What Makes a Holy Land?

My grandfather was killed in a hit and run accident in 1978.

His mother and sister struggled with life after that. They decided to go on a trip across the United States together to get away from things for a while.

I discovered this trip when I was going through photo albums and suddenly saw a place I recognized.


Temple Square.

They went to many places during that trip. But there was something truly special to me that, in one of the worst seasons of their lives, they ended up at the temple.

I served part of my mission at Temple Square. I was waiting for a visa to Brazil that I began to think was never coming. I had a truly horrendous time in the MTC babysitting a district of Elders who spent weeks on end bullying me and tearing down my self-esteem. I was told directly by someone, I forget who now, that I was being sent there to recover. And when I realized that the mission had no young Elders in it at all, that it was only Sisters and senior couples, I came to appreciate what that meant.

I had so many wild interactions there with so many people. Some of them were strange, like the guy who viewed the Book of Mormon as proof of alien interactions with humans. There were moments of heartbreak, like the woman who was in tears at the Christus statue who attacked us when we checked in on her. There were moments of pure delight, like when an LDS family with two young daughters came to that same Christus statue. The oldest girl, no older than 4 or 5, squealed "JESUS" and ran to the Savior's feet, little sister in tow. Whenever I hear someone mention the teaching to become as a little child, she is exactly who I think of.

There were also moments that were meant solely for me, like when I met the first Sister to ever be called to the Boston mission I had hoped to go to to wait for my visa. Boston has a large Brazilian population, many of whom are members of the Church. I had begged in prayer to be sent there and was told by other people it wouldn't happen because "Sisters don't go there." I had an entire conversation with the woman who was going to be that change. It seemed cruel to me at the time, dangling the carrot of something I wanted right in front of my face. In time, I've realized it was so I would remember that God does miracles and is aware of the desires of my heart, even if it means I don't get what I want. Someone needed to exercise enough faith to push that door open for women. I put my full weight behind it, and I can be just as proud that it opened for someone else.

But some of my favorite people I met there were people who just made me laugh. I met a Jewish convert from New York who told us his conversion story, how what drew him in was the Plan of Salvation. He summarized it in a New York accent in a voice I can still hear in my mind: "So you're a god, eventually. But can you pay RENT?!"

One of my favorite people I met was a Scottish convert named Agnes who was doing the Mormon trail across the US, beginning in New England and ending in Utah. She was a much older woman and told us all about her pilgrimage, and how she had cuddled with the oxen at the baptismal font in the Manhattan New York Temple. (I've been there. You enter into the baptistry on face level with them, or did the last time I was there.) She shared her testimony with us, and I'll never forget what she said.

She explained that the story of Joseph Smith was really hard to get her mind around. It truly is an insane set of asks: angels, gold plates, polygamy, and all the rest. She talked about how she came to accept it—not through any kind of empirical evidence or proof, but through faith and what that looked like.

For her, it was the recognition that being LDS was the best way she had ever encountered to live an excellent life. She said that the worst case scenario she could imagine is one where God would say to her, "You know that whole business with Joseph Smith was a load of crock, right? But you lived such a good life, I have to let you in anyway."

That has always stayed with me. Agnes was one of many people who came to the Square looking for something. I saw people come there looking for faith, or a fight, and truly everything in between. And it's only now that I'm older and wiser that I see something clearly now that I couldn't see then.

Agnes didn't need to come to Temple Square to find faith. She already had a tremendous amount of faith. She, and many others, were looking for conviction. I was at Temple Square long enough to learn you don't get that from a place. While a place like Temple Square can illuminate the possibilities for conviction through the lens of history, it doesn't bestow that conviction through contact or proximity alone. Conviction is made from the materials of your own life and your own choices. Your will, how firmly you place yourself into an immovable and unyielding position, is the measure of your convictions. It comes from within.

Faith is the decision to believe in what you cannot see, and what cannot be proven objectively. That never goes away. Nothing we experience in life, no place we ever visit, will create a shortcut under, over, or around that decision to believe, to trust in God. Faith, at its core, is a decision. The ability to continue making that decision over and over again, under all species of hardship and opposition, is conviction.

Where Jesus walked is nowhere near as important as how Jesus walked, and with whom. The same is true for all of us. Our walk with God might never take us anywhere near a temple because of where God has called us to go. But we are the holiest dwelling places of God on earth—not any of the buildings we've made.

Being a holy place of living faith wherever I am, whatever my circumstances may be, is what it means to be the temple of God. Worshiping God, no matter what places I can or cannot enter. There is more than one way to access a temple. One way is to enter a place that people invite God to dwell. The other is to become that place. There can be no separation from God where communion never ceases. It is the refuge that is unassailable by others for as long as the person wills it so. The torch within will not go out.

The temple is not special because it has some holy essence that springs forth out of nothing, to passively be absorbed by others. The temple is special because it directs people to Jesus Christ, who is the giver of healing and peace. The temple is just a building. It's Jesus Christ that is the true power behind it all, whose objective is to make you, me, and every person you know the holiest creature you've ever beheld. 

We are the end goal. We always have been. We always will be.

Every time I see these pictures, it makes me realize that God saw my entire life from the beginning. He has always had a plan for me, my life, and the lives of my family. He knew at the time these pictures were taken, when my mother was still a child, that I would end up at Temple Square myself some day.


And bring others in my mother's family with me.

More Posts from Me

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?" Because despite...