Why hadn't I thought about this previously?
The scriptures, for example, speak of a heavenly temple (here, here, and here). Then there's President Faust's famous quote: "As a woman you have been born with many unique endowments that are not common to men." I used to take that word, "endowments," for its definition of gifts in general. But now I'm really starting to think he meant it as we understand this ordinance in the temple. In fact, the temple endowment today, to me it seems more like a continuation of things women started prior to coming to earth. A further endowment, if you will.
As I looked for more information on this, I happened upon a book review of Sheri Dew's Women and the Priesthood, written by Professor Valerie Hudson. This quote jumped out at me (I apologize for the length, but it's all so good!):
Dew herself hints as much: “[T]he manner in which He authorizes the distribution of His authority and power throughout the earth is through priesthood keys.” (81; emphasis mine). Like unto the definition of priesthood given in the new Young Men’s and Young Women’s manuals, notice that the priesthood is identified expressly with the authority and power and keys of Heavenly Father—not with the power and authority of “God,” as the previous definitions gave it. We are beginning to see that Priesthood encompasses more than priesthood. That is an important though easily-overlooked shift as well, because we know that there is no “God” without there being an exalted man and an exalted woman married in the new and everlasting covenant. (D&C 132). The new definition leaves room for there to be authority and power and keys that belong to Heavenly Mother—the other “hood,” if you will, in the universe. Women are not required to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood to enter the temple because women were already ordained in our own “hood” (probably premortally, which might help explain the difference in conditionality pronounced upon men and women in the washing and anointing ceremony in the temple). Priesthood with a capital “P” encompasses more than priesthood with a small “p,” and so we can begin to see how women hold Priesthood power, even if they do not hold priesthood power, because they have their own “hood” entitling them to divine power.
That other “hood” we call motherhood, though you might just as easily call it priestesshood. It is the apprenticeship of Heavenly Mother’s daughters to become like Her, just as the priesthood is the apprenticeship of Heavenly Father’s sons to become like Him. And that is why it makes no sense to “ordain women” to priesthood office—they have already been ordained to Priesthood office. The seeds of this understanding are visible, but it will take much preparation before those seeds can become what they were meant to be among our people.
This is a big breakthrough for me. This is a view --not a grand conclusion-- of priesthood power that I feel like I've been led to over countless years, temple trips, and pleadings with God. (Look back under my labels temple and feminism to see the journey.) My new focus is this, I'm going to keep going to the temple to understand all that I can, but I'm also going to do my best at recalling and appreciating the many, many things shown and given to me as a woman prior to arriving here, a world in which Adam was meant to be tested. By this, I feel as though two halves of a circle will finally meet.