Where is God in His House?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t adore ritual or feel drawn to sacred space, sacred clothing, covenants, symbolism, and mythic narrative. I spent my young life striving to keep the commandments with exactness and believed my commitment to God was unassailable. Given my disposition, I had every reason to believe the temple would be a profoundly moving experience.
My patriarchal blessing promised me I would have “powerful experiences in the temple of the Lord.” And I did. Experiences so powerful that I lost, perhaps forever, the ability to pray.
I don’t know how to say this to you, you who have touched the divine within those hallowed halls, who have found more peace there than at any other location on earth. I don’t know how to express to you that the source of your comfort in this life has been the source of my alienation and despair. I don’t know what paradigm can validate both of our experiences.
I still believe in God. I just no longer believe he’s my God.
I need something very basic from God in order to sustain a devotional life. I need to believe God validates my subjectivity—that, in a fundamental way, he sees me as a human agent. That he can listen to me directly and understand my experience.
The temple took that hope away from me.
God betrayed me in the temple. But worse than that, I betrayed myself. I was presented with the choice to accept my subsidiary status for eternity and a split second to decide and, in a moment of duress and confusion, I turned against myself and said “yes.”
That will do.
What did it do? It shredded the relationship I thought I had with God.
I discovered that I have no cosmic trajectory. There’s only one female actor in this cosmological drama, and she’s silenced and punished for the role she plays. I discovered that I was created not for myself but for men. I discovered that it’s dubious whether I, as a woman, had a premortal existence; the best I can hope for is that women’s premortal roles, in contrast to men’s, are irrelevant to the plan of happiness—thus, not worth portraying. I discovered that God can’t dignify me with a direct relationship, but will interact with me through my non-existent husband. The God who can stand in Eve’s presence and address her not as “you” but as “she” is too remote to be approachable.
I can’t prove it, but I feel deeply that I’m a person. Yet the God of this universe, who knows everything, doesn’t know that simple fact. How do I convey how brutal this realization was to my sense of self?
Over and over I was told to just have faith. But it was my faith that was crushing me. It wasn’t that I doubted the temple or took it lightly that hurt me, it was that I took it seriously.
I can’t pray because I can’t be vulnerable with God.
I can’t pray because I don’t want to God to answer. I don’t want God to find my keys when he can’t be bothered to reveal to the church that women, too, are human agents worthy of dignity. Every prayer God answered became a deeper betrayal, because it meant that he’s here, on retainer, and he simply doesn’t care enough about the question whether women have souls to rethink his salvific ordinances.
I can’t pray because I don’t know what words to use anymore. The word “father” just seems inappropriate for someone who shunts his daughters aside, behind their husbands.
You might say I’m wrong about God, that I’ve misunderstood. If I have, why doesn’t the temple ceremony reflect God’s real attitude toward women? If men and women are equal, why am I obligated to take on Eve’s subordinate status vis-à-vis Adam? If women were an important part of the premortal existence, why is Eve absent where Adam is not? If God can address women as a general policy, why does he shy away from addressing Eve, in a display of what can only be considered rudeness? Why does he allow Eve to trail after Adam like a dog?
There’s a chasm separating our portrayal of Eve outside the temple, where’s she’s savvy and celebrated, and inside the temple, where’s she’s secondary, chastened, and submissive. This fact does not mitigate the problems but exacerbates them.
If the temple’s portrayal of women cannot be changed, it should at least be owned. It’s time to put more thought into how we prepare women to make and keep sacred covenants. It’s time to teach them that they access God not directly, but through their husbands (who are, in effect, their gods). It’s time to acknowledge our doctrine that men are eternal agents whose value is inherent where women are contingent and subordinate.
And if we’re uncomfortable owning up to that, it’s time to change our liturgy.