There is a concept of form versus function; the form of something can be related to how to shoot a basketball and the function of something can be related to scoring a point. Which is better, how the ball is shot or that the shot goes in? If it is a bad shot, it wont go in, but you can’t have a shot go in if there was no shot in the first place. With that said, most people instinctively place more value on the function, scoring the point. This way of thinking requires a person to take a position that says “it doesn’t matter how one shoots the ball because if it goes in every time then it’s working”. So does it matter? In our world, there seems to be tried and tested ways of shooting a basketball that make some ways better than others; NBA players don’t chuck ol’ granny shots. It would be silly if someone tried to argue that you can score a point without first using some kind of form to project the ball in the air, yet sometimes, people try to reach a desired function without considering and learning the proper form.
To relate this to the gospel, the tried and tested ways (form) of spiritual learning are things such as praying, reading scriptures, going to places of worship, etc. So what is the function? I would suggest it is to be able to “[put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Engraved into the form of the gospel are valuable lessons that teach the observant student the function mentioned above. Those who cannot develop the ability to see with spiritual eyes will certainly fail to see the function within the form.
Reasons That People Overlook Form
Some people tend to veer away from religious ceremonies and rituals because they feel they are taboo forms of finding spirituality. It’s likely that these people begin to see the form as a barrier or even an irritant to their learning. A sign that this way of thinking has begun to take root in someone’s life could be when they feel they identify as a spiritual person but not religious. In their minds, the form becomes a barrier to their learning and is therefore deemed unnecessary for spiritual experiences. Vanessa Ochs, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, affirms that there has been a rise in individuals who proclaim spirituality but not religiosity (Newman). She discusses how individuals seek to separate the two by using different types of rituals such as yoga and meditation classes (Newman). They are able to find spirituality without going down the road of traditional religiosity. Consequently, in the world, the use of ceremonies and rituals are not declining but are changing.
It is also possible that people think they have nailed the function and therefore, disregard the form. At this point, the form has either already become or is on its way to becoming, merely routine; the routineness says there is nothing left to gain. Though the student may not consciously accept such as true, their actions begin to program the mind with a misleading idea that form is “not as important” as the function. When the vision of the form is lost the vision of the function is soon to follow.
Recently, in the Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there were a few changes made to the form or practices of the church: the shortening of the three hour church block as well as the changes made in the temple. These are changes in the form but not the function. The shortening of the church block could be seen as less time required from members of the church or it could be seen as a call to spend more time focusing on the family (Nelson). Adjustments that steer the minds and hearts of the people towards the function are important, otherwise mindlessly following the form could creep in.
If the question ‘why?’ is not asked frequently enough then the forms of spiritual worship will not be properly understood. If the form is not properly understood then there will not be high scoring spirituality. Here are a few examples of this:
Getting back to the title of the paper, maybe their is not a right answer. Maybe for one person closing their eyes is the most important part of what makes a prayer, a prayer. For another person it could be the bowing of the head or the eloquence of the words spoken. Are we allowing the form of our prayer guide us to the function of it?
In a talk given in 1978 called The Prayer of Faith by Thomas S Monson, he taught prayer by referencing the following:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Sometimes words alone don’t accurately convey how we feel inside so our actions help us speak. William Shakespeare articulated a very similar idea behind effective prayer, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” (Shakespeare). In this instance it’s not even the words that matter but the thoughts. President Dallin H. Oaks of the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught a principle he named ‘The Special Language of Prayer’. He taught that:
“The words we use in speaking to someone can identify the nature of our relationship to that person. They can also remind the speaker and listener of the responsibilities they owe one another in that relationship. The form of address can also serve as a mark of respect or affection…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members to use special language in addressing prayers to our Father in Heaven.”
It’s not the words we use or the form we take in prayer that truly matters; it is the intent behind those things that matter.
