Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

NT lesson #16: What’s beyond the door? (John 10:9)

Posted by Robert C. on May 2, 2007

In John 10:9, Jesus says,

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (KJV)

Here it seems that pasture is what those who enter obtain. How should we understand what pasture symbolizes?

I picked up several interesting books at the library the other day on the Gospel of John. The ones I’ve been skimming most carefully[*] all offer a critique of traditional historical-critical approaches to the Gospel of John because these approaches do not engage the rich symbolism in John very well. Unsurprisingly, these books tend to have post-modern and feminist leanings. I’m particularly interested in the feminist leanings because I think pasture is best understood as a feminine symbol.

I don’t really have time to work out any of my ideas on this very carefully, so let me just briefly sketch one possible line of thinking and then solicit comments:

(1) Door and veil. In scripture, doors and gates are often used to delineate the sacred from the profane. In the temple, there is a veil over the doorway to the Celestial room. A veil is also worn by women. In this sense, I think holiness (i.e. that which is sacred) is a feminine symbol, and so that which the doors/gates guard should be taken as—at least in some sense—feminine.

(2) Veil and symbolism. That which is veiled, for whatever reason, is that which is not readily seen and therefore we should expect such (viz. the feminine) to be described in scripture only indirectly. Perhaps this is why the Church tends not to refer overtly to Heavenly Mother. (Note: I’m drawing on my very poor recollection of a chapter in the book Strangers in Paradox here in thinking about gender differences and this notion of veiledness.) If we think about Eve as the last to be created (yet the first to partake of the forbidden fruit), there’s a sense in which the feminine might be taken as that which comes after, or stands behind, the masculine. Although there’s a tendency to think of the position “behind” derogatorily, I think this is a mistake, just as it’s wrong to think that Jews (the first) are better than Gentiles (the last), or the mouth is more important than the heart of body, etc. The books I mentioned above (cited below—Dorothy Lee’s book in particular) make the point that there have historically been various levels of scriptural interpretation that vary between the more obvious and literal to the more hidden and symbolic (see this comment regarding peshat vs. derash, or this page regarding various modes of patristic exegesis); however, in modern times we have ignored hidden and symoblic interpretation. In this sense, I think that in order to understand symbolism in John better, we need a more feminine reading that looks behind what is directly and explicitly stated.

(3) Pasture, nurturing, and fertility. I’m already running out of time, so let me just state that I think “pasture” in John 10:9 is one of many feminine, nurturing symbols in the Gospel of John, e.g. “living water,” “bread of life,” etc. Interestingly, the Greek word for “nurture” can also mean “increase,” which I think has additional feminine connotations, a la fertility (cf. “perpetual generations” in Genesis which might be taken as analogous to our understanding of eternal families; also, to tie this to the point above, there is a strong sense in which symbolism is inherently more fecund than prose, a point made by Paul Ricoeur and others).

(4) Bridegroom, bride, and protection. Wedding imagery in scripture abounds. I think Christ is typically taken as the bridegroom, but who is the bride? I’m not sure how justified this is, but I usually take the bride to be a symbol of the Church or Zion. Christ, as the bridegroom, protects and “abides with” (another prominent theme in John) his bride. I think this is a continuation of the Old Testament notion of Jehovah being faithful to Israel, at least as long as Israel is faithful to Jehovah. Further, I think this idea is furthered by the many references to protection and shelter that can be found in the temple.

Well, as usual this is all quite rough, but I’ve run out of steam and have already spent time I don’t have on this. Comments?

__

* Here the books I’ve been skimming which have got me thinking about these things:

Flesh and Glory: Symbolism, Gender and Theology in the Gospel of John by Dorothy Lee. This is the book I’ve looked the most at. I’m not sure she really ties these themes together all that well, but her discussion of each of these topics looks quite interesting. (Review here.)

Voyages with John: Charting the Fourth Gospel by Robert Kysar. This is basically a series of essays by Kysar that traces his gradual shift from an historical-critical approach to a more post-modern approach to the Gospel of John. (Review here.)

Ingesting Jesus: Eating and Drinking in the Gospel of John by Janes S. Webster. Jim F.’s fascination with food has got me interested in food as a topic of study, so this title was irresistible. (Review here.)

Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community by Craig R. Koester. I haven’t looked at this much, yet, but it looks quite interesting. (Review here.)

53 Responses to “NT lesson #16: What’s beyond the door? (John 10:9)”

  1. m&m said

    This idea of pasture makes me think of the phrase, “calves of the stall.”

    Malachi 4:2
    2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

    1 Nephi 22:24
    24 And the time cometh speedily that the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall, and the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.

    3 Nephi 25:2
    2 But unto you that fear my name, shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves in the stall.

    The images that come to mind are gathering, safety, peace, protection, personal and loving care, healing.

    The prophet Malachi makes use of this simile, as follows: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” (4:2) Which is as much as to say that, when the Millennial day dawns; when the Sun of righteousness arises, or, when the Son of God is revealed in glory his people will be taken care of spiritually. They will be fed and nourished in order that they may abound in grace and good works. (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1., p.227)

    Malachi foretells the day of the Second Coming when the proud and the wicked shall be burned as stubble; when the Son of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings; when Israel shall grow up as calves in the stall with all their needs cared for; and when they shall tread down the wicked — their enemies — as ashes under the soles of their feet.
    Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.4, p.367 – p.368

  2. Robert, I’ve been thinking almost constantly about this question of hiddenness since you raised it in our recent, more removed (that is, private) discussion with Brian. I really think it has got to be the crux of our thinking about many, many issues.

    And I’d very much like to think about it a great deal more in terms of the scriptures…

  3. robf said

    Joe, feel free to think about the question of hiddenness more online here!

  4. Robert C. said

    m&m #1, thanks for these references and quotes. I think Malachi 4:2 is particularly interesting because of the book of remembrance mentioned just previously (Malachi 3:16) which I think might be taken as a temple allusion—“love at home” indeed!

    Joe and robf, I think that talking about things that are hidden has many pitfalls and is simply difficult (I take it this is why so many Continental thinkers are so hard to read!), but I’m anxious to continue studying this theme (obviously related to “secrecy” which we’ve discussed before, and so many other things…).

    Joe, I confess that your work at the wiki on “house” in D&C 85:7 (the one might and strong will “set in order the house of God”) is what got me thinking about the door/gate as a more general symbol here, along with our earlier wiki discussion of oikonomia (household) in 1 Tim 1:4 here and here.

  5. Cherylem said

    Robert,
    I’m going to respond here without going to my books or looking up past notes, so this will be quick and probably superficial, but here goes. (As usual for this blog, you have opened an idea for discussion that could take years to think through.)

    You say:
    “I’m particularly interested in the feminist leanings because I think pasture is best understood as a feminine symbol.”

    Me:
    We have come a long way to be able to use this f word thoughtfully as it deserves, and also to be able to reference such books as you have stated, not least of which is Strangers in Paradox.

    Nevertheless, the assumption/belief that words like pasture, water, fountain, veil are feminine in nature is, in my opinion, both an opportunity to expand our thinking and a way to remain and increase our very damaging sexist limitations. What does thinking that these words are feminine in nature say about us, and about how we view differences in gender generally? (These questions remain important even if there is historical tradition regarding the feminine nature of these concepts throughout human culture.) How does accepting that these words as feminine and not masculine in nature hinder our growth as human beings? Hinder our search for peace, for instance?

    You wrote:
    “(1) Door and veil. In scripture, doors and gates are often used to delineate the sacred from the profane. In the temple, there is a veil over the doorway to the Celestial room. A veil is also worn by women. In this sense, I think holiness (i.e. that which is sacred) is a feminine symbol, and so that which the doors/gates guard should be taken as—at least in some sense—feminine.”

