Ways of Expressing Meaning

 

Appreciating that individuals and cultures express their beliefs and values through many different forms.

 

Stories of Faith

As Christians, Mormons read and draw inspiration from Biblical stories. These are supplemented with Book of Mormon stories about the ancient peoples of the North American continent. Many of these stories concern Lehi, who went to North America in the time of Jeremiah (600BC – 400AD) and founded a colony there. After his death, Lehi’s followers split into two groups, the Lamanites and the Nephites. There was a series of battles between the two groups around four hundred years after the time of Jesus and, according to the Book of Mormon, only Lamanites survived. In early LDS history, the Lamanites were identified as the ancestors of the Native Americans, who were seen as descendants of the Biblical twelve tribes of Israel and therefore had a special place in the Church, and missions made Native American tribes a special aim of their proselytizing. However, more contemporary interpretations argue that the followers of Lehi were not the only people in North America, and while some (or all) of the Native Americans could be descendants of Lehi, these could also be from other older inhabitants of the continent.

Symbols of Faith

Temple garments are given after a Church member receives the Temple endowment. It is underclothing worn day and night except when not practical, for example while swimming. It is ordinary white underwear, with no physical significance, although it is a modest under garment that covers the entire torso, upper arms, and the legs to below the knee. It has a spiritual significance. Mormons see it as spiritual armour and wear it as an outward symbol of their inner commitment to Jesus Christ. It is a physical, permanent reminder of the covenants they have made with the Lord. It also symbolises the modesty of dress and living that is considered appropriate for believers.

Zion is a central symbol in the LDS Church, referring to a group of followers, a place they live, but also a future place where equality and justice will reign. In the early Church history, Zion was identified with Independence, Missouri and then Nauvoo, Illinois and then the state of Utah. In founding the LDS colony in what became Utah, the Church saw itself as creating Zion. The establishment of Zion was a goal of the early Church which they believed would usher in the Second Coming of Christ and the millennium, or thousand year reign of Christ on Earth. However, in later years Zion became any group of believers in whatever geographical location they lived. Each stake is said to be ‘of Zion’ because they are for gathering and purifying a people of God.

Places of Worship

The most important place of worship for the LDS Church is the Temple. It is seen as the house of the Lord. Ordinances such as eternal marriage are held in the Temple. Only those who follow strict requirements of faithfulness are issued ‘Temple recommends’ after interviews with the ecclesiastical leaders of their ward and stake. They can then enter the Temple and receive the Temple ordinances, starting with washing and anointing. Those who have not achieved this level, and non-Mormons, are not allowed in the Temples. Members do not talk about some of the details of what goes on in Temples with non-Mormons, it is secret because it is sacred, so holy that it can be talked about only within the Temple. It is necessary to dress modestly to enter the Temple. Churches are smaller places of worship that anyone can go to. They are used for ordinary Sunday worship, and are open to all Mormons and any visitors who wish to go. They also usually include a recreation room, kitchen, classrooms, and more.

Prayer and Meditation

Prayer is to God and no one else. It consists of a sincere heartfelt talk with Heavenly Father. It is seen as a way of knowing God and moving closer to him, and in the process becoming more like God. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus states that “Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19). There tend to be four formulaic phrases that structure prayer: “Our Father in heaven…”, “We thank thee…”, “We ask thee…”, “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen”. They use respectful language to address God; in English, Thee or Thou.

God hears and answers prayers, but the power of prayer depends on the individual believer. Individuals often pray morning and night. Families may come together morning and evening to pray together about, for example, everyday activities, resisting temptation or for the welfare of persons in need. All members may take turns leading prayer, asking a blessing on food prior to eating, for example. After finishing a heartfelt private prayer, Mormons try to listen for God’s response. Anyone can offer a prayer at Church meetings. They tend to be simple and brief. There are few formal prayers, those they do have are used in Temple ordinances; there is also a baptismal prayer, and two sacrament prayers.

