The Meaning of the Sash: Sealing Power and Authority
By Eleazar, February 2000
The sash is worn as part of the ceremonial clothing in the LDS endowment ceremony. This essay will focus on discussing some of the symbolism behind the sash. It will be helpful if one has already read the essay titled "The Meaning of the Apron" prior to reading this one. The reason is that many of the symbolic concepts concerning temple (endowment) clothing were discussed in the former essay, but will not be undertaken here in detail to avoid unnecessary duplication.
Briefly, one first enters the temple as one who is (symbolically) naked, representing a lack of glory (knowledge and understanding). One has supposedly come to the temple as a humble individual who has willingly cast off his worldly clothing (understandings) and is now ready to be clothed with new understandings by God. At a particular point in the ceremony, Peter is instructed by God to go down to the earth and to clothe the man Adam (which includes Eve) in the robes of the holy priesthood. These robes represent glory and power bestowed on Adam by God (through Peter). The identity of Peter and his role in this drama is very important, but will not be discussed in this essay because it does not pertain directly to the sash. However, to comprehend the deeper symbolism of the endowment (including the sash), one needs to eventually come to an understanding of the role of Peter and how these things are delivered.
Those who have been through the ceremony will recall that the sash is tied about the waist with a bow on the opposite side of the body from the shoulder that bears the robe of the holy (whole) priesthood. In reality, the priesthood is not complete (whole; holy) without the sash. One might notice that this is represented by the bow on the cap (crown), also opposite to the shoulder, and the fact that the cap is tied to the robe, making it one unit. The sash should also be viewed as being an integral part of the priesthood robes; Elohim refers to them as "the robes of the holy priesthood" rather than separate pieces. The sash is placed above the apron (which apron Adam has placed upon himself), but does not hide it, and has the purpose of binding or tying the ceremonial clothing together at the waist.
Binding or sealing power and authority. Most who are paying attention in the endowment will realize the basic meaning behind the sash. Simply stated, the sash sits on top of the robes at the waist and binds (ties, fastens, seals) the clothing to the individual, which symbolizes binding or sealing power and authority. It is tied with the bow opposite the robes (fills in), symbolizing wholeness (holiness). But, there is much more to this symbolism than many are prone to notice. Although, sealing power and authority is a frequently discussed topic in church classes, very few appear to comprehend what it really means. Most think that sealing keys and authority are permission given by God to perform an outward ordinance that (supposedly) joins two souls together. However, if this were true, then none of the marriages done like this would end in dissolution. In reality, there is a plain, yet more profound, idea behind sealing keys, power, and authority that goes unnoticed by most.
The rest of this essay will bring up a few points to consider when trying to comprehend the meaning of "sealing power and authority." One might ask what is the essence of "sealing power and authority"? How is this sealing event accomplished? What is it that seals one individual to another? How is this sealing power and authority (symbolized by the sash) related to priesthood power and authority? Who is the one individual on earth who holds the keys of (sealing) authority and how are they held? What is the "Holy Spirit of Promise" and how does this relate to the sealing?
As in other writings by this author, there is no claim that this essay represents a thorough or accurate discussion of the topic at hand, nor does it come with any claim of authority. Its purpose is to stimulate thought and a desire to seek further.
Plain versus complex. Before discussing the essence of sealing power and authority, there is an important concept that may be helpful to discuss first. The concept is an apparent paradox, but one will ultimately come to realize that the paradox is far from being a contradiction. Indeed, deep contemplation on the matter will reveal the wisdom and justice in why it is this way. This is the concept: The principles of the gospel are best understood at their most profound and deepest levels when viewed in simplicity and plainness.
Carnal man is prone to create an image of heaven in his mind patterned after what he sees on earth. On earth, progression in material society is seen as a result and reward of hard work and accomplishment. In the material world, those who are recognized as "being learned" (scholars) are considered the experts to consult for understanding on matters of importance. However, one will ultimately realize this view to be a great error because the greatest and most profound understandings are revealed in plainness. One ultimately finds that the greatest truths are revealed unto babes.
The scholar will miss the plain teachings because he is prone to look far beyond them. Indeed, scholarly intellectualism is often a hindrance to comprehending great truth; a learned man cannot read a sealed book because he is unable to break the seals. This has more to do with a way of thinking than it does with understanding: Carnal man tends to despise simple truths in his quest to seek for what he cannot understand (cf. Jacob 4:14).
The most profound teachings in the endowment are revealed in plainness, but are often overlooked by those who are asleep or cast aside by those who are looking for something more complex. Many will not accept the plain teachings because they do not fit into their preconceived notions of God, His church, or recognized leaders who (supposedly) speak dogma on God's behalf.
