’s another thing to do: leave your specificities, your particular problems, outside the Temple. They are products of utility and incongruous with the art, the beauty, of the Temple. The Master taught that one intent on saving the soul or self will lose it (Matt. 16:25). The freer one is of utility, the more available one is for the appreciation of the beauty of holiness as depicted in the Temple. This means losing your daily, utilitarian, factual self in order to freely immerse in the beautiful and find your universal, poetic, true self. Perhaps it sounds contradictory, forgetting your problems in order to find solutions to them. Remember: The Master taught that it is one who would lose their soul or self that will find it (Matt. 16:25).
To sum up. Don’t just put your body in the Temple, put your self in the Temple drama. Take your troubles to the Temple doors but not beyond; a vessel anything other than empty will have no room for answers.