Today’s second Mass reading from the first Letter to the Corinthians contains a simple line we have heard many times. We read
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?..[T]he temple of God, which you are, is holy.
For all of its familiarity, do we really live in the truth of that statement? Here are the thoughts and questions that arose for me as I sat with those words this morning.
I approach Buddhist temples, Jewish synagogues, Christian churches, etc. with reverence, recognizing that I am in a holy place. I take my shoes off and prostrate before entering a Buddhist temple. I genuflect or bow before taking my seat in a Catholic or other Christian church. And so on. I behave as though I am in the temple of God.
The thing is, if I am the temple of God, then so is each other person. If I am the temple of God, then so are you. That raises the question: do I approach each person I meet as though they are the temple of God, as though the Spirit of God dwells in them?
If we can remember in each encounter with another person that we are encountering the Spirit of God, won’t that change how we approach each other?
The other thought I had is that we sometimes need the reminder that we ourselves are the temple of God. Do I treat my own body as the temple of God – taking care of it, not abusing it – treating it the way I treat a holy place?
It is a simple line, but it contains a truth that ought to have an effect on how we treat ourselves and each other.
Yesterday I attended an Episcopal service with my friends Richard and Russell at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis; I had been looking for an opportunity to hear the preaching of the rector of their church, whose sermons I have read online on a number of occasions (thanks to Richard’s kindness in sending the links to me). I was not disappointed; her sermon gave me much fruit for prayer and I suspect some of it will make its way into a blog post at some point. But not today.
Among the things that struck me during the service was the Affirmation of Faith. The affirmation (written by David Aquilina, a member of the St. John’s community) declares the people’s faith in the Trinity in words somewhat different from those we recite in the Nicene Creed each week at Mass, although there was nothing in those words I could not be comfortable as a Catholic claiming belief in. What struck me, though, was that in each of the paragraphs (one each devoted to God, Jesus and the Spirit), there was a line that suggested disruption of the normal ways.
…You startled [our ancestors] in suprising revelations…
…You challenge us to hear and to see with new hearts…
…You disturb us…
It is easy for us to become settled in our ways, to become complacent, to think things are good enough. We don’t particularly like change and upset; feeling settled is much more to our liking. It is, you have to admit, a whole lot easier than the alternative.
But if we are actually listening to God, we will be unsettled. Startled. Challenged. Disturbed. That’s what God does. Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us alone to sort through the challenge and disturbance. We have always within us the presence of the Spirit (paraphrasing the final paragraph of the Affirmation of Faith), the breath of God that dispels fear, refreshes us and empowers us.
Update: I just read the Daily Meditation of Richar Rohr I receive by e-mail from the Center for Action and Contemplation. In part the reflection reads: “[W]e have often settled for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus. This is what I am inviting you to this Advent. But be forewarned: the Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order. The suffering, injustice and devastation on this planet are too great now to settle for any infantile gospel or any infantile Jesus.”
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the culmination and completion of what began with Christ’s Incarnation. Before leaving his disciples, Christ breathed upon them, giving them the Spirit. That same Spirit dwells in each of us.
The Spirit of God dwells in each one of us. If we could remember the reality of what we celebrate on this day, think of how much easier our lives would be.
We would know that we don’t need to go someplace to find God…
We would know that we can’t be separated from our God…
We would know that we are all brothers and sisters, connected at the deepest levels…
We would know that through the power of God working in us we can do so much more than we can imagine.
We would know that though our bodies will one day pass away, we will live in oneness with our God forever.
That seems to me something worth remembering. Blessings on this celebration of Pentecost!
Like all of us, I have contradictory impulses. I find in myself seemingly opposed desires, and tendencies, which operate with greater or lesser strength at different times.
One of those for me has to do with a sense of home and belonging. On the one hand, I have a strong desire to be free to go wherever God calls me. I have what one of my friends termed a strong missionary streak and that side of me likes the idea of being ready and able to pick up and go wherever I am led by the Spirit, be it Nepal and India (as I did in my younger days) or Minnesota (where I am now), without anything to hinder me. That is the side of me that sees my path as a series of pilgrimages. The side of me that gets nervous when I feel like I have too many belongings, too much “stuff.” For that part of me, notions like “home” and “belonging” have no place.
But there is also a part of me that desires to feel a sense of home, to feel like I belong somewhere. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that in most periods of my life I have not felt a sense of home and belonging, feeling like I didn’t (and don’t) fully fit in wherever I am. There has often times been a feeling of rootlessness and homelessness. And sometimes feeling rootless and homeless bothers me, making me feel unanchored and alone.
I’ve been sitting with a question my spiritual director asked me the other day when we were talking about this. She asked, “Do you want to pray to feel more at home here [in the Twin Cities]?” As soon as she asked it, I realized it was a question I couldn’t answer on the spot.
I spent a long time sitting with the question and what I came to realize is that the answer to it is No. When I look at the two contradictory tendencies and ask myself that question, I realize that the deeper desire is for it not to be important that I feel at “home” in any physical place here. That what I want most deeply is to be totally willing and free to go wherever God may want to send me. I think of the line in Matthew’s passage where Jesus observes that “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” and I want it to not matter where I lay my head.
When I can get in touch with that deeper desire, I can recognize that the feelings of homelessness and rootlessness, and perhasp even the desire for a sense of home, is a reflection of Augustine’s recognition that “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” That doesn’t mean the feeling of homelessness won’t continue to well up and occasionally make me feel sad. But it does help me to understand and accept the feeling for what is it when it arises.