One might want to hold this thought and come back to it after reading this essay. Perhaps then it will become clear as to what this means. There is really nothing in the endowment that is a great secret because the profound and deepest concepts are taught openly (and plainly) in the scriptures. There is a great irony here, that the secrecy and hidden things spoken of in the endowment are only such because we have been so good at hiding them from ourselves. Endowment patrons often are like the absent-minded man who searches his house for his eyeglasses without even realizing they are already on his nose.
Who holds the keys? Who holds the keys is a common question arising out of the usual discussions of sealing authority. It is common among church-worshippers and organizationalists to interpret holy teachings in the context of the organization rather than the individual person. LDS doctrine interprets the meanings in the context of the LDS church organization and its corporate leader (prophet-president). Inasmuch as there is only one person on earth to hold these keys, it must be him, since he is the leader. Moreover, all others on earth, whether they are LDS or not, are subordinate to the prophet-leader in these things since there cannot be any sealing done without his (the leader's) sanction (permission). In the case of many fundamentalist Mormon groups, the same idea is proposed, but the individual holding the keys is identified as their own particular prophet-leader. Keys of authority, in this instance, are viewed as permission to act in the Lord's (or organizational leader's) stead, much like a corporation or government would grant permission for a specific individual to act in their behalf. Thus, "keys" mean "authority granted by permission" rather than "keys of knowledge" or "keys of understanding".
However, this idea is called into question by the endowment ceremony as well as the Mormon scriptural record. Endowment patrons will notice that the sash is given to every individual that passes through the ceremony, rather than only one individual. The bestowal of the sash on each endowment patron symbolizes that every (endowed) person is given the sealing keys. At first, this seems confusing when considered in the context of widely-held dogma as discussed in the above paragraph. Again, carnal man is prone to interpret the heavenly in terms of his (imperfect) earthly experience rather than letting the Spirit teach him. In the LDS scriptural record (Helaman 10:7), Nephi is given the keys of sealing and holds them on earth at the same time as Simon Peter. But, few notice that this constitutes two individuals on the planet having the keys at the same time rather than a single individual holding them. This by itself is enough to call the literal view into serious question.
In both instances (above), the keys being held by "one on earth" make more sense when viewed as applying to the individual (you) rather than the planet (earth). In the endowment, the patrons are told to consider themselves as Adam (and Eve). The ceremony is best understood at the highest levels when it is applied to the individual rather than the group. In one sense of meaning, Adam (Michael) is you (your essence; your Spirit) and the physical body is the earth over which you (Adam) are given dominion by God. Of course, Adam has forgotten who he is and finds that the body (sometimes symbolized by the earth and sometimes by Eve) rules him rather than the opposite. The entire story of the endowment is about Adam realizing his folly and things being set in their proper order.
With these ideas in mind, one might want to reconsider passages of scripture about the "Ancient of Days" (Adam) eventually having all of the "keys" returned to him (cf. Daniel 7:9-14). These scriptures will begin to take on an entirely new meaning and make much more sense when viewed with these new understandings. Take a close look at the title "Ancient of days" and try to realize its meaning (eg. "Ancient of Days" vs "Eternal"). Some who study the teachings of Brigham Young adopt the idea that Adam is God the Father, including the Father of Jesus. However, this is only a part of the whole picture and is erroneous if taken out of context. Adam (Michael) is a creator-Son, just as Jesus is, and as you are. Again, the endowment admonishes one to consider themselves as Adam (and Eve), but few are willing to face the implications of this. "Keys" often refer to "keys of knowledge and understanding" rather than permission to act. When Adam remembers who he is, he has the keys (of knowledge; truth; understanding) returned to him and is able to reign (in righteousness) over the dominion he had long ago been given by God (the earth). Again, what needs to be returned to Adam (the Ancient of Days) is his memory of who he really is, not some permission to perform a ritual act (outward ordinance).
Real power and authority comes from love rather than force. Hopefully the paragraphs above are sufficient to give substance to the idea that "keys" and "sealing power and authority" are best understood when applied individually (ie. to the man Adam) and metaphorically (to mean "understanding"). Again, one should take careful notice that the sash (ie. keys of sealing power and authority) is given to each endowed individual. In fact, the endowment itself can be described as a bestowal of "keys" (of truth and correct understanding). However, there is more to it, too. There are important meanings behind the words "power and authority". Here , it may be helpful to briefly discuss the nature of real power and authority, rather than what carnal men view them to be.
