(This is an essay written by Caroline Brock. I am posting this with her permission, as she hopes it can help people who struggle with some of the teachings of the LDS church.)
In my mid 30’s, after all my kids had started grade school and I could string two coherent thoughts together, I began desiring a more spiritually grounded life. My husband had just become bishop, and I had been serving as an institute teacher at the local university. After some astonishing experiences I’d had in the temple, I began writing a book about how to get the most out of temple worship. As a part of this book, I experimented with how to use garments as a vehicle for greater everyday holiness. From praying and reciting covenants while dressing in garments, to not letting my garments touch the ground and washing them separately, I cultivated various ways I could harness the ritual of garment wearing in my efforts to become closer to God. I did this with the utmost faith and sincerity.
That is, until I was led to take them off.
At ﬁrst, the very thought of permanently taking off my garments was deeply frightening to me, akin to shedding my protective skin, my sense of eternal identify, and my spiritual maturity—all at once. In fact, taking off my garments was one of the more terrifying things I’ve ever done. My initial list of fears included the following:
- I would be exiled from God’s love and favor
- God would be offended and angry with me
- I would not be loved by my husband anymore
- I would be seen as a traitor, or someone going off the deep end
- God would think I was someone who couldn’t keep promises
- I would be going backwards spiritually
Nevertheless, despite my reservations, I felt my way forward because I found my desire to understand God’s truths was greater than my fear of making a mistake in the process.
Taking off my garments was something I did in stages. At ﬁrst I only took them off during the day and slept in them at night. I was worried what my husband, then serving as bishop, would think of my spiritual experiment. This went on for about a month. When I did take them off permanently, I was called to repentance. My stake president found out and summoned me to his ofﬁce. Rather than being fearful of the meeting, I found myself looking forward to sharing the results of my actions. Taking off my garments was, quite simply, one of the more humbling and instructive experiences of my life. The following are some of the main lessons I learned when I shed my artificial skin…
1. The church teaches people that garments are a “sign” that eternal covenants (laws) are being kept. The truth is—God needs no additional sign that I keep eternal laws. Eternal laws, by their very nature, operate on my soul in such a way that my soul’s condition IS the sign.
As a part of writing my book on the temple, I spent 18 months waking up at 4:30 am to study, pray about and fast regarding the nature of eternal laws. I began to recognize how important a correct understanding of eternal laws was in my progression towards wholeness, or holiness. Through this endeavor, God began to show me that physical laws are much like spiritual laws; they have cause and effect operations that function perfectly every time. They also operate regardless if we have covenanted to keep them or not. Even if we have no idea of their existence—we are all affected by them. For example, if a toddler swan dives off the top of the stairs, she is subject to the law of gravity in the same way as an adult. Ignorance is NOT bliss.
Spiritual laws operate like physical laws. When a spiritual law is kept, a person reaps the beneﬁts. Every time. If a spiritual law is broken, a penalty is exacted on the soul, which then has repercussions in the spirit body, physical body, and physical existence. What I began to recognize is that God doesn’t need a “sign” that I am keeping eternal laws. The condition of my soul is an instant indicator of my level of adherence to eternal laws. Like a parent who sees a goose egg on their child’s head after tumbling down the stairs, the results of keeping eternal laws are clearly manifested in the condition of our soul. No additional signs are needed.
2. Garments cannot hide my true condition from God. In fact, it is only through a desire to know my true condition that I am able to begin the process of becoming at-one with God.
Going back to the analogy of the parent looking at their child’s goose egg, covering our goose egg with a hat and declaring ourselves holy or “whole” only delays our journey back to God. We feel conﬁdent in our soul’s condition and see no reason to reach up, cultivate humility, and ask God to show us our own wounds and imperfections.
In my experience, we cannot have a relationship with God unless we come to Him WITHOUT our façade—this includes our spiritual façade.
Assuming progression or spiritual maturity through a religious ritual is a faulty assumption at best—detrimental to one’s growth. The level of love in our souls determines the location of our existence after we die—not garments or outward rituals. Our soul’s condition is improved by true repentance and seeking for God’s love to heal our wounded souls. Nothing else.
Wearing my own skin, rather than the skin of the priesthood, helps me see myself for who I really am—wounded, imperfect, yet beautiful and worthy of God’s love.
3. Garments are a form of spiritual elitism—they are man’s attempt at artiﬁcial elevation of our soul’s condition above others.
One morning, as I stood in my closet thinking about the terrifying possibility of taking off my garments, a voice came into my head.
It said this: “The plumber down the street who has never heard of garments has more love in his soul than you do.”
That took me aback.
How could this be? I was a temple married woman! A covenant keeper who read her scriptures by the hour, held elaborate family home evenings and didn’t allow her children to listen to the radio! There was no way that was possible!
Since then, I have recognized the truth of that statement.
Garments have nothing to do with the amount of love in our souls, which has everything to do with the condition of our souls. If, by putting on the garment, I felt I was more spiritually mature than others, then garments were actually keeping me from eternal progression. I was unintentionally putting myself above others, which was arrogant and untrue.
4. Covenanting to God to wear garments for life, then breaking that covenant when recognizing it was false, did not mean I was breaking my promises to God.
For many, the process of taking off garments is spiritually terrifying—tantamount to personally insulting God. I remember, 15 years back, when my friend told me she had taken off her garments. My response was this: “I would never take off my garments, even if I left the church. I would be too afraid of the repercussions, in case I was wrong.”