    Me:
    There is always the very good chance that the veil, etc., as worn by women is simply wrong – not a symbol of the true sacred but a symbol of human culture that we have [falsely] labeled as sacred. As long as we maintain that the symbolism of the veil is feminine and sacred it is hard for us to view women in any other light: i.e., unveiled, whole human beings in their own right, who can and do act freely and independently within the world of men and women.

    The feminine as a symbol of holiness is of course a long way from Tertullian’s statements about women, for instance (all women are evil like Eve) but the language is still very limiting and unhelpful to women generally. Ultimately, what is limiting and unhelpful for women also limits men, and vice versa.

    You write:
    “(2) Veil and symbolism. That which is veiled, for whatever reason, is that which is not readily seen and therefore we should expect such (viz. the feminine) to be described in scripture only indirectly. Perhaps this is why the Church tends not to refer overtly to Heavenly Mother. (Note: I’m drawing on my very poor recollection of a chapter in the book Strangers in Paradox here in thinking about gender differences and this notion of veiledness.) If we think about Eve as the last to be created (yet the first to partake of the forbidden fruit), there’s a sense in which the feminine might be taken as that which comes after, or stands behind, the masculine. Although there’s a tendency to think of the position “behind” derogatorily, I think this is a mistake, just as it’s wrong to think that Jews (the first) are better than Gentiles (the last), or the mouth is more important than the heart of body, etc. The books I mentioned above (cited below—Dorothy Lee’s book in particular) make the point that there have historically been various levels of scriptural interpretation that vary between the more obvious and literal to the more hidden and symbolic (see this comment regarding peshat vs. derash, or this page regarding various modes of patristic exegesis); however, in modern times we have ignored hidden and symoblic interpretation. In this sense, I think that in order to understand symbolism in John better, we need a more feminine reading that looks behind what is directly and explicitly stated.”

    Me:
    I believe the church doesn’t refer much to Heavenly Mother because there is no interest among the Brethren to do so – they are not directly and personally affected by this belief and therefore they are not hungry to have answers regarding our belief in the feminine divine. Women, on the other hand, are advised not to pursue answers, but women are the ones who would drive this conversation if they were permitted. It is a double bind. Women who do not wait for permission (adult women who act for themselves) do continue this conversation, sometimes with harsh consequences. (I do not count myself in this number.)

    Nevertheless, I am interested in your interpretation of the veiled feminine above. And here I am going to contradict myself, freely. I do believe there are things to be learned from the veil.

    Remember the story of Adam and Eve is androcentric (before Eve there is always Lilith), and to draw eternal signficance from the order of creation stated there is dangerous.

    Nevertheless, what I learn from the veil imagery is this: according to our way of thinking, we cannot see the face of God until the veil is lifted, passed through. We can do everything else, but as long as the veil remains, there is no seeing God. It is not that the veil is sacred, or the feminine is hidden, as much as our western world (and others) have forced the feminine into hiding. Now, in our time, it is appropriate to do all we can to remove the veil and see women – and therefore also men – as whole human beings.

    I once did a paper (this is a frequent refrain here, I’m afraid) of the inability of our language to express the feminine divine. The words we have to describe intensely spiritual women are often purjorative, very negative. Our language itself is androcentric, and is therefore out of balance, to the harm of all.

    So it is good to look for the symbols, which have meanings without words. Gender DOES have symbols (overlaid again by our own cultural beliefs), but experiencing the symbol without trying to find expression in words is sometimes the best way to find a way through the problem of a language that has no words to describe the truly holy.

    One symbol that I have seen regarding the temple is that the structure by its nature is a womb (in spite of all the outward phallic symbols – but perhaps there is partnership there). We re-enter the womb and leave reborn.

    You say:
    “(3) Pasture, nurturing, and fertility. I’m already running out of time, so let me just state that I think “pasture” in John 10:9 is one of many feminine, nurturing symbols in the Gospel of John, e.g. “living water,” “bread of life,” etc. Interestingly, the Greek word for “nurture” can also mean “increase,” which I think has additional feminine connotations, a la fertility (cf. “perpetual generations” in Genesis which might be taken as analogous to our understanding of eternal families; also, to tie this to the point above, there is a strong sense in which symbolism is inherently more fecund than prose, a point made by Paul Ricoeur and others).”

    Me:
    Since there are so few women in the BOM I once undertook a study of all the feminine symbols there – practically every verse or section (I thought at the time) had a symbol that could be construed as feminine. I came to the conclusion that the BOM was FULL of the feminine – it was literally everywhere (which does not mean it was full of women, of course).

    You wrote:
    “4) Bridegroom, bride, and protection. Wedding imagery in scripture abounds. I think Christ is typically taken as the bridegroom, but who is the bride? I’m not sure how justified this is, but I usually take the bride to be a symbol of the Church or Zion. Christ, as the bridegroom, protects and “abides with” (another prominent theme in John) his bride. I think this is a continuation of the Old Testament notion of Jehovah being faithful to Israel, at least as long as Israel is faithful to Jehovah. Further, I think this idea is furthered by the many references to protection and shelter that can be found in the temple.”

    Me:
    And I have often wondered how men imaged themselves as being the bride. Since (if) the church is the bride, and the church is organized and run by men, how do they image themselves in this uniquely feminine way? I think this question is important, actually.

    You wrote:
    “Well, as usual this is all quite rough, but I’ve run out of steam and have already spent time I don’t have on this. Comments?”

    Me:
    So I gave you some. I hope I didn’t sound argumentative – it was not my intent. Rather, I think the points you brought up are important – important enough to give an honest response.

  6. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thank you very much for your thoughtful and insightful response. I don’t get offended easily (or so I like to think, and so—if nothing else—my pride will prevent me from taking offense!), and I’m flattered you would take my ideas seriously enough to engage them.

    I’ll respond more at a more reasonable hour and when I’m less distracted by fatherly duties, but a couple quick thoughts:

    First, I hope this will become a long-term conversation. There are many issues at play here that I think several of us are quite interested in thinking about more carefully.

    Next, one of my underlying concerns with many versions of feminism is that it tries to downplay differences between what is feminine and masculine. Although I think there are many important ways that the feminine and masculine must be drawn together as one (in each of us individually, as well as communally—“compound in one” in 2 Ne 2:11 terminology, and “one flesh” in creation accounts, repsectively…), I’m very interested in what the differences are that would make this oneness different than a unity (unity here in the 2 Ne 2:11 sense, again). This is what fascinates me most about the paper Adam presented at the SMPT conference, the celebration of difference and yet a simultaneous commitment to oneness….

    Next, I’m very sympathetic to the view that certain attitudes and policies in the Church stem from misguided cultural views. On the other hand, I’d like to think about possibilities and implications of taking various stories and statements that we’ve been given quite seriously. So, for example, when scriptural accounts describe Eve being created after Adam, I think we have a lot of sexist history telling us bad ways to construe this but I don’t think that means that the account itself is sexist. I think this is one place I think we should turn for understanding and rethinking gender and sex roles. Also, I think the Proclamation is a good place to look for rethinking: on the one hand husband and wife are described as equal, and yet the roles are different (nurturing vs. providing, if I’m remembering correctly). Again, I see obvious chauvinistic ways of reading this, issues which I think are worth addressing, but I don’t think they should be addressed until after we have thought carefully about correct ways to read it.

    Next, besides the scriptures themselves (as we have received them), I think Joseph’s vision account of seeing only male figures forces us to think about feminine in terms of hiddenness, at least to some extent. That is, if we’re going to accuse current Church leaders of sexism, I think we also implicate Joseph himself. I’m open to thinking about other alternatives, but it’s hard for me to see how we can be faithful to these texts and not think about associating feminine and hiddenness.

