A few months ago, as we entered the grounds of the Washington DC Temple, I saw a curious sight. A beautiful young girl was walking toward the temple, carrying a huge piece of artwork. It wasn’t framed; it was rolled up into a large roll. I wondered what the picture was, but soon put it out of my mind.
Clark dropped me off at the front door, and as I was waiting inside for him, the girl came into the temple. This time I noticed something that was even more curious than the artwork she was carrying. She was barefoot. She wasn’t carrying any shoes with her; she just didn’t have any. Now I was intrigued, but she walked past the recommend desk long before Clark arrived. I thought she had walked out of my life.
To my surprise, she was sitting across from the dressing room when I got there, waiting for the temple recorder to talk to her about the artwork. I sat down next to her and said, “You must have a story to tell.”
“What story?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “you’re the first person I’ve ever seen walk into the temple with a piece of artwork, and you’re the first person I’ve ever seen walk into the temple barefoot. There has to be a story somewhere.”
She laughed. “They’re not connected,” she explained. She unrolled the artwork and showed me a lithograph of the Founding Fathers — a picture that was similar to a piece of artwork that was on the wall behind me. “I thought this would look nice hanging in the temple. Somebody is going to come out and talk to me about it in a minute.”
“What about your feet?” I asked.
She shrugged. “That’s easy. I didn’t know I was coming to the temple today, and the shoes I was wearing weren’t appropriate to wear to the temple. So I decided to come barefoot instead.”
At that moment we were interrupted by someone from the recorder’s office. She walked away with her artwork and I went in the dressing room to change clothes. I never saw her again. But I visualized her, walking barefoot across that huge parking lot. The ground was wet and probably cold from a recent rain. There were little rocks everywhere, and it must have been painful for her to walk over them, but she chose to endure the discomfort rather than to desecrate the temple with inappropriate shoes.
As I walked into the dressing room, I heard the words: “Take off thy shoes, for the place where thou standest is holy ground.”1 At that moment, the words came alive for me and I understood — perhaps for the first time — exactly what a privilege it is to be allowed to enter the temple.
With that understanding came questions:
• How worthy am I to be here?
• Have I made the proper preparations to come to the temple?
• Am I as clean as I can be from the inside out?
From a superficial standpoint, the first question was easy. I had a temple recommend. I was worthy to enter the temple. But had the anticipation of attending the temple influenced my actions throughout the week? That would take some thinking about.
The second question was much harder. Had I really thought about the temple that day, other than making sure I ate lunch and took a pre-temple nap and was outside waiting on time for Clark to pick me up? Was arriving on time despite the rain and the Washington D.C. traffic my biggest consideration?
I knew that once I got into the temple and changed into my temple clothing, I felt peaceful and happy. But before that, earthly considerations were what preoccupied me. I wondered which of my friends would be there, and what assignments I would be given, and if I would have the stamina to take the long walk from the entrance to the dressing room without having to sit down to rest. The privilege of being able to serve there had taken a back seat to earthly concerns.
If the second question was hardest to answer, the third was most embarrassing. Sure, I took a shower and washed my hair before going to the temple. Temple days are the only days I curl my hair, so at least I put some effort into it. But as I thought about my tattered slip and the hole in the toe of my white temple stockings, I realized that my attire was not sufficiently presentable to allow me to be in the presence of the Lord.
That night I paid extra attention to my surroundings in the temple. When I saw a thread on the carpet, I picked it up. I washed off the surface of the desk where I sat for part of the evening. I emptied my pockets and tried to make sure that wherever I went, I left the temple cleaner than I found it.
That weekend I took home the temple dress that had a hem that was coming out so I could repair it before wearing it again. I ordered new clothing to replace what was no longer serviceable, and I washed what was still temple-worthy. But I couldn’t get the barefoot temple patron out of my mind.
Other Holy Places
As I thought of the concept of standing in holy places, I realized there were other holy places around me. I wondered how the concept of standing on holy ground fit in to my Sunday worship. Although part of the question was whether I dressed and groomed appropriately to be in the chapel, there was more to it than that.
The most obvious connection is the sacrament. We take the sacrament every week,
No matter how often we take it, the sacrament is something we can’t afford to take for granted. Am I spending that time wisely, or am I too easily distracted by the whispers of other people in the room?
The importance of the sacrament was driven home to me a few years ago in another experience at the temple. Long ago, shortly after we were married, I went to a Salt Lake City department store to buy some stainless steel flatware. It was the beginning of the year, and there were some great sales that would allow me to buy the pieces that were still missing from our everyday utensils.
Clark and I had just made some major purchases from that department store a week before, and I didn’t think there would be any problem spending about a hundred dollars more to finish out our stainless steel service. But I had not reckoned on the salesgirl, who took one look at me in my blue jeans and announced that I couldn’t possibly afford the purchase I wanted to make. She was very insistent — and very rude — as she let me know that I was not worthy of what the store had to sell.