Sailing to Manti

This image: © Val Brinkerhoff

Ten days ago I was here.

If you’re driving south from Utah Valley at midnight heading into the town of Manti, watch for the gleaming white airborne castle straight ahead.  You might blink your eyes then dim your headlights, thinking they’ve caused some sort of halo effect.

They didn’t.

The castle is actually a temple, and the next morning you’ll see it’s not really descending from the skies, but sits atop a knoll. That hill overlooks Sanpete County, an area known for its scrub oak and sagebrush-stubble-covered rolling pastures fenced in barbed wire and split rail, a parched place 150 years ago, turned by Scandinavian pioneers into a farming and grazing paradise.

This is where for over four decades, my grandfather drove down from the north in his hulking red cattle truck to buy and trade livestock. Those deals he sealed with a calloused but firm handshake.  Lots of folks here still remember him by name for that big truck and faithful grip. I think of this while looking out over hundreds of heads of black cattle speckling the landscape.  The scene looks like someone’s strewn a big sack of lump coal across endless lengths of burlap.  I smell manure.  This is earth unadorned, and I breathe easy.

At her request, we’ve brought our daughter expressly to this temple this day.  It’s where Randall and I chose to be married because it’s a gorgeous and pristine temple and, well, there’s just something about the smell of manure.  Besides that, our ancestors had helped build it and even planted the very trees that still flank its entry lanes.

(While living in rattlesnake-infested dugouts, by the way, a drama that deserves its own book.)

Claire has chosen to come here partly because of those parental and pioneer connections, but also because it’s one of the oldest of about 140 Mormon temples in the world.  Its setting is also unique. Its stone the softest peach.  Its character a refined roughness. She chose well.

Closest family and friends, just a few, have made the drive, too, also at her request. With them, and with a temple full of locals who volunteer as “temple workers,” we’ll share a truly beautiful morning.  It begins when a man, maybe 65 years old, dressed head to toe in white and waiting for us at the entrance, stretches his hand to us. He has hands that look like my grandfather’s, a laborer’s hands. Well-used. Faithful. He swings open the glass entrance doors and beams, “Welcome! Welcome to the house of the Lord today.”

A temple, unlike a weekly meetinghouse, isn’t open to the general public, but to members of the church like Claire who’ve agreed to live fully the requirements of membership, and are ready to enter into even weightier promises than those made at baptism. These promises we call covenants, and the blessings given in return for making such commitments are the greatest God can give humankind.  This is a big step.  For years we’ve been teaching and preparing our daughter for this day.

We’re swept into the temple and immediately into the care of many waiting workers. Most over 60.  All smiling. All dressed in white.  All ushering us along with special affection and reaching hands. I know they could all be playing golf, every one of them, or tooling in their petunia patch or sitting on a porch swing watching their cattle.  But they’ve come here — come really far, some of them — to serve.  And it seems they’re here to serve only us –– to serve and bless my daughter — in the simple but particular orientation and initiation rites of worship.

It is women, mostly, who escort us to a private room where we change from street clothing to all white.  The shift in color matches a reduction in tempo, and with that slowing, there is an immediate drop in noise and a narrowing of focus.

Slow.  Silent.  Centered.

Claire is taken by three women to be taught the first gentle lessons and blessings of the temple. It’s here that she receives sacred clothing she will be instructed to wear for the rest of her life, constant reminders of those holy lessons and blessings, a protection if worn mindfully.

For months, I’ve prepared my child for this most tender moment of initiation, when she’ll receive these blessings at the hands of women. I take special note of these hands again with their signs of having lived near the earth, akin to it.  They rest on my child’s shoulder, drawing her to the next room. They touch her upper arm lightly, guiding her around a corner.  Good hands. Good women.  They can be trusted with instructing my daughter.  But I still can’t help myself from whispering as she walks away from me, “Listen to the words, honey. Listen very closely to the words.”

Because they are overpowering. Maybe too much to take in at once, some of the most powerful words man — or woman — can speak.

I notice at this moment that my heart feels pushed to all the corners of my torso, engorged with a joy, but its beat is deep, solid. Claire looks luminous, her eyes brisk and alert, her mouth fixed in a soft half-smile, lips closed, chin low, thoughts churning with wonder and prayer. I intuit this.  If only I could read those thoughts. In so much quietness, my heart strains to hear the unspoken. Is this what it means to be “heart of hearing”?

What are these overpowering blessings?

Someone like Claire receives, among other things, power, protection, guidance and comfort. She’ll need all that for missionary service, no doubt, since it’s seriously demanding in ways physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Having been a missionary myself, I know how it can drain and yank the sturdiest personalities.

Claire’s sturdy. But she needs strength far beyond sturdy.  She needs an  anchor. And she needs that anchor for more than just the next 18 months. She needs it, as I do, for every unforeseeable thing this crazy whirlwind of a life can unleash on us, its vicious whipping gusts, its sometimes thrashing blasts.

From where I sit next to her now, I watch her young profile, as composed as buffed ivory, and hear myself praying, “Let it always be like this, God,” knowing full well it can’t, won’t and shouldn’t be, knowing and praying, then, as a footnote, that since it can’t always be like this — tranquil, held up on every side with visible and loving hands — that she’ll be blessed with something else:

“Let her love the temple,” I vault my wish to heaven. “Let her come here often. Let her be anchored.”


Sailing to Manti

(to my husband, on the 22nd anniversary of our

December marriage in the Manti temple)

We sail the vein:

Perforated, gray southbound highway


From dawn’s perch

We approach,

Splaying this languid stage of sagebrush

In two

Vast contours, undulating,

Old rocky chronology seeping left to right,

Largo to sostenuto . . .

Bending beyond peripheral vision





Her mist-mottled crepe curtain



As ragged hem reveals enough:

Mountains, their triple depth in

Slate then ash then dust

Hang an ageless opaque canvas.

Drawn, we aim.

Trusting, we offer

Hands stretched through a veil.

We sail.


© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

One thought on “Sailing to Manti

  1. Melissa, thank you for this. I love seeing it all through your eyes, mind, and heart inasmuch as that is possible. Out of all the things I have left to do in my life, the work in the temple for my ancestors is weighing heavily on me now.

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