    (I worry in talking about these important and rather sensitive topics virtually rather than face to face. If I tried to explain all the caveats about what I do not mean with statements that could surely be construed as implying a chauvinism I do not intend, then I would not have time to get around to actually saying anything. Also, most of my feminist reading has been done on my own, and I’m afraid there are huge gaps in my understanding and knowledge, starting with terminology. So, in this spirit, I plead with all readers to be patient and charitable with me, particularly on this topic, and to be quick to correct me when appropriate—“reproving betimes[=early] with sharpness.”)

  7. I’m reading this discussion with fascination. I’m not sure I have anything particular to add, but I do have questions I’d love to see addressed.

    Cheryl, I think your point about there being no adequate way of speaking of the feminine divine is exactly right. Are you familiar with/do you follow Irigaray or Cixous at all, that is their attempts to work out a feminine form of writing (“I want to write like painting”)?

    Cheryl and Robert, what presuppositions are behind the very idea (the very idea!) of individuality? The mere mention of the word points me to a remarkably Kojevean Hegel, where the individual is explicitly the Napoleonic citizen. I’ve been reading somewhat systematically through feminist LDS literature over the past weeks, and I’m struck by how much of it is based on a kind of deification of individualism, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. How are we to approach gender issues without selling out to individualism (or should we be selling out to individualism)?

    Robert, can you articulate your thoughts on hiddenness somewhat more (recognizing that you might be articulating a patriarchal point of view)? How are we to approach the question of hiddenness scripturally, and how does that open up the possibility of thinking about the feminine? Is this something that only can be thought by women?

    I’m feeling a bout of poetry coming as I begin to think these things out (and that hasn’t happened in a few months… that would be a good thing).

  8. Robert C. said

    Couple more responses:

    Cheryls says: “As long as we maintain that the symbolism of the veil is feminine and sacred it is hard for us to view women in any other light: i.e., unveiled, whole human beings in their own right, who can and do act freely and independently within the world of men and women.”

    I think this is a good example of how not to understand the veil, even though I know many take it this way (sadly). I think Joe is right to question the notion of independence underlying part of what Cheryl says, but I think man should be taken as dependent on woman as much as woman is dependent on man. Where this gets trickier for me is in thinking about what it means for a husband to preside—does this imply a sort of unbalanced dependence of the wife on the husband? Perhaps, but inasmuch as this is true, I think it should only be confined to the family, not beyond….

    Cheryl, you mention a paper your wrote on the inability of our language to express the feminine divine, is this something you could send or point us to? Interesting point about Western culture “forc[ing] the feminine into hiding,” something for me to think more about.

    Also, Cheryl, you ask about how men might think about themeselves as the bride with Christ as the bridegroom. Great question. A short and superficial answer for now is that I think this is where each individual must take on masculine and feminine roles. One thought is that perhaps gender differences are dissolved in our relationship with Christ and only matter in our relation to each other (as husband and wife in particular). Another view is that men should related to this feminine metaphor differently than women. I don’t know which view is better (and I’m expecting Joe to explain to me how both of these views are misguided…).

    Joe, I tend to think that there is not a lot of difference between how men and women should read scripture, but I’m very open to rethinking this presupposition. And so, although I think there’s a certain sense in which logical prose is more masculine and that artistic poetry is more feminine, I do not think men are better or more inclined to be good at logical prose and women better at artistic poetry; rather, I think these masculine and feminine ideas might be used to help us better understand male and female roles (esp. the eternal nature of such roles, if such roles have an eternal nature…).

    (We should probably start a new post for this discussion, as we’re moving away from the idea of scriptural symbolism, pasture in particular. I might be able to later today, though it’d probably be much later before I’ll be able to—I’d be happy if someone else beat me to it. Never mind, I already wrote a new post for gender-focused discussion that is not so directly related to scriptural symbolism….)

  9. m&m said

    I haven’t read all comments, so fwiw:
    There is always the very good chance that the veil, etc., as worn by women is simply wrong

    I think we ought to be careful, very careful with this kind of thinking. It’s too easy to cast away something we don’t like or understand at the surface as something that is not inspired. I think it better to push the envelope (or the veil, if you will) and seek understand as things are, assuming that especially elements our rituals are not simply errors.

    I believe the church doesn’t refer much to Heavenly Mother because there is no interest among the Brethren to do so – they are not directly and personally affected by this belief and therefore they are not hungry to have answers regarding our belief in the feminine divine.

    I think this position is an presumptuous (sorry) one to take. We don’t know there is no interest. (We don’t even know they haven’t asked or don’t know!) I believe they care deeply about us as women and they know this is an issue that many women care about. I also think we ought to leave room for the idea that this is something that we are not ready to know about, for whatever reason, not simply because our leaders haven’t done the necessary work or don’t have sufficient interest to receive more revelation. I would submit that if anyone is hindering more revelation, we ought to blame the members for not accepting what we already have before assuming it’s a lack of interest on the part of the leaders. :)

    I also think that the Lord can reveal whatever He will to individuals. But such revelation is not meant to be a conversation a la Al 12:9. And from what I have seen, what conversation does exist is so varied and often contradictory that I suspect that we really don’t understand as much as we think we do. :)

  10. m&m said

    ugh…help with the bold goof…ah, funny…i was joking around with a bracket before my comments and it converted it to a bold tag. Funny. Sorry, all.

    [I fixed the bold, but probably up some punctuation, formatting, smiley’s etc. in the process–sorry! –Robert C.]

  11. […] NT lesson #16: What’s beyond the door? (John 10:9) […]

  12. BrianJ said

    Cheryl, #5: Your entire comment was very interesting. I don’t have anything to add, except a little ‘gee whiz’ information. You wrote: “Remember the story of Adam and Eve is androcentric, and to draw eternal significance from the order of creation stated there is dangerous.”

    I was teaching a group about steroid receptor evolution today and your comment popped into my mind. Why? Because in human development, the default pathway is to become female. That is, reproductive tissues will take the female form unless acted upon by “masculinizing factors.” Also interesting: testosterone is an intermediate in the production of estrogen, and many organisms that make and use estrogen do not have any use for testosterone (except as an intermediate to make estrogen).

    Sorry, that’s totally off-topic, but I thought it was so funny to be teaching one thing and be thinking about something else entirely….

  13. Searching for peace said

    Robert,
    Cheryls says: “As long as we maintain that the symbolism of the veil is feminine and sacred it is hard for us to view women in any other light: i.e., unveiled, whole human beings in their own right, who can and do act freely and independently within the world of men and women.”

    I think this is a good example of how not to understand the veil, even though I know many take it this way”

    What other way is there to understand the veil? I have difficulty going to the temple because it breaks my heart when it is time to approach HF in prayer and I am told to hide myself while my husband stands in full view. I would love to be at peace with this but don’t know how.

  14. m&m said

    Searching for peace,
    Mortality itself veils the Lord from our view. Does that make Him less in some way? I admit to not understanding all the symbolism fully that we have in our rituals, but I just have a sense that things are not always as they appear, particularly if we find ourselves doubting God’s love in some way. The God I know is loving and no respecter of persons. Therefore, I just assume there is more than meets the eye or mind in something like this. I think that may be a good place to start toward the search for peace. Start with a foundation of God’s character. If something doesn’t fit the understanding of His perfect and loving character, then our understanding might not quite be accurate. (e.g., If I see something horrible happen and assume that somehow God has forgotten the victim of a tragedy, I can know that perspective is skewed because a perfect God won’t forget a child.) That’s how I approach things like this, anyway…. FWIW.

