A Sense of the Sacred


D. Todd Christofferson
From a Church Educational System satellite broadcast address given on November 7, 2004.
We dress formally at church and other sacred occasions not because we are important, but because the occasion is important.

A while back a young woman from another state in the United States came to live with some of her relatives for a few weeks. On her first Sunday she came to church dressed in a simple, nice blouse and knee-length skirt set off with a light, button-up sweater. She wore hose and dress shoes, and her hair was combed simply but with care. Her overall appearance created an impression of youthful grace.

Unfortunately, she immediately felt out of place. It seemed like all the other young women her age or near her age were dressed in casual skirts, some rather distant from the knee; tight T-shirt–like tops that barely met the top of their skirts at the waist; no socks or stockings; and clunky sneakers or flip-flops.

One would have hoped that seeing the new girl, the other girls would have realized how inappropriate their manner of dress was for a chapel and for the Sabbath day and immediately changed for the better. Sad to say, however, they did not, and it was the visitor who, in order to fit in, adopted the fashion of her host ward.

This example illustrates one of my concerns. Speaking of society in general, I am afraid that many of my generation have not taught your generation to have a feeling for sacred things. In this article I hope to help you refine your ability to recognize what is sacred and to respond with reverence for all that is holy. Of the many sacred things for which we should show reverence—the scriptures, prophets, one’s body, Deity—I will focus on respect for sacred places and events.

Much of what I want to convey cannot really be passed from one person to another. It must grow from within. But if I can help you think about some things, the Spirit may work in you so you will not need anyone to tell you what is sacred or how to respond—you will feel it for yourself. It will be part of your nature; indeed, much of it already is.

Sunday Best

Our temples and meetinghouses are dedicated to the Lord as sacred space. On each temple is found the words Holiness to the Lord—the House of the Lord. A sense of the sacred should lead us to act and speak with reverence in and around these buildings. It would lead us to dress a certain way when we are there.

As immodest dress dishonors the body—God’s most sacred creation—immodest, casual, or sloppy dress and grooming at sacred times and places mocks the sacredness of the Lord’s house and what is taking place.

Years ago my ward in Tennessee used a high school for Church services on Sundays while our chapel, which had been damaged by a tornado, was being repaired. A congregation of another faith used the same high school for their worship services while their new chapel was being constructed.

I was shocked to see what the people of this other congregation wore to church. There was not a suit or tie among the men. They appeared to have come from or to be on their way to the golf course. It was hard to spot a woman wearing a dress or anything other than very casual pants or even shorts. Had I not known that they were coming to the school for church meetings, I would have assumed that there was some kind of sporting event taking place.

The dress of our ward members compared very favorably to this example, but I am beginning to think that we are no longer quite so different as more and more we seem to slide toward that lower standard. We used to use the phrase “Sunday best.” People understood that to mean the nicest clothes they had. The specific clothing would vary according to different cultures and economic circumstances, but it would be their best.

It offends God when we come into His house, especially on His holy day, not groomed and dressed in the most careful and modest manner that our circumstances permit. Where a member from the hills of Peru must cross a river to get to church, the Lord surely will not be offended by the stain of muddy water on his white shirt. But how can God not be pained at the sight of one who, with all the clothes he needs and more and with easy access to the chapel, nevertheless appears in church in rumpled cargo pants and a T-shirt?

It has been my experience as I travel around the world that members of the Church with the least means somehow find a way to arrive at Sabbath meetings neatly dressed in clean, nice clothes, the best they have, while those who have more than enough are the ones who may appear in casual, even sloppy clothing.

Does Dress Matter?

Some say dress and hair don’t matter—they say it’s what’s inside that counts. I believe that it is what’s inside a person that truly counts, but that’s what worries me. Casual dress at holy places and events is a message about what is inside a person. It may be pride or rebellion or something else, but at a minimum it says, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand the difference between the sacred and the profane.”

In that condition people are easily drawn away from the Lord. They do not appreciate the value of what they have. I worry about them. Unless they can gain some understanding and capture some feeling for sacred things, they are at risk of eventually losing all that matters most. You are a Saint of the great latter-day dispensation—look the part.

These principles apply to activities and events that are sacred or that deserve reverence: baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, blessings of the sick, administration of the sacrament, and so forth. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that in the ordinances of the priesthood “the power of godliness is manifest” (D&C 84:20). I appreciate priests, teachers, and deacons who wear ties and dress shirts (white, if possible) to officiate in the administration of the sacrament. They are demonstrating an appreciation and respect for God and for the event.

Recently I read a note from a man who was urging his companions to wear a suit and tie when they appeared together at a public event honoring their organization. Their service was civic, not religious in nature, and we would not term it sacred, but he understood the principle that some things deserve respect and that our manner of dress is a part of that expression. He said he was going to dress more formally “not because I’m important, but because this occasion is so important.” His comment states an important truth. It is really not about us. Acting and dressing in a way to honor sacred events and places is about God.

Blessings of Reverence

When you develop a deepening reverence for sacred things, the Holy Spirit becomes your constant companion. You grow in understanding and truth. The scriptures speak of it as a light that grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). That process is described as progressing from grace to grace. The Savior Himself progressed in that way until He received a fulness, and you may follow in His footsteps (see D&C 93:12–20). That is where a sense of the sacred will lead you.

On the other hand, those who do not appreciate holy things will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct. They will drift from the moorings that their covenants with God could provide. Their feelings of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, they will care only about their own comfort and satisfying their uncontrolled appetites. Finally, they will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then they will despise themselves.

Treat Sacred Things with Care

Always remember, as holiness grows within and you are entrusted with greater knowledge and understanding, you must treat these things with care. The Lord said, “That which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit” (D&C 63:64). He also commanded that we must not cast pearls before swine or give that which is holy to dogs (see 3 Ne. 14:6; D&C 41:6), meaning sacred things should not be discussed with those who are not prepared to appreciate their value.

Be wise with what the Lord gives you. It is a trust. You would not, for example, share the content of your patriarchal blessing with just anyone.

All things sacred and holy are to be revealed and brought together in this last and most wonderful dispensation. With the Restoration of the gospel, the Church, and the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we hold an almost incomprehensible store of sacred things in our hands. We cannot neglect or let them slip away.

Rather than letting your life drift into carelessness, may it be one of increasing exactness in obedience. I hope you will think and feel and dress and act in ways that show reverence and respect for sacred things, sacred places, sacred occasions. It is my prayer that a sense of the sacred will distill upon your soul as the dews from heaven. May it draw you close to Jesus Christ, who died, who was resurrected, who lives, who is your Redeemer. May He make you holy as He is holy.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson, posed by models

[illustration] Detail from Christ with Boy, by Carl Heinrich Bloch