When describing the worship space we visited, the word temple is a grave understatement in my opinion. The structure was more like a palace… The building itself, which was easily three stories high, was a picture of mystery and opulence. It was stark white, and there were gods and majestic horses and religious imagery carved into the stone from the very foot of the temple to its steeple.
The only thing more amazing than the outside of the temple was its inside… If the architects’ intentions were to make humans feel small and un-godlike in the worship space, they accomplished it. The ceilings seemed to be a mile high… The rooms seemed to be hundreds of square feet large. The statuary was beautiful and captivating. The smells were welcoming and familiar: incense… herbs… flowers… We were directed to the basement where the temple guru was giving a presentation:
“Every human being is called to peace… but humans don’t always understand the call to peace. If you do not believe me, listen to your language! The words we use to describe the way we live evoke violence and abrupt interactions with the world:
We hit the snooze button before we jump out of bed. We jump in the shower and throw on some clothes. We grab a bite to eat before slamming the door behind us in the morning. We hit the road and fight the traffic. We shoot a few emails to our colleagues… This is not the language of peace.
The life of a Hindu is to find peace in all things. We shower and pray: “God, as my outer body requires washing this morning, please cleanse my soul as well today.” We eat and say, “God allow this food to be nourishment to my body and my soul.” We work and pray for oneness with everything around us. You see, it is not that God is “one.” It is that there is only “God”, and we must learn to be one with God in everything we do.
The guru led us through the temple where we witnessed Hindu devotees making sacrifices to their gods. Many brought fruit, or money… Others brought incense or other valuables. There was one smaller temple for every god inside the larger worship space, each intricately designed in its own way. “When we need money, we pray to this god,” the guru said. “That is a priest,” she said of a man in white garb who sang a song of supplication to an eight-foot deity who was lying on his back inside a stone room. I stared at the gods, many of which had four hands or five eyes and thought about what these things meant to them. Oneness. All are one. A window to God.
That night, something was clear that had not occurred to me before. I realized that my only connection with the divine had been through a system of moral statutes and abstract codes. Christianity’s system of “holiness” was founded on principles that involve “being separate,” and being “different” or “otherly”. On the surface, these moral absolutes involve admonitions to “wear this, and not that…. Go here, and not there. Eat this, and not that…” The Christian’s aim is to join the more virtuous of two starkly different groups: The in, rather than the out. The holy rather than the profane. The chosen rather than the damned.
Jesus prayed that we would all be one, just as he and God are one– and that we would be one with God, just as he and God are one. We have not yet realized that it’s our job to answer that prayer, not God’s. We have a responsibility to find oneness with one another. In doing so, we will have truly found a holy and sacred thing.
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