In the material world, power and authority are instruments of brute force, so carnal man is always building up governing bodies with armies and navies to enforce their laws. Unfortunately, carnal man tends to view God in the same terms of power and authority that is highly valued on earth, so he views God in terms of being a wiser individual than (fallen) man with greater brute force at his command. On the contrary, Jesus came to show (fallen) man that brute force ultimately yields to a much greater force, that of unconditional love (charity). An enemy overcome by brute force will remain an enemy and will rise when he (re)acquires the force needed to subdue his captor. On the other hand, an enemy overcome by long-suffering and unconditional love (charity) will be changed into a friend. Need one really ask where is the true power? God is often described as perfect love. Perfect love is the real power that heals all wounds and binds up that which was broken. Brute force causes wounds and breaks rather than binds.
Eventually, one comes to realize that "perfect love" (charity) is not only synonymous with "God" (eg. God is love), but also with "Christ", "priesthood", "sealing power", "sealing authority", and many other holy (whole) teachings. This comes back to the very essence of meaning behind the priesthood robes and, more particularly, the sash. In reality, the sealing power and authority does not come (eminate) from the priesthood, as many suppose, but it IS THE VERY ESSENCE of the priesthood.
One might notice that the sash is tied about the waist or, to use a different term, the bowels. The bowels are metaphorically said to be a source of our true feelings; one might be reminded of colloquial phrases like "gut feelings" that are part of our everyday language. The scriptures admonish us to let our bowels be full of charity (cf. D&C 121:45). Inasmuch as true sealing power comes from perfect love (charity), the sash is meant to connote this by being tied across the waist (bowels). Charity is something that emanates as a feeling from deep inside of us, metaphorically from our bowels. This is a part of the symbolism of the sash.
Again, perfect love (charity) and priesthood are
terms that should be looked upon as synonymous. Joseph Smith
penned one of the greatest descriptions of this when he wrote about charity
and priesthood from Liberty jail. Although it is rather lengthy,
it is important enough to be quoted in full in this essay.
Please take time to read it very carefully with the above concepts in mind.
"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson-That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever." (D&C 121:34-46)
Reliance on the (inner) substance rather than (outer) forms. Carnal men are prone to worship the image by placing importance on the outward forms (eg. ritual observances) rather than on the deep and profound meanings behind them (the substance). In reality, there is no outward ritual in heaven or on earth that will bind two hearts together. These outward ordinances are no more than "dead works" if they are devoid of that which is the essence behind them. This is why there are so many broken marriages among those who have made (vain) promises in what appear to be holy ordinances (rituals) of sealing in (eternal) marriage. The outward ordinance often fails at sealing because it is not that which binds souls together.
Sealing of one person to another has to come from deep within. This sealing cannot be compulsory (see D&C 121 passage above), otherwise it is no different than the brute force so highly valued by the world. When one has "bowels full of charity" (unconditional love) for another being or beings and is willing to sacrifice all, even his own life, in unconditional love, then, and only then, does a sealing take place that cannot be broken. Charity is the sealing power and authority. Unconditional love (charity) is the very priesthood of God. It is also the very essence of Christ. When Jesus said that he (perfect love) would be "lifted up" and thereby draw all men unto him, he was speaking of this very thing.
When one has true charity (unconditional love) for another that arises from the bowels (is truly felt, not feigned), then the power and authority of the priesthood is manifest into being (reality). Dear reader, are you beginning to see what it means in the name of the second token, where one asks that the "power in the priesthood be upon me and my posterity…"? Power in the priesthood is the charity spoken of. That is, charity (unconditional love) IS the power in the priesthood. It is never compulsory, but always meek, longsuffering, kind, and virtuous. This is the true power and authority. The term "posterity" refers to all that one creates, every action you take, even the very words that you speak. When one asks for "the power in the Priesthood be upon… my posterity", one is asking for charity to be in all of our actions, even in the communications we share with others.
Most are aware of what happened to Emma Smith and the newly-organized church after Joseph Smith was killed at Carthage. Before he was killed, Joseph is reported to have said that he would go into hell for Emma, if need be. Did Joseph comprehend the sealing power and what is meant by the "Holy Spirit of Promise" (cf. D&C 132:26)? It would appear that he did. Only the charity that is priesthood is the power and authority that will bind Joseph to Emma. That is the (Holy Spirit of) Promise spoken of.
Whether Joseph held the "keys of sealing" as well as the "power in the priesthood" is not important to us as the larger question: Do we hold them ourselves? Are the sash and the robes of the priesthood mere pieces of cloth that adorn our bodies with nothing of substance underneath? If so, then we do not hold the keys (of understanding) because they remain hidden from us. But is it not we who hide these keys from ourselves? Again, the endowment is meant to be a bestowal of keys. Dear reader, begin to understand that you and only you can hold the keys over your earth. No one can hold them for you. You are the only one on (your) earth that can have them.