A Temple to Truth

temple imageSwaminarayan Akshardham, Delhi, India

Every week I pass by a huge edifice with pretentious pillars.  It shouts at passersby to gaze upon its incredibly ostentatious facade.  Many years ago, I visited this pentecostal church (not pictured), where the interior is marble, and its churchgoers are clothed in elegance, while the pastor drives a Lamborghini–a yearly donation from one of the members.

I remember sitting in that one service, listening to the pastor describe the “blessings of God” on his congregation.  I observed the pride, while wondering how the humble Jesus could possibly be involved in this endeavor.

At the time, I was involved in missions work in a third world country–where people came to church barefoot, knelt on dirt floors, and slapped mosquitoes during the service–due to absence of windows or doors.  Somehow, the smoke from the oil wicks in those settings seemed oddly discordant with the crystal chandeliers and braggadocios manner of the pillared assembly.  It left me feeling ill–especially when they “couldn’t” donate to our mission because they were already helping “so many.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “temple” refers to “a building for religious practice”.  There are other definitions, but this is the one that most closely describes my understanding and social context.JEWISH_TEMPLE00000005.gifHistoric Jewish Temple

A dear friend of mine is currently on a trek across the eastern areas of Nepal, Tibet, Kathmandu, and other exotic locations.  I have watched her posts on social media with much delight, as the journey progresses and the adventure unfolds.  She has visited many religious sites and belief systems, and she has posted pictures of temples–worship venues foreign to the rest of the world.

Due to a series of painful events in my own life, I have struggled with “religion” in the last few years.  I have never lost my faith, but I have been extremely disillusioned with formal religious groups and church “families”.

I do not apologize for this.  Every person has his/her own experiences, and mine have ranged from controlling to downright abusive treatment.  However, due to my lack of regular church attendance, I have received some interesting comments and reactions from family members who view church membership as a sign of spiritual health.

001-jesus-teaching

It is very interesting to note that Jesus did not usually spend his time and energy in formal religious settings.  A careful study of the Bible will reveal that he preferred meeting outdoors, or in the humble homes of individuals.  In fact, even the scriptural reference that is quoted to guilt a person into regular church attendance did not at all refer to attending a formal religious setting…(“not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”).  It was about community and friendly support, not buildings!

https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Hebrews%2010%3A25

It is said by some that social workers are “bleeding hearts” because we tend to be compassionate and generally work with the downtrodden or less fortunate.  Maybe that is why I am a social worker.  Someone told me not long ago “you are in the perfect profession for your personality.  You didn’t learn to be this way…it IS who you are.”  Maybe that is true, given my sensitive nature (Too Sensitive?).  I was made this way…what can I say?

In regards to the present discussion, I do not waver, apologize, or feel in the least embarrassed about who I am or what I do.  It is the work of humanity, a work that Jesus himself was involved in, a work of Truth.  Every truly great person that I admire for accomplishing something in this world was a compassionate, empathetic giver–a person who had a gentle heart to help others.

I think of greatness not in the way of fame or fortune.  (It is abundantly clear that political power and fortune does not make one a person of character).  When heroes such as Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, the 14th Dalai Lama, Wilberforce, Einstein, Helen Keller, Muhammad Ali, Nightingale, Orwell, and many others are looked at with careful scrutiny, one may note that they each made a difference by stepping out to serve.  Their notable work was to make key changes in an evil world.

Although the great temples of the world are visually appealing in their diversity, I cannot believe that God, who is synonymous with Love, is one to dwell primarily in such works of art.  I believe that God is interested in the minute details of the wounded person’s existence–that he spends His time and devotes His presence to the grimy parts of the world. After all, in the Bible it says that our bodies are the temple… and describes a God that digs in the dirt to create this masterpiece (Holy Bible).

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2:7

https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=temple+of+the+holy+spirit&qs_version=NIV

So, forgive me if I’m not impressed by marble pillars and golden domes as a “temple”.  These are mere works of men, remarkable for their aesthetic appeal, but no indication of God/Love.

I’ve seen Him in the eyes of an infant child, felt Him close in the sun on my cheek, smelled His perfume wafting over me through the smoke of a primitive fire.  I have found the Temple of Truth.