  15. Robert C. said

    SFP #13, I think your concern is a very important one to address—please stay tuned for more (on this post or future ones). I only have a second, but a few quick thoughts for now:

    (1) I highly recommend the chapter on this in the book Strangers in Paradox (by Margaret and Paul Toscano), at least it’s the best (only!) source I know that addresses your concerns directly. I’ll try to look at the chapter again and summarize some main points when I have time.

    (2) One example-possibility for thinking about the veil is as a symbol of woman in her majesty. Many goddesses in ancient myths wore veils in a roughy analogous way as kings wear crowns. Think also, for example, of the power to become invisible which in many cultures and myths is a considered a very powerful power. The veil, then, might represent the infinite possibilities of the hidden and creative future which the feminine/woman symbolizes (with the man/masculine standing more for the less-fecund present…).

    (3) I remember the Toscanos making the point that the veil is used to symbolize the body of Christ in scripture somewhere, I’ll look up the reference later.

    (4) Think also about the “divine hug” imagery in scripture and in the temple which occurs through the veil, perhaps symoblizing the union of the present with the infinite (here’s where thre is a lot of analogous biological, sexual symbolism to ponder also…).

    (5) I’ve wondered whether it’s significant that the veil only covers the woman’s face a few times in the temple—that is, I’ve wondered whether it is significant that the veil is not worn, for example, when entering the Celestial Room—others’ thoughts on this?

  16. Searching for Peace, thanks for voicing this concern. It is an increasingly common one. A few weeks back, I was visiting with the temple president here (who happens to be in our ward), and we were talking about a number of different temple-issues. And he said that the most common question they get right now is this one you raised, and usually with tears. This is a major question that needs to be addressed.

    I think m&m’s point is vital. I’m not sure this is a good idea to share, but the phrase that keeps running through my head as I think about this question is this word from Joseph Smith (warning: Joseph was often harsh): “the moment we revolt at anything which comes from God the Devil takes power.” Now let me be quite clear what I think this means. There is a general proposition here that needs to be understood, and that part is clear, but the language is vital: “anything which comes from God” is where we ought to be focusing. I suppose what I wonder—and this, I think, is what m&m was trying to say—is whether we are too quick to decide whether something comes from God. The thrust of this word from Joseph does not suggest to me so much that I had better simply fall in line, but that I should be very, very careful about rejecting anything that may come from God (whatever it is!). In short, I take this word from Joseph to suggest that we need to be especially careful, more willing to rethink than to reject.

    I hope the above is very clear and understood in the right light. If not, ignore it for now.

    But at any rate, what I’m trying to say is: can we interpret the veil rather than feel embarrassed by it? (Polygamy is a good parallel: while many of us would rather simply sweep it under the rug, I want to ask what we are to learn from it, and how we might interpret the revelations that undergirded it, etc.) So, how do we interpret the veil?

    This, I think, is what Robert is trying to do here. Rather than rejecting it outright, he is trying to think about what it might mean, how it might be interpreted. And I think he is just opening the topic: we have a lot more to think about here.

    Cheryl says, and you quote: “As long as we maintain that the symbolism of the veil is feminine and sacred it is hard for us to view women in any other light: i.e., unveiled, whole human beings in their own right, who can and do act freely and independently within the world of men and women.” And you add: “I have difficulty going to the temple because it breaks my heart when it is time to approach HF in prayer and I am told to hide myself while my husband stands in full view.”

    I would ask: which is better, to be veiled or to be in full view? And why are we so quick to suggest that the latter is better? Might the very question betray patriarchal bias, rather than attempt to overthrow it? That is, might the question not be geared by sexist thinking? Might not the desire to be uncovered be sexist itself? Jacques Derrida (an unbelieving Algerian Jew who essentially reinvented philosophy) caused a watershed in philosophy by explicitly challenging the presumption and primacy of a “metaphysics of presence,” of a kind of celebration of what is unveiled, clear, and in full view. That is, he has suggested, that the very desire for clarity, for unveiledness, for presence may be cultural, constructed, etc. Taking a clue from him, might we suggest that the very desire for equality merely betrays our cultural biases?

    I’m not writing any of this well. But hopefully the response will help me to re-write it more clearly. I hope that all understand that I am trying to do this all in the most helpful way.

  17. Karen Spencer said

    I am afraid I might not have time to make this comment very helpful, but my husband told me about this discussion and I wanted to see what was going on.
    I love the temple. It makes me so sad to hear of those who struggle with aspects of it. Maybe I’m just odd in that it doesn’t seem weird or awkward – any of it – to me. But I want to just add my voice to those who have said that we need to let the ritual be interpreted and not stripped. I know we all have our desires, things that we honestly think would improved the church or whatever. I wish our Ward Council did things differently, for example. I wish the missionaries here would teach with the Spirit. I want to go and help all the young women in the area realize their manner of dress is inappropriate, and that the music at Stake dances drives away the Spirit. Am I right? wrong? I don’t know.

    But even when I find myself at odds with a person or decision in the church, I have to ask what is my job here? Is it to voice opinions? Write letters? Be silent? In my case, I have come to ask, “Did I sustain that person?” Is this coming from our leaders? If so, then I have covenanted to support them. What if I think my Bishop or Stake President is clueless? Then I can either fight against him, or pray for him. I have come to do this: I pray that either our leader (Bishop or Stake President are just two examples, but I mean this as a principle) – that either our LEADER will understand and change, or, that the LEADERSHIP will be changed. As long as my leader is my leader, I will try and work within that situation. But if I honestly think things are askew, then I will pray that either he will change or that the position will change. I trust God to it. I know He is in charge of this work.

    But I DO think that I need to do everything I can to help in that work. I honestly don’t think that the veils in the temple are at all demeaning to women. I love it. I love the symbolism in it, not the symbols that would be put on it by our society but the ones right there in the temple outside of our culture. The temple is certainly not American culture! It is ancient. And different than the way we think. And I myself think it is beautiful.

    But if there are those out there who sincerely disagree, and the spirit pushes them onword in that direction, then I would ask them to pray that those in charge will be in tune with inspiration from God. That is the faithful road, as I see it. God will get His work done. But our prayers to Him are part of that. He waits until we are ready. God came to Alma because of the prayers of His servants. If there are changes to be made, pray for it. But pray for His will to be done. Not yours. Be careful. I love you women who struggle with the temple. I pray for you and for all of us.
    Hope this helps somehow.

    Sincerely,
    Karen

  18. Cherylem said

    #6 Robert

    You wrote:
    Next, one of my underlying concerns with many versions of feminism is that it tries to downplay differences between what is feminine and masculine. Although I think there are many important ways that the feminine and masculine must be drawn together as one (in each of us individually, as well as communally—”compound in one” in 2 Ne 2:11 terminology, and “one flesh” in creation accounts, repsectively…), I’m very interested in what the differences are that would make this oneness different than a unity (unity here in the 2 Ne 2:11 sense, again). This is what fascinates me most about the paper Adam presented at the SMPT conference, the celebration of difference and yet a simultaneous commitment to oneness….”

    I respond, briefly:
    Actually, I’ve never heard that feminists tend to downplay difference. Rather, Christian (and I believe LDS – though I’m not an expert here) feminists tend to view feminism and egalitarianism as related, but neither deny difference. Jane Schaberg writes that: egalitarianism is a “social reality characterized by the attempts of men and women to live and work together for a common goal or goals as equals, in a variety of changing circumstances, and with a range of understandings, and a range of success and lack of success. In a religious sense, what characterizes egalitarianism is the attempt actually and fully to “incarnate” or embody certain beliefs – to take them seriously enough to act on them – such as the beliefs that all have equal access to salvation, that all are created in the image of God.”

    Egalitarianism is a constant struggle. To seek for this is to go against tradition, against human impulse. Perhaps the lack of functioning egalitarianism is one of the great sins of mankind and the result of societies based on domination. . .

