Monday, August 29, 2011 — Week of Proper 17, Year One
John Bunyan, Writer, 1688
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 982)
Psalms 25 (morning) 9, 15 (evening)
2 Chronicles 6:32 – 7:7
Some of the ways I think of God include aspects of the spatial. I think of God as the center of all being, the midpoint of life and creation. Dante ends the Divine Comedy in the center of the circle of the Holy Trinity, his desire and his will being “turned like a wheel, all at one speed, by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.” In some sense my imagination has been affected by the cosmologists’ description of the singularity “before” time from which emerged the Big Bang of creation. I imagine God before and behind all that is, the transcendent center from which everything emanates and yet is completely connected — the animating energy, loving Wisdom from whom pours the Spirit of being.
There is also the sense of God’s immanence. God is the Center with no circumference. Deeply present, closer to me than the air I breath, as lifegiving as my blood, my thought before I think. The seeing, the seer and the seen. “Where can I flee from your presence?”
So we hear Solomon’s dedicatory prayer for the Jerusalem Temple. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” Yet the ancients insist, God’s Name may dwell in a place made with hands. The builder asks that God’s “eyes may be open night and day toward this house.”
So we think of a Temple. A dwelling for God’s Name among us and a focus for our earthly prayer. I think of the holy places made with hands where I experience a divine presence. Our altar. The aumbry where we ask the Name of Jesus to dwell. An icon. A candle. Solomon asks God to hear the people of Israel when they pray toward the Temple. “O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.”
The Temple becomes a thin place of connection between heaven and earth, where oaths are confirmed and judgment rendered. A place of confession and forgiveness. Where the people bring their experience of catastrophe and find succor.
In the Temple there is ample room for the foreigner. Solomon asks that the prayer of the foreigner be honored in the Temple as the prayer of the Temple’s own people. Our reading from James reminds us that we are to honor the poor and poorly dressed no less — maybe even more — when the congregation gathers in our holy place.
Solomon asks God’s hearing of our prayer whenever we turn toward the Temple, wherever we may be. I have been with my Muslim friends as they face Mecca for their prayers, and I sense the groundedness of place and identity that comes from such a material spiritual anchor. I also find myself moved by those who come to receive communion in our own little church, who open their hands to receive the bread of Christ, and who look above and behind me at the east window image of Jesus welcoming the little children.
Where is our Temple? Where do we turn when we direct ourselves toward God?
My most common image involves a descent into the center of my being where I sense an opening into the infinity of God. A mutual indwelling opens in that vast singularity.
So many other things share a Templeish quality, all outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. Moses sees a burning bush, and behold, it is full of God. There is the Name. There are words, mere created letters or sounds, which open into the Word. There is the shudder of intuition that seems to radiate a meaning or emotion that is not our own.
We turn to the Temple. We become the Temple. We are to be the place where God’s Name dwells. Maybe even occasionally, we might be the Temple that someone else may turn to, like Jerusalem or Mecca, to seek God’s presence or succor when in need or threat. I send a word of thanksgiving and reverence to those friends and strangers who have served as my own Temple.