Pilgrimage

There is no formal or institutional pilgrimage required in the LDS Church, not even to Salt Lake City, where the Church is headquartered. God can be found anywhere, so they do not need to go on a specific journey to a specific place to find him. However, in Utah the Church has built memorials to the early pioneer history that members visit if they wish to, and individuals may view such visits in terms of their personal relationship with God. One such monument was built in 1947 in Emigration Canyon in the hills above Salt Lake City. It is a 60-ft stone pylon with statues of Brigham Young, Woodruff Wilson, and Heber C. Kimball, all early prophets of the Church. It marks the place where Young declared they would build their Zion and gather the faithful. Echoing Young’s famous declaration, it is called “This is the Place”. Mormons liken it to their Plymouth Rock, the place where the Puritan pilgrims first landed on the North American continent.

Other places of significance for Mormons to visit include early Church history sites where Joseph Smith and early Church members lived, worshipped and suffered, including major memorials in upstate New York, Illinois and Missouri.

Expression and Worship

The singing of hymns is an important form of religious expression and worship in the LDS Church. Mormons sing many traditional Christian hymns, but also have a strong repository of their own hymns. Many of these focus on the Saviour, while others explore the truths of their faith, for example “An Angel on High” tells the story of the angel Moroni’s message as received by Joseph Smith:

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
‘Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.’
Sealed by Moroni’s hand,
It has for ages lain
To wait the Lord’s command,
From dust to speak again.
It shall again to light come forth
To usher in Christ’s reign on earth.
Parley P. Pratt

The concept of eternal identity finds expression in the simple children’s hymn, “I Am a Child of God” and the notion of the eternal family is venerated in another children’s hymn, “Families Can Be Together Forever”:

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them
Through all eternity.
Fam’lies can be together forever
Through Heav’nly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
While I am in my early years, I’ll prepare most carefully,
So I can marry in God’s temple for eternity.
Ruth M. Gardner (© 1980 LDS)

Worship is an important concept for Mormons that goes beyond songs and services. Everyday life is an opportunity for worship of the Lord. It is not something restricted to ritual occasions: it is a way to show respect for and commitment of oneself to the Lord. In Doctrine and Covenants (133:39-40) it states that true disciples “worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters—calling upon the name of the Lord day and night.” Worship can be enacted through the way one does one’s job, the relationships one has with family and community, and the service given to the Church, all are opportunities for showing faithfulness and respect to God and love for his children who comprise humanity.

Art, Music, and Architecture

The LDS Church lacks a distinctive style of art and music. As noted, hymns are important for expressing Mormon stories and themes. Art by LDS members expresses Christian themes as well as distinctively Mormon ones, such as the visions of Joseph Smith or scenes from the early pioneer days in Utah. Mormon literature and cinema is developing, drawing in wider Mormon themes. The Church makes or funds a number of films that are used in seminaries (for adolescents) and institutes of religion (for university age students) to teach Church history, doctrine and general kindness. However, the personal nature of the spiritual quest of following God’s plan is reflected in the diversity of Mormon artistic production. It is unified by representation of distinctive themes and ideas from Mormon history and theology rather than by a particular style or aesthetic.

Perhaps the most famous LDS artistic production is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a massed-voice chorus of over 300 members, who are all volunteers receiving no remuneration for their participation. The Choir performs regularly in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and at all the general conferences of the Church. It dates to the mid-19th century and its participation in the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 arguably marked the entering of the LDS Church into the American mainstream. It is now an established part of presidential inauguration ceremonies, having made appearances at six different inaugurations dating back to 1965.

A popular, recent Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon was not created by Mormons, but by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the animated TV series South Park, along with lyricist and composer, Robert Lopez. It is considered offensive by most Church members, but the Church has utilised the popularity of the play to market its faith, for example by advertising the Church’s services in the playbill with the headline, “you’ve seen the play, now read the book”. This is but one example of how the Church tries to work with the outside world and use engagement as an opportunity for teaching about the Mormon faith.

The style of architecture of Temples and churches reflects the local regulations and the customs of the country the buildings are in. There is not a set of religious ideas guiding the architecture. One of the articles of faith is to follow secular laws, and this includes not only building codes but also the general style of the wider community’s architecture. This means that LDS Temples and churches have eclectic architecture around the world, and often do not stand out in a distinctive way. Exceptions are the large Temples in Utah and the Western United States. Many of these are built in crenellated Gothic or Renaissance style, with tall thin spires. The Salt Lake Temple is the most recognisable of all the Mormon Temples, and is an international symbol of the Church.