    You wrote:
    Next, I’m very sympathetic to the view that certain attitudes and policies in the Church stem from misguided cultural views. On the other hand, I’d like to think about possibilities and implications of taking various stories and statements that we’ve been given quite seriously. So, for example, when scriptural accounts describe Eve being created after Adam, I think we have a lot of sexist history telling us bad ways to construe this but I don’t think that means that the account itself is sexist. I think this is one place I think we should turn for understanding and rethinking gender and sex roles. Also, I think the Proclamation is a good place to look for rethinking: on the one hand husband and wife are described as equal, and yet the roles are different (nurturing vs. providing, if I’m remembering correctly). Again, I see obvious chauvinistic ways of reading this, issues which I think are worth addressing, but I don’t think they should be addressed until after we have thought carefully about correct ways to read it.

    I respond:
    I believe we cannot read our texts without understanding that they are unbalanced in viewpoint. This doesn’t condemn them, or make them bad. But I think we need to continually seek new, radical ways of reading and understanding the texts we’ve been given.

    (And you’ve moved some of this discussion to the post on presiding/nurturing.)

    You wrote:
    Next, besides the scriptures themselves (as we have received them), I think Joseph’s vision account of seeing only male figures forces us to think about feminine in terms of hiddenness, at least to some extent. That is, if we’re going to accuse current Church leaders of sexism, I think we also implicate Joseph himself. I’m open to thinking about other alternatives, but it’s hard for me to see how we can be faithful to these texts and not think about associating feminine and hiddenness.

    I reply:
    Okay. We can talk about hiddenness . . . more in future posts.

  19. Cherylem said

    Joe #7

    Joe wrote:
    Cheryl, I think your point about there being no adequate way of speaking of the feminine divine is exactly right. Are you familiar with/do you follow Irigaray or Cixous at all, that is their attempts to work out a feminine form of writing (”I want to write like painting”)?

    I respond:
    I am not familiar with this.

    Joe wrote:
    Cheryl and Robert, what presuppositions are behind the very idea (the very idea!) of individuality? The mere mention of the word points me to a remarkably Kojevean Hegel, where the individual is explicitly the Napoleonic citizen. I’ve been reading somewhat systematically through feminist LDS literature over the past weeks, and I’m struck by how much of it is based on a kind of deification of individualism, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. How are we to approach gender issues without selling out to individualism (or should we be selling out to individualism)?

    I respond:
    Like all other thought processes, feminism (and LDS feminism) is a work in progress. Regarding the notion of independence in feminist literature of all kinds – this is a reaction against what has been the status quo – the centuries of belief that women need to be controlled, managed, owned, protected, and dominated, and that women are simply older children. The notion of independence needs to be read against this background and in this light.

  20. Cherylem said

    Robert #8

    I have my paper only in hard copy . . . I’ll try to summarize it . . . when I have time.

    Thanks for addressing the issue of the bride image. I agree that there is something there that calls us all to take on both masculine and feminine roles. There is still much there to think about.

  21. Cherylem said

    m&m #9

    You write, in response to my comment: There is always the very good chance that the veil, etc., as worn by women is simply wrong

    “I think we ought to be careful, very careful with this kind of thinking. It’s too easy to cast away something we don’t like or understand at the surface as something that is not inspired. I think it better to push the envelope (or the veil, if you will) and seek understand as things are, assuming that especially elements our rituals are not simply errors.”

    I respond:
    I want to clarify that I don’t easily cast away things I don’t like or understand at the surface as something that is not inspired. I have thought about the veil as symbol for many years and in many contexts. For purposes of this discussion, what I have suggested is a radical reading of the veil as symbol, for purposes of opening our (my) eyes to other possible meanings. I did not mean to say that the veil was wrong to be included in the ritual or in scripture. However, by taking a radical approach, i.e., the veil is there as a negative, and not a positive, example, I can begin to examine the symbol in a new way. I may come full circle to understanding the veil in a positive light, or I may not, but I want to examine the radical, more difficult, possibilities. Then, after examining the symbol in this way, I may look at it from yet different perspectives. (more on this below.)

    You write, in response to my comment, here: I believe the church doesn’t refer much to Heavenly Mother because there is no interest among the Brethren to do so – they are not directly and personally affected by this belief and therefore they are not hungry to have answers regarding our belief in the feminine divine.

    “I think this position is an presumptuous (sorry) one to take. We don’t know there is no interest. (We don’t even know they haven’t asked or don’t know!) I believe they care deeply about us as women and they know this is an issue that many women care about. I also think we ought to leave room for the idea that this is something that we are not ready to know about, for whatever reason, not simply because our leaders haven’t done the necessary work or don’t have sufficient interest to receive more revelation. I would submit that if anyone is hindering more revelation, we ought to blame the members for not accepting what we already have before assuming it’s a lack of interest on the part of the leaders.

    I also think that the Lord can reveal whatever He will to individuals. But such revelation is not meant to be a conversation a la Al 12:9. And from what I have seen, what conversation does exist is so varied and often contradictory that I suspect that we really don’t understand as much as we think we do.”

    I respond:
    I appreciate this viewpoint. However, I do not believe I’m being presumptious either. There is some precedence for my point of view in the history of the revelation giving the priesthood to all worthy males, for instance.

    And I agree that we don’t understand much . . .

  22. Cherylem said

    Brian #12,
    What an interesting comment, and I think very relevant, actually. All our disciplines come together and react against each other as we talk about this stuff.

  23. Cherylem said

    #13 searching for peace:

    You wrote:
    “What other way is there to understand the veil? I have difficulty going to the temple because it breaks my heart when it is time to approach HF in prayer and I am told to hide myself while my husband stands in full view. I would love to be at peace with this but don’t know how.”

    Joe Spencer and m&m have given good responses to your comment.

    I’m going to add a long comment here, starting with a paragraph I put in #21 in response to m&m. This is also going to address HIDDENNESS.

    I wrote to m&m:

    I want to clarify that I don’t easily cast away things I don’t like or understand at the surface as something that is not inspired. I have thought about the veil as symbol for many years and in many contexts. For purposes of this discussion, what I have suggested is a radical reading of the veil as symbol, for purposes of opening our (my) eyes to other possible meanings. I did not mean to say that the veil was wrong to be included in the ritual or in scripture. However, by taking a radical approach, i.e., the veil is there as a negative, and not a positive, example, I can begin to examine the symbol in a new way. I may come full circle to understanding the veil in a positive light, or I may not, but I want to examine the radical, more difficult, possibilities. Then, after examining the symbol in this way, I may look at it from yet different perspectives.

    To explain further, the veil between God and us is something we are trying constantly to overcome. Our temple ritual leads us on a path to pierce, or move through the veil. Paul said, now we see through a glass (veil) darkly. The veil in this instance is not necessarily a symbol of good, but a symbol of what has been lost, what makes us feel like strangers in a strange land.

    So reading the symbol of the veil and women radically, as a negative, what if the symbol reflects what is, and not what is desirable? What if the veil demonstrates for us the imbalance of patriarchy? (I am just stating possibilities, not ending conclusions.) What if by donning a veil I stand as everywoman – every woman – who has been hidden, veiled, seen as unimportant, perceived as without value in life? in her marriage? in her work? in history? What if the removing of the veil becomes the great healing moment: yes, I have a face. I have personhood. And so does every woman who has lived before me, when she sees God face to face. She has a name. She has place. She is seen and known for herself. And no one – neither men nor women – fully pierce the veil between humankind and God before the women are fully seen.