It is my feeling that the emotional underpinnings of the temple’s theoretical frameworks all stem from fear. “GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED” is heard at different times and in different forms as we sit in the endowment ceremony, humbly seeking God’s presence through the veil. This teaches the petitioner that to turn back, move forward, question, let go of, or graduate from the teachings or covenants in the temple is akin to slapping God in the face. It took me awhile to recognize this tactic as a form of ritual abuse and manipulation. I had to tease out the false from the true; the pure intent to get closer to God and become at-one with Him, from the false teaching that it had to be done through fear, sacriﬁce, and the learning of signs and tokens. The endowment ceremony links the fear of God’s judgements to the covenants we make in the ceremony—even if those covenants are uninformed, full of lower truths (duty and sacriﬁce), or downright abusive (the law of the Lord). For me, I found I had to let go of false covenants/lower truths in order to receive higher truths; both could not exist in my soul simultaneously.
I am an eternal being. I will continue to revise, reﬁne, readjust, reexamine, and realize greater and more expansive truths as my soul grows and matures. God expects that I will get things wrong, wade my way through false beliefs and emotional injuries, then, lift my eyes to the heavens and generate my will in the direction of more love and truth in an effort to be happier, healthier, and more whole. This process is the process of my soul’s growth. Mocking God has nothing to do with it. He is cheering me on.
5. Garments are modern-day hairshirts, keeping me from experiencing the beauty and joy of life in a physical body.
Throughout history, hairshirts (shirts made of hair or coarse material and twigs or wires) were worn by penitents, ascetics, and even royalty as a sign of repentance and atonement. It is my feeling that God needs no sign we have repented since the act of repentance changes the condition of our souls. These hairshirts made the wearers miserable and uncomfortable in their body, yet conﬁdent that their sacriﬁce would mean something in the next life. Sound familiar?
Garments were my badge of honor, of sorts. My modern day hairshirt. A declaration that I would sacriﬁce in order to be accepted, loved, and valued by God. This line of reasoning is false. Holding onto this false belief was actually keeping me from a better relationship with God. With my own free will I was putting conditions on my relationship with Him—conditions that were unloving and untrue. God does everything out of pure love and abundance—nothing is a sacriﬁce. God does not want me to sacriﬁce in order to be loved. He cannot support me in this belief. Sacriﬁce is an Old Testament concept promulgated and institutionalized in the temple.
Taking off my modern-day hairshirt helped me recognize that garments had put distance between myself and my earthly experience. Once I took them off, I began to feel more grounded to the earth—like a child skipping barefoot and unencumbered in the beautiful world my Heavenly Parents had created. I began to appreciate my physical body and embrace it as a gift they had given me in order to experience this physical realm fully—to feel, touch, taste, laugh, make love, sing, and dance in the sun.
Wearing garments for me meant wearing layers upon layers of clothes—garments, a bra, a tank top or shade shirt and an outer shirt. I was four layers from the feeling the air on my skin. Living in the deep and humid south meant that for a good six months out of the year I was literally “hot boxed” in my own body. Sweat made the material stick to my skin, and I walked around drenched and miserable all day. Avoiding the sticky, claustrophobic feeling became a priority for me. I wanted to escape things that made me feel the feelings in my body. To do this I had to numb out physically. I spent more time indoors. I altered my life to be outside in the early morning or late at night. I ceased feeling feminine. I ceased feeling comfortable in my skin. Looking back, I am surprised I spent almost half my life wearing garments and living in such a manner. It was neither loving to myself nor was it a joyful way to live.
I don’t believe God wants me to be physically uncomfortable as a sign that I am true and faithful to eternal laws. I feel God wants me to, ﬁrst and foremost, seek to understand the most important eternal laws, then live my life in harmony with them. It’s that simple. Garments have nothing to do with the equation.
6. Garments are a creation of those that have instituted the practice of wearing them. They are a man-made construct.
After I separated the idea of the Church from my feelings and relationship to God, I began to see just how controlling garments were. Knowing a little about the history of garments has helped me to recognize that the wearing of garments has not always been mandatory outside the temple, nor has it been worn for the same reasons. It is my deep feeling that God doesn’t want to control what type of underwear I wear. Curiously, the church does. Why? What is gained from an organization creating and mandating the wearing of special underwear as a prerequisite for exaltation in the kingdom of God? What are the underlying emotions driving the practice?
Moreover, why did my stake president feel he had the right to talk to a grown woman about what underwear she was wearing?
I believe it comes down to one emotion—again, it’s fear.
I feel that the genesis and perpetuation of the mandatory wearing of the garment comes from the following beliefs (among others):
- Fear that eternal truths and God’s laws are not enough to inform and elevate people’s souls.
- Fear that the church needs to pervade every aspect of a person’s life in order for the person to remain “true” to it.
- Fear of losing control of the hearts and minds of members.
- Fear that unless one joins a “chosen” group (House of Israel and Priesthood) with an attached special priesthood garment, they will not be chosen (loved and accepted) by God.
- Fear that “God’s truths” taught in Mormonism are not enough—additional programs, rituals, ceremonies, awards, standards, outward signs, callings, and correlated lessons are needed.
It is my sincere belief that God’s truths are simple and do not need revision or ampliﬁcation. In fact, this was one of the main messages of Christ who came to show the Jews that the 613 commandments they had created were superﬂuous and were inoculating them from God’s real truths, which were all about the heart. Garments seek to “add to” an eternal system that God has already created. God’s plan to is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all men and women—not through man-made rituals, long underwear and handshakes, but through living in harmony with love and truth, cultivating humility, practicing deep repentance, and a having a sincere longing for God’s love.
It feels good to take a deep breath in the skin God has created for me. Nothing extra is needed.
I am free.