What kind of person are you? Is that question too general? OK, I’ll try to be a little more specific. How about…if you had the chance to see a life-sized ancient Israelite Temple on display in Orange County – would you go? Or would you be the kind of person that thinks, Ugh, that might be neat, but I am just too busy. Maybe I can see it on Instagram! Is that specific enough?
So, I am embarrassed to tell you that I fell into the second category, which may be surprising since I work for the John A. Widtsoe Foundation and the Los Angeles Institute of Religion at USC. But hear me out before you judge my, in retrospect, poor judgment. We were wrapping up the Bishop Caussé visit, and we were overwhelmed with the preparations for the Tabernacle installation. By the time that day arrived, well, frankly, I just wanted a day off!
But, given my job, I had to be there. And, though the project was daunting – put a 178-foot structure in a 50-foot space – it was one of the most impressive, and immersive experiences I have ever had. And I find as I write this, that its impact on me is going to be long-lasting.
First, when I entered the outer courtyard, the realism was astounding. I could almost hear the bleating of the animals, the prayers of the priests, and the hustle-and-bustle of the ancient Israelites. I was immediately transported from the modern-day college campus. It was epic!
Imagine the Ancient Israelites carting such a huge structure as they fled and wandered throughout the land for decades. Imagine that this was not the only cumbersome gear they carried for no other reason than that their faith and rituals demanded it. (They also carried, among other things, the Ark of the Covenant, which was only used once a year, and only seen by one person!) And they did it in bark sandals! Modern-day hikers spend hundreds on special shoes, and cut the handles off their toothbrushes to lighten their load! It made me truly thankful for the freedom of religion I enjoy today.
Jacob Rennaker, Widtsoe Scholar-in-Residence, whose doctoral dissertation included the Israelite Tabernacle, was there to conduct tours and answer questions, and I certainly availed myself of the opportunity to learn more about the life and rituals of the Ancients. It gave me so much insight into the history and tradition of our modern-day temple ordinances. Furthermore, Dr. Rennaker clarified many of the myths that surround the Old Testament. I enjoyed learning about the difference between “what some people believe,” and “what we know for sure,” instead of just speculating about what makes sense.
The whole experience gave me a sense of connection – a connection from my own religion and practices all the way back to those of the Ancients who came before. We all do what we can to follow God and his commandments. I felt enlightened and had a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices the Ancients made that ultimately resulted in my typing this article! And to think, if left to own devices, I might have just been doing my laundry that Saturday!
The display has moved on. But, if the opportunity ever arises for you to experience an ancient Israelite Tabernacle, or indeed any piece of our history here on this planet, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make it a priority. You may walk away, like I did, with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gospel, and Heavenly Father.