    Continuing to read radically, what if the veiled woman represents the entire church of God (the bridegroom comes). What if the church, like the woman, remains under a veil? Yet even seeing through the veil darkly, prayers are heard. MY prayers are heard through the veil. What if all those [male and female] who have valued watering, feeding, pasturing through the history of mankind have had to suffer the veil, because the forces that rule this world are dark and murderous? Where does the veil come from? Does the veil come from light? Is it a protection? Or is it possible the veil comes from the ever violent forces of mimetic violence?

    And again, perceiving radically, what if the veil HAS been a protection? Isolated within the veil, the woman/the church/all [male and female] who value nurturing characteristics, do not involve themselves in mimetic rivalries. She/he is lonely there, but she/he is not violent. Perhaps loneliness is the price to be paid by a person who wants to live peacefully in a violent world.

    Well, these are just a few possibilities of reading the symbol radically. Maybe such readings are of little value to others. And of course you will have readings of your own.

    Robert has included another idea in comment 15: “(2) One example-possibility for thinking about the veil is as a symbol of woman in her majesty. Many goddesses in ancient myths wore veils in a roughy analogous way as kings wear crowns. Think also, for example, of the power to become invisible which in many cultures and myths is a considered a very powerful power. The veil, then, might represent the infinite possibilities of the hidden and creative future which the feminine/woman symbolizes (with the man/masculine standing more for the less-fecund present…).”

    Again, and I repeat: I am just stating possibilities, not ending conclusions. Maybe these thoughts benefit no one but myself (but myself, our individual selves, are important in their own right – we have a right to think our own thoughts, to pursue our own ideas as brought to us by symbol). Maybe others here will take these thoughts and questions and build on them.

  24. Cherylem said

    #16 Joe

    You write:
    “I would ask: which is better, to be veiled or to be in full view? And why are we so quick to suggest that the latter is better? Might the very question betray patriarchal bias, rather than attempt to overthrow it? That is, might the question not be geared by sexist thinking? Might not the desire to be uncovered be sexist itself? Jacques Derrida (an unbelieving Algerian Jew who essentially reinvented philosophy) caused a watershed in philosophy by explicitly challenging the presumption and primacy of a “metaphysics of presence,” of a kind of celebration of what is unveiled, clear, and in full view. That is, he has suggested, that the very desire for clarity, for unveiledness, for presence may be cultural, constructed, etc. Taking a clue from him, might we suggest that the very desire for equality merely betrays our cultural biases?”

    These are great questions. Great ways of thinking about this.

  25. Cherylem said

    #17 Karen

    Thanks for writing.

    You say:

    “I love the temple. It makes me so sad to hear of those who struggle with aspects of it.”

    I respond:
    Don’t be too sad. The struggle through the wilderness of not understanding is what leads to ultimate light.

    You write:
    “Maybe I’m just odd in that it doesn’t seem weird or awkward – any of it – to me.”

    I respond:
    There is no oddness in experience, whatever it is. Be grateful for the joy you’ve been given.

    You write:
    But I want to just add my voice to those who have said that we need to let the ritual be interpreted and not stripped.

    I respond:
    I can see that I wrote badly (not an unusual circumstance for me). I never meant to strip the ritual. I was just writing another way to see symbol.

    Thanks for your other comments regarding sustaining, finding our work, etc. And I appreciated this:
    ” I honestly don’t think that the veils in the temple are at all demeaning to women. I love it. I love the symbolism in it, not the symbols that would be put on it by our society but the ones right there in the temple outside of our culture. The temple is certainly not American culture! It is ancient. And different than the way we think. And I myself think it is beautiful.”

  26. Cherylem said

    Here is my last comment in the long line of comments above. Thanks all for responding, and thank you Robert for beginning this discussion regarding symbol.

    To me, this is a great conversation. It touches on several blog topics, and as the blog matures and grows (thanks for those of you who started feastuponthewordblog!) our conversations become richer for the various discussions held here.

    I think the symbols in scripture (including symbols in the temple – by its nature, also scripture) provide further evidence of what Jim F is talking about as scripture as incarnation, scripture as enactment. That is, symbols defy exact meaning. As the individual person interacts with the scripture, the scripture begins to mean something to that person, but may mean something differently to the person sitting to the right and to the left. Because the scripture is experienced in different ways by different people does not mean that any of the meanings are wrong, or even right, but it does mean that the individuals concerned are trying to engage the scripture to understand their own lives, to bring meaning into their lives, and to understand their relationship with God. The process of engagement is vital, and in the end it is the Spirit that will teach to our own individual understandings.

    Nevertheless, over time the “meanings” of symbols become codified, become part of our foundational stories, and the way we tell them and retell them begins to impact how we think about ourselves. Over time, the symbols become less important than what we think we “know” about them, and interpretations become orthodox, boxed in. So sometimes my comments don’t reflect my final [to date] thoughts on the subject at hand, but merely represent a challenge to see the whole symbol differently, to hear and see a story with different ears, different eyes.

    I especially find the conversation about the veil and other symbols to be refreshing – nurturing, if you will. Good pasture. Certainly my view and experience of the symbol(s) are being expanded by what people have said/are saying here. Thanks again.

  27. shelleyj said

    Robert #15: “(5) I’ve wondered whether it’s significant that the veil only covers the woman’s face a few times in the temple—that is, I’ve wondered whether it is significant that the veil is not worn, for example, when entering the Celestial Room—others’ thoughts on this?”

    Searching #13: “I have difficulty going to the temple because it breaks my heart when it is time to approach HF in prayer and I am told to hide myself while my husband stands in full view.”

    Doesn’t this presuppose that God is on the outer side of the woman’s veil and standing before the man? Where does this supposition come from? God is usually veiled. I wonder if the veil I wear in the temple, considering the context in which I do, is in part a symbol of our (gender inclusive) ability to move through the Veil (i.e., God’s veil) to go where He is, both spiritually (e.g., through prayer) and temporally (through the ordinances of the temple).

  28. Searching for peace said

    Thanks for all your thoughts. Joe wrote “In short, I take this word from Joseph to suggest that we need to be especially careful, more willing to rethink than to reject.”
    Being obedient is a natural response for me, through teen age years, on my mission, I have always felt a need to obey whatever I felt the Lord wanted. So I have tried to rethink,many times, rather than reject on this. But when I have opened my eyes there and seen the women looking like they are wearing burkas, I obey with a heavy heart. I know intellectually that HF loves his daughters as much as his son, but it is hard to feel it emotionally in some instances.
    And I could be totally wrong on this, but when I stand there and wonder what the men are thinking seeing the women covered like that, if I were a man, I would think that it would reinforce a feeling of strength and superiority, that I don’t need to cover myself up. It makes me feel ashamed that the men may be looking down on me. Totally self-imposed feeling, I know, but there it is.

  29. Cherylem said

    #28 Searching

    you wrote:
    “It makes me feel ashamed that the men may be looking down on me. Totally self-imposed feeling, I know, but there it is.”

    Yes, there it is. And probably this is not a “self-imposed” feeling either. It is what it is. There is no shame or oddness in experience; there are many reasons why you and other women feel this way.

    The symbol is a two-edged sword. And the conversation continues . . .

  30. brianj said

    #28 Searching, wrote, “when I stand there and wonder what the men are thinking seeing the women covered like that, if I were a man, I would think that it would reinforce a feeling of strength and superiority, that I don’t need to cover myself up.”

    I don’t think much about it anymore, but during the first few years that I was going to the temple, I thought the veiling of the women was so the men would not be distracted—incorrigible carnal sinners that we are. I don’t mention this because I still think that is the meaning, but because I think this illustrates how two people (Searching and I) can have totally different “takes” on the same symbol. And who knows, Searching, if you and I weren’t on some occasion together in the same session: you, thinking the veil was a comment on your unworthiness as a woman, and me, thinking it was a comment on my unworthiness as a man!