Pochara, by Dorothy Crookshank

“God is Love, meeting humanity in authenticity and vulnerability.”    -Melanie McLeain                                            (photo courtesy of Dorothy Crookshank)

 

The Temple of Truth is where the bare feet of God/Love walk on warm packed dirt, silently touching the wounded being of a suffering child. Its walls are ethereal, unable to be measured by human hands.  Inside those walls one finds the broken lives of individuals who are authentic and vulnerable–who reach out to Him with arthritic fingers and desperate grasps.  Its dome is the clearest of blue skies, where pain filled eyes gaze to find peace and hope.  It is furnished with empathy and compassion in its purest form, providing comfort to mutilated bones and dry, cracked skin.

There are no officials that serve in the Temple of Truth.  Each person who finds healing in this extraordinary sanctuary spreads the love they have found.  They simply and creatively let it overflow onto those nearby, until the whole of the place is filled with a misty vapor–the essence of God’s presence…His Love.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

John 13:35

 

 

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Gratitude

A few months before my infant daughter died from intestinal intussusception, I was standing beside the grieving mother of a deformed baby who had passed away, despite her months of love and nursing. Though my belly was large with expectancy, as a mother of two toddlers, I felt so saddened by her pain. At the time, my husband and I were missionaries in Peru, South America. No stranger to the primitive lifestyle of these sweet poverty stricken people, I was still horrified at the experience of that day.

First, the mother was in a very primitive hospital, which was, nonetheless, one of the better ones of its kind. Once we got word she had lost the child, we came, and as per her request, I went and purchased a white knit little garment in which she could bury her little boy. When I brought it to her, I discovered that it was common there for them to take the dead babies to the morgue and have the mother come claim her baby’s body by walking through the morgue filled with dead babies until she found her own. I still shudder with horror to think of it. We are so protected here in our culture.

After she found her baby, she had to clean it and dress it. She took her sister with her for this process. After they had done all the red tape bribes, andpaperwork necessary to have their baby’s body released to them, and had bought a little casket, we drove them to the burial cemetery. Again, I was not equipped for the horror I would experience. The tombs were above ground, built out of bricks and concrete, and anything but sealed. The smell of rotting flesh assaulted my nose as we neared the entrance to the grounds. As we stood there saying a few words of prayer, the caretaker of the graveyard stood with his concrete shovel, ready to attempt a sealing as soon as the little casket was shoved in. He didn’t like that we took time to sing a hymn and he started telling the father of the baby that it would be more expensive because of him having to wait for us to sing. While this altercation was going on, the mother was sobbing uncontrollably, and gnats were weaving in and out of the surrounding graves, where visible holes could be seen, nipping at us to see if we were dead too, or living. When i realized why the gnats were there, I almost threw up.

I was told that the graves were only rented for a few months, at which time the caretakers would remove and burn the bones, reselling the casket and plundering anything left inside. I could not fathom this creature standing there demanding more money while his family lived nearby, among the tombs. What a way to live…a modern day Legion, feeding his family from the dead and sorrowful.

We gave the guy more money, and firmly told him to wait a few more paces away, out of sight from the mother. Even so, we hurried the prayers, and helped the mother walk away. A month later, we were there again to repeat it all with another poor mother’s stillborn babe.

Two months later, my beautiful healthy daughter passed away, at the age of three months, a complication from her vaccinations. I never expected this to happen to me. It was extremely traumatic, and even now, ten years later, any time I go into detail, and relive it, I have nightmares. Still, we have so much to be thankful for, here in the United States. Though she died in Peru, upon arrival in the US with her body, things went smoother. The body of my baby girl lies underground, buried in a beautiful country cemetery, where the branches of the dogwood bloom over her each spring. Her tombstone is granite, engraved with her name, a monument I can still visit, encased in flowers in memory of her short life. Her funeral was a lengthy affair, with many in attendance, where several songs were sung, and various ministers touched my grieving heart at no charge.

As I sat today in church, listening to a missionary from India, and looking at the pictures he shared, I thought of the complaining of my children, and their ungrateful American attitudes at times. I realized that I often get my eyes clouded with the fog of our culture, forgetting that I’m blessed just to live in this place. I asked for forgiveness, as I remembered the tragic horror so many people face around the world. In that moment I remembered life and death, and the fine line that lies between, all too visible in third world countries. I realized then, that, more than my longed for vacation to the beach to show my sons the ocean, what they really need most is a trip overseas to change their lives forever and remind us all how to be grateful.