Furthermore, C.S. Lewis teaches that our bodies affect our spirit more so than we realize. In the context of prayer, C.S. Lewis adds “At the very least, [humans] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for [the humans] constantly forget what the [devils] must always remember, that [humans] are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
Our actions, even the form of our prayers signals to both the child and the Father what is developing within. Maybe, more importantly, the prayer experience resembles a sort of measurement to the child of their current progress on their covenant path back to their Father in Heaven.
This concept can be applied to many other practices in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For example, the wearing of sacred garments. Can a person have a heart intending to do good and serve God but not wear sacred garments? Yes! Then why does God ask members of His church who have received their temple endowments to wear garments? Perhaps because the wearing of the sacred garment is supposed to serve as instruction to the individual of eternal things. Suppose every time someone woke up and got ready for the day they saw their morning rituals (showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc) as a means of preparing their soul, body and spirit, for the remainder of the day rather than just doing what you do because that’s what you have always done.
When putting on garments becomes just another article of clothing you put on your body then the function is lost. This from of worship serves a very sacred function. When putting on garments, one is putting on Christ and His atonement (Gal. 3:27). It is beneficial to realize and ultimately feel that every morning. Hopefully, the constant reminder of garments touching our skin will invite into our hearts the constant feeling of God’s love.
Another example is in the ordinances found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some wonder why a good heart and faith in Christ is not enough. Why must we be baptized, go to church, receive blessings by the laying on of hands, go through the temple, serve the living and the dead, be married for time and all eternity? Nephi answered this very question by pointing our minds towards Christ’s exemplary ministry here on Earth:
And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. (2 Nephi 31: 6-7)
Even Christ, who is perfect and without sin, needed to be baptized in order to be obedient to God’s commandments. Certain forms were attached to His earthly ministry and ultimate function as Savior and Redeemer of the world. The ordinance of baptism, as well as all other ordinances are opportune times for God to instruct his children in light and truth. Embedded in and around each ordinance are symbols that points our minds and hearts towards Christ and His atonement, but only if one has eyes to see and ears to hear (Deut. 29:4). When one has spiritual eyes then surely God’s mind, will, and love is in plain view before us, “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest (D&C 84:20).
In conclusion, the best place to learn about God is in His house. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are able to enter into holy temples of God. In temples, God reveals his mysteries through the bestowal of light and truth. Temples are the ultimate example to the world of how people can divinely pattern their lives, both form and function. Cheryl B. Preston, a professor of Law at Brigham Young University, beautifully articulates how the temple illustrates the relationship between form and function:
“The interior furnishings and ornamentations of the Cardston Alberta Temple were all similarly designed to incorporate natural local elements and woods. The temple’s beautiful form naturally serves its function while, at the same time, the function gives meaning and value to each element of the form. Such was the fulfillment of Frank Lloyd Wright’s intent that form and function be one, as well as the LDS concept that heaven and earth can be joined in a temple” (Preston)
God has and will continue to teach His children the things of eternity within the walls of His temples. I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church here upon the Earth. Whether someone is just learning about the church or has been a lifelong member, there is always more to learn and I would suggest that a good place to start is looking at the forms of worship that God has provided then simply asking “Why?”.
“The Church’s function, joined to its form, creates the opportunities for the development of spiritual substance, a spiritual edifice in which members are owners who learn through personal experience and receive direct light from God as they strive toward salvation and exaltation” (Preston)
Lewis, C.S., The Screwtape Letters
Monson, Thomas S., The Prayer of Faith. 1978.
Nelson, Russell M., How Did The Church Change This Year. Official Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, December 17, 2018.
Newman, C., Evolution of Modern Rituals: 4 Hallmarks of Today’s Rituals. UVA Today, March 28, 2017.
Oaks, Dallin H., The Special Language of Prayer. 1993.
Preston, Cheryl B., The Spiritual Concept of Form and Function as One. BYU Studies Quarterly, Journal 53:3.
Shakespeare, W., Hamlet, Act III, scene 3.quoted by David o Mckay Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life.