  31. m&m said

    There is some precedence for my point of view in the history of the revelation giving the priesthood to all worthy males, for instance

    Of course there is precedence, but my point was that we don’t know that 1) they have never asked about this subject or that 2) they don’t know. The Lord will not be rushed in when He will allow things to happen. The blacks and the priesthood issue, for example, was one that concerned leaders before Pres. Kimball. I doubt they had just started praying at the time it was received. I am confident it was something that weighed on leaders’ minds. For whatever reason, the timing wasn’t right. AGain, I think before assuming we haven’t more revelation because our leaders aren’t asking enough, we ought to consider that the members aren’t receiving enough.

    That said, I also don’t see the same kind of severity with questions about Heavenly Mother vs. something like blacks and the priesthood. The former falls under knowledge and understanding, the latter affected an entire group of people and their ability to receive the full blessings of gospel ordinanaces in this life. There is a difference in my mind, so I’m not sure that we should necessarily draw parallels between blacks and the priesthood and whatever we might want to know more about. IMO.

    And, Cheryem, I really appreciate your clarifications about radical question-asking. I do think that before assigning too much negative as possibility, we might consider where things fall in the “progression” sense of the ceremony. I think unfit actions are symbolically eliminated a great deal in the earlier parts of the ceremony, so I would hesistate to read a negative interpretation at that stage of the “progress.” I think rather the progressive nature of the endowment would suggest that what we see at that stage is indeed something positive and wonderful, in preparation for the symbolic glory that is near. Just a thought…. (In other words, the symbol may be a two-edged sword to our mortal brains but I’m not sure it is supposed to be so.)

  32. Cheryl,

    Let me castigate you by saying just this: Speak your whole mind from the get-go! Your reading of the veil is so rich, so full of possibilities. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your short words gave a very different impression of your feelings and thoughts. The more I mingle with you here, the more tempted I am to spend a couple of years buried in Girard…

    Searching for Peace and all,

    How many of those in this conversation are familiar with Derrida’s critique of presence? My guess is that very few are familiar with it at all, and I really think it would be a helpful place to begin interpreting the veil. It opens, I think, the possibility of thinking the veil positively, while I think Cheryl’s laid out the stakes for thinking it negatively. Putting the two side by side would be fascinating. If any are interested, I’ll see if I can articulate the critique of presence briefly and yet deeply enough here to further our conversation and to open possibilities of thinking the veil in way that those “Searching for Peace” might see one (other) way to find it. Any takers, then?

  33. m&m said

    And I could be totally wrong on this, but when I stand there and wonder what the men are thinking seeing the women covered like that, if I were a man, I would think that it would reinforce a feeling of strength and superiority, that I don’t need to cover myself up.

    I don’t know if this matters, but I have never had that thought cross my mind and I haven’t talked to a man who does. Any man worth his salt wouldn’t think that, IMO. :) If he does, I think he fails the principles of priesthood and patriarchy and all that manhood as I understand it should mean to God-fearing gospel men.

    So sometimes my comments don’t reflect my final [to date] thoughts on the subject at hand, but merely represent a challenge to see the whole symbol differently, to hear and see a story with different ears, different eyes.

    btw, Cherylem, I really appreciated this explanation. This whole conversation has opened up new ideas for me to consider. Love that.

  34. m&m said

    Hey, just read Elder Holland’s talk from this last conference. Read his description of women. He includes something about the veil that I think could be interesting to consider in this discussion. Maybe?

  35. Robert C. said

    Cheryl #23, I’m trying to catch up with this thread, but don’t have time now—just wanted to say I really appreciate your thoughts here which you describe as radical. I think indeed that we need to think of the many-meanings of the veil, rather than the meaning. The Toscanos make a good point in their book about the serpent being a symbol which stands for both Satan (in the Garden) and the Savior (on Moses’ staff in the wilderness which is raised up). Along the same lines, I think we can (and should) think of the “positive” as well as “negative” connotations of the veil (scare quotes because I think Joe and others make good points about the need to rethink what is positive and what is negative…).

  36. Robert C. said

    Cheryl #18, thank you for this commment correcting me regarding egalitarianism being the focus of many feminists, rather than “downplaying difference” as I wrote—I think I indeed had egalitarianism in mind, though I’m not sure that completely captures what I had in mind. I’ll need to go back and do some reviewing of old readings, but more importantly, do more reading on all of this. Any recommendations or requests (from Cheryl or anyone) on where particular articles or books to begin with? I’m inclined to look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to begin with because it’s conveniently available online for everyone to refer to and it usually seems to have pretty good articles. I would prefer, however, to find some more religiously- or theologically-inclined (introductory/overview) references….

    Cheryl #26, I esp. like the way you describe the interaction between symbols, meaning and community, and (more implicitly) the danger of allowing meaning to become “codified” and “boxed in” rather than . . . well, fresh and alive, I suppose. Good pasture indeed—well put.

    Shelly #27 wrote, “God is usually veiled. I wonder if the veil I wear in the temple, considering the context in which I do, is in part a symbol of our (gender inclusive) ability to move through the Veil (i.e., God’s veil) to go where He is, both spiritually (e.g., through prayer) and temporally (through the ordinances of the temple).”

    Shelly, I think this is a profound comment, thank you! I’m going to be chewing on this thought for a while. I think you’ve put your finger on a connection I couldn’t quite see before, on thinking about why we don’t know more about Heavenly Mother, and related to this idea of Hiddenness as a symbol of power and potential….

    m&m #31, I think you’re right that it’s a gross over-simplification to think that one day the Brethren simply started asking whether blacks could hold the Priesthood and, voila, God said yes (to over-simplify the over-simplification…). Also, I really like your point about the “progression” sense of the ceremony and the timing of the veiling that occurs. Indeed, it seems that the veil in context is a symbol of profoud worthiness somehow, not unworthiness….

    Joe #32, regarding Derrida: yes please, I would very much welcome help in understanding Derrida. High on my summer reading list is Caputo’s The Prayers and Tears of Jacque Derrida. (Obviously I think we should keep discussion on this blog less technical and more directly related to how we read scripture and symbolism and leave the rest for the lds-herm listserv—encouraging new subscribers along the way!)

    m&m 34, thanks for the reference to that talk. I’ve been meaning to go back and study several of Elder Holland’s talks, and this is a good reminder for me to get around to doing that. From a quick skim, I’m already quite struck at the nuanced way in which it seems he talks about difference in man’s and woman’s way-of-speaking—and yet he is emphatic that “the sin of verbal abuse knows no gender.” Much more to think about here.

  37. Robert C. said

    (Joe and Cheryl, I am quite tempted to take up this SEP article on “Continental Feminism” in a future post or series of posts in order to think more about feminist, Derrida-inspired hermeneutics. Section 1 of that article offers a very good and rather concise intro to Derrida’s ideas on presence. Later, esp. in the “Continental of Liberalism” section of the article, problems of feminism that focus on affirming women’s rights and positions within inherently masculine institutions are take up—this is closely related to what I poorly tried to describe above as feminism that “downplay[s] differences between what is feminine and masculine” [see my comment #5]. I think second-wave feminism is probably too vague of a term to be very helpful, but my general and probably ignorant sense of this flavor of feminism is what I had in mind, something which is probably outdated mostly already, as perhaps the very movement/term third-wave feminism attests….)

  38. This looks very helpful as a good introduction to continental feminist thought. I’d like to go through this and write up some responses here. Also, I came across a book worth taking up entirely in connection with this (or in that bookgroup we’ve talked about doing): Veils by Helene Cixous and Jacques Derrida (one article each, the one by Derrida being one I already have in another book, but worth considering in this context). Hmmm….

