As the sun set on the Oakland California Temple on May 6, I stood on the garden terrace and looked down at the grounds. Below me, a waterfall cascaded into a reflecting pool — restored during the temple’s renovation.
For the first time since the temple’s original dedication in 1964, media representatives and local government leaders had entered the sacred edifice that day for a VIP open house.
On tours led by Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I had seen the temple entrance of beautiful white oak paneling and marble flooring. I had viewed relief artwork, including one in the temple entrance of Adam and Eve and one of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. And I had stood in the temple baptistry, located directly below the temple’s celestial room. There I studied the Asian motif highlighted throughout the edifice and the bronze railings enclosing the even deeper bronze oxen supporting the font.
But now from the terrace, the final tour group of the day caught my eye. With Maggie Ralph, 9, leading the way, the group slowly walked to the temple. Many in the group held the arm of a companion with one hand and a white cane in the other.
Maggie, who also walked with a white cane, had desperately wanted to see the new temple during the open house. Her parents, Brandon and Demarae Ralph, of the San Lorenzo Ward, San Leandro California Stake, hoped that would be possible.
“I wanted her to experience going through the open house,” said Demarae Ralph.
After praying that Maggie would be able to participate, her mother expressed this desire to Church leaders, who set in motion a special tour — which, as word spread, soon included more than 30 others.
Like Maggie, most of the visitors were blind. A few belonged to the blind/deaf community. Each were given white gloves and were quietly guided through the temple, where they were allowed to literally feel the sacred building. Maggie’s gloves were too big, but she pulled them on tight and traced the relief artwork. Then she waited as others in her group did the same.
Sister Ralph bent down and helped her daughter understand the miracle that was taking place. “There are 30 people here just because of you,” she whispered.
In the baptistry, temple workers and others tenderly helped each member of the group to the base of the baptismal font, where they could touch the oxen. Maggie traced the eyes and horns and then backs of the oxen. Many of the visitors reached up and traced the molding on the base of the font.
I had already been on a tour of the temple and had spent the afternoon writing about how the building serves as a visual landmark in the Bay Area.
Oakland City Councilwoman Sheng Thao had expressed how, years ago as a student and a homeless single mother, she had looked to the hills of the East Bay and fixed her eyes on the Oakland California Temple. The temple “really kept me going,” said Thao. “This temple, just the sight of it, has been such a positive beacon.”
But, as I watched Maggie, it was as if I was seeing the temple for the first time. Of course, we look — or are drawn to look, as Councilwoman Thao found — at the temple. It is a symbol of so much good in the Church.
But Maggie taught me that when we enter the Lord’s house He expands our vision. In the temple it is not what we see with our eyes, but what we see with our hearts, what we come to understand, that matters most. That’s what I know now that I learned from 30 people participating in the tactile tour — and literally touching — the sacred building.
Maggie said her favorite moment in the temple was feeling the sculptured carpet in the celestial room. “It was awesome,” she said.
Demarae Ralph said her favorite part of the tactile tour was watching dear family friends — a couple who are both blind that married in the Oakland temple — feel the altar where they had knelt and made covenants years earlier. “It meant so much to them,” she said.
The tour also meant much to Maggie. “The experience for her to touch and better understand something that is visible to us, was very meaningful,” said Demarae Ralph.
A few week’s later Maggie returned to the temple with her younger siblings, who were participating in the public open house. Maggie had been empowered by her first visit and was able to explain significant features of each room of the temple. “She had the knowledge and was able to share that knowledge,” said Demarae Ralph.
Before the tactile tour, Elder Jay D. Pimentel, an Area Seventy and local temple rededication committee chair, spoke to the group about driving a friend who is blind to Church. The friend often greeted Elder Pimentel with the words, “Glad to see you.” One day, Elder Pimentel asked about his friend’s use of the word “see.”
“He explained to me that seeing is much more than eye sight. Seeing is experiencing, seeing is participating with.”
Elder Pimentel responded to his friend, “I see, meaning I understand.”
At the temple, the Area Seventy referenced John 1, which records the Savior’s invitation to some of the disciples of John the Baptist to “come and see” His abode. “I don’t believe He was inviting them to come and see the kitchen or the living room. He was inviting them to come and experience, to come and participate, to come and understand.”
Elder Pimentel then invited those on the tour to "come and see" the temple.
Elder Pimentel’s invitation to Maggie is an invitation to all of us. As the group entered the building, I too had the opportunity, for the first time that day, “to see” the temple.
— Sarah Jane Weaver is Church News editor.