In Kensington, Maryland, off the Capital Beltway, through a winding residential community, nestled at the end of a wooded area is a carefully manicured spiritual oasis, a pinnacle of light that draws interest, evokes curiosity and radiates promise. It is the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which I recently had the opportunity to tour.
The greeters were very gracious, friendly and hospitable. I toured on a rainy day, when canopy covered walkways, umbrellas and escorts were everywhere. The agenda, logistics and guided tour seemed like a well-choreographed ballet, without glitches, stumbles or mistakes. Our tour was led by Elder David A. Bednar, the consummate teacher and facilitator who engaged us with history and stories, along with Elder Randall Bennett.
Before the tour, each person saw a video on the history and purpose of the church. The video message by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in which his eyes well up as he talks about heaven and says he cannot imagine heaven without his family, made my eyes well up as well and allowed me to imagine heaven a little differently. More importantly, it challenged me to think about the work I still need to do on Earth to see my family in heaven.
The design and details of the seven-level edifice are appointed with ecclesiastical excellence. The soft tones of blue, gold, yellow and sand evoke a sense of calm. Every room is impeccable, pristine and immaculate which expresses the specialness and sacredness of the temple. From the stunning crystal chandeliers, Corinthian molding, plush carpet and granite floors, the finest resources and workmanship were brought together to offer a celestial expression to God and each person who enters. The temple feels special, and you feel special in it.
I beheld the beauty of the artwork, which conjured feelings of peace, joy and unity. The artwork is an array of diversity depictions, where Jesus embraces people of every color and hue. Some artwork was presented in beautiful baroque framing, while other pieces needed no framing because of their breathtaking beauty.
In the sealing room, where marriages are performed, there was simplicity: an altar centered in the room and flanked by chairs for witnesses. Reinforcing the symbolism of the eternal bond was an infinity mirror on each side of the wall, perfectly reflecting endlessness.
The great revelation for me was the proxy baptism for deceased ancestors, wherein a family member can be baptized on behalf of a deceased member who was not baptized before death.
This principle made a lot of sense to me, because when my father died, I heard his sister say, “I don’t think he went to church or was baptized,” and I wondered.
I wondered because although I did not grow up with my father, I never knew him to go to church, refer to God or even pray. I thought he was a good man, who, like all of us, was flawed and tried to work things out on life’s journey. I thought he did the best he could as a man and parent. My memories of him are loving. Yet, the words from my aunt have haunted my soul. I have wondered if I would see my father again. After more than 30 years, the proxy baptism for deceased ancestors helped me reconcile the unrest I carried for decades.
While the grandeur of the temple may be a cultural norm for Latter-day Saints, for me it was a majestic experience which inspired me spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. My only comparative experience is when I visited the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy, where I saw Michelangelo’s statue of David and all I could do was stare as tears rolled from my eyes.
When leaving the temple, I realized that I didn’t hear a speech, talk or sermon, yet I left inspired. There was no prayer or choir, yet I felt peace. To the renovation visionaries — thank you for being a vessel of the Lord and creating a special space that invites us to walk closer to God. In this temple, there is an obvious presence that has nothing to do with the beautifully curated rooms and has everything to do with the holiness of God.
The Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.