  39. idahospud said

    I have loved this discussion. Cheryl and all, I hope you continue to follow the various trains of thought you’ve presented and let us all in on it. It has strengthened me immeasurably.

    A perspective on the veil that is positive was presented by Julie Smith about 18 months ago. I have long since printed it for frequent perusal. The link is here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2881#more-2881

  40. Robert C. said

    idahospud, thanks for that link. I’d written a summary of her post with a link on the wiki, but I had totally forgotten about it—so thanks again! In the back of my mind I’ve been preparing for passages like this by Paul that we’ll get to in our New Testament Sunday school schedule….

  41. m&m said

    idahospud,
    Thank you for sharing that link! Julie had mentioned her thoughts on veils a while back and I have wanted to follow up with her to find out more. Thank you for doing my work for me! ;)

  42. Searching for peace said

    Julie’s article made some wonderful points. Gave me alot to think about. But one point that troubles me is when she says “When the woman chooses to veil, she is choosing to exercise power or control over her head–physical and metaphorical. In the context of praying or prophesying, a veiled woman is one in a direct relationship with God–man is no longer her head.”

    This seems to make the point that when she is not veiled, man is her head, which only serves to reinforce the view that hierarchy is taught in the temple.

  43. m&m said

    Searching for peace,

    I actually am not sure I agree with everything she said. FWIW. I also think we need to be careful about imposing worldly definitions of what things like hierarchy might mean or imply or entail. All that God has and does is for our eternal life and exaltation. Those are good things. So rather than think hierarchy as we might see it in the church is bad, I like to try to understand what purpose it may serve toward our goal of exaltation.

  44. shelleyj said

    Two things:
    1. I hesitate whenever I speak of the temple, because I don’t want to speak lightly of sacred things or speak of sacred things in an improper setting. With that in mind: there seem to be covenants/relationships that are specific to Adam & Eve, based on the decisions they made as individuals, that may not apply to the rest of us.

    Man, I wish we could all go to the temple together to discuss this!

    2. As I’ve pondered this idea of the veil and the comments made here over the past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I felt when I went to India two years ago. I’m a white, blonde, green-eyed, American, and I found myself envying the women in burkas who could go about their business without being thronged by people who wanted them to ride this! buy this! see this! This was in part because I don’t like being the center of attention in general(positive, negative, or neutral), but also because I felt like I was being judged solely by my outward appearance. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this is unique to Indian culture. Rather, I think it brought into focus the extent to which (I believe) women in general are judged more on how they look than who they are.

    I don’t know what the veil “means.” We’ve certainly elucidated a number of possibilities. But one of the powers of symbols is their adaptability: they can have multiple meanings in themselves, and beyond what finite meanings they may hold, they can be a springboard for the Lord to teach us individual lessons. As I think of the veil, and ask what the Lord may be trying to use the veil to teach me at this time in my life, I find it both extremely reassuring and extremely humbling to know that when I approach my Father in Heaven, He isn’t looking at me (my graying hair, my crow’s feet, my cellulite, or even my fabulous smile) but at ME (my heart, my mind, my faith, and yes, my sins).

  45. Cherylem said

    Robert,
    I have just read a soon to be published paper entitled A FEMININE GOSPEL? JUNGIAN AND FREUDIAN PERSPECTIVES ON GENDER IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN by Kari Syreeni, which leans on John Sanford, MYSTICAL CHRISTIANITY: A PSYCHOLOGICAL COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN (1993). I probably now understand a little more about what prompted you to begin this post.

  46. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for these additional references. I hope you’ll share some of the insights you learned from the article as time permits….

  47. Cherylem said

    Regarding the veil, while preparing my lesson for tomorrow (we are on #17, and I will post my notes in a few minutes), I came across some stuff on the veil which is very moving to me.

    Regarding the parable involving the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24, Kenneth Bailey, whom I’ve leaned on before in my approach to Lucan parables, says that understanding this parable requires an understanding of Old Testament and Intratestamental texts. That is, Isaiah 25 talks about universal feast – everyone is invited. But the writings between Isaiah and the time of Jesus reversed this universality. Bailey says that the Lucan parable is a correction, among other things, once again affirming the universality of the invitation to the banquet (all – not just Jews, will be invited to partake). Then he gives his own translation of Isaiah 25, which I will quote here. Please note the references to the veil:

    v. 6: And He will make, Yahweh of Hosts,
    for all the peoples on this mountain
    a fat banquet, a wine banquet,
    a banquet of juicy marrow, of good wine

    v. 7: And He will swallow on his mountain
    the face of the covering
    the covering over all the peoples,
    and the veil spread over all the nations

    v. 8: He will swallow up death forever.
    And the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears
    From off all faces
    And the reproach of His people
    He will take away from upon all the earth,
    For Yahweh has spoken.

    v. 9: It will be said on that day,
    “Lo, this our God;
    we have waited for Him
    that he might save us.

    This is Yahweh;
    We have waited for Him
    Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

    So . . . at the great banquet God will swallow the veil that has been on the nations.

    Combine this with Rev. 19:7-9:
    7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
    8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
    9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

    and add this reference:
    D&C 58: 11 And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come.

    It seems to me that this symbolism is most profound. The bride, arrayed in her fine linen, clean and white (and still wearing the veil) is ready for the bridgegroom. The feast is prepared. There, at the feast, the veil will be destroyed forever.

    Who is the bride, what is the garment? The bride represents all of God’s people, and her garments represent their righteousness.

    This understanding is transformational to me.

  48. brianj said

    Cheryl: that is very interesting. You make me sad that I already taught this lesson. (Just a side note—when you said it was “his own translation,” I worried that his was radically different from others, but after checking I saw that it is not.)

  49. cherylem said

    Brianj #48

    You probably know this already, but most Biblical scholars will use their own translations – they work from original documents and translate as they go. Sometimes their translations can yield great insights.

  50. Robert C. said

    Cheryl #47, I hope you’ll elaborate sometime on your transformed understanding of the veil. I find this approach helpful in thinking about the symbolism of the veil of the temple that everyone in the endowment passes through, but if you have thoughts on how this relates to the woman’s veil in the temple, I’m all ears!

  51. cherylem said

    Robert,
    It is this. In Isaiah 25 we read that God will swallow up the veil covering all nations at the great feast to which all are invited, an event for which all have waited. In Rev. 19 we read that at the marriage feast the bride has prepared herself, dressed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.

    In our temples, the bride has prepared herself, dressed in “fine linen, clean and white,” and she also wears a veil. That is, the bride is the embodiment of the church (we’ve already talked about this); she wears clothing which carries with it the weight of the righteousness of all the saints. She is the embodiment of all nations who have waited for this day, but who are still veiled (as in Isaiah 25). It is at the great feast (the table fellowship that equals salvation, the presence of God) that God destroys the veil, swallows it up. It is at the bridal feast that all are blessed who have been invited there.

    So, when studying this, the symbolism seemed very real to me – a tangible thing. Part of the temple drama is the acting out of the nations of the world coming to the mountain of the lord for the great feast (Isaiah 25), i.e., experiencing true and final salvation. Each woman . . . each couple, acting out this future event, person by person, couple by couple. The bride is ready. The veil is lifted/destroyed. Over and over again, until it becomes part of our collective consciousness.

    Maybe I am wrong, and I never think a symbol can be defined absolutely, but it was a true spiritual moment to me. I was overcome; I felt absolutely unqualified to teach this material, but today, when teaching the parable of the great supper, I did my poor best.

  52. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for this elaboration, it’s a beautiful and powerful thought….

  53. cherylem said

    Robert C,
    Regarding the symbolism of the tree, Daniel Peterson wrote this about Nephi and his Asherah:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=13&chapid=94

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