Sunday, November 9, 2014

Word for the Day: Temple

What else but temple? Today the Church celebrates the dedication of the mother church of Christendom, the Lateran Basilica, on November 9, 324; and our Scripture readings are absolutely weighed down with references to temples.

But what sort of temple are we talking about? Sure, the Lateran Basilica is a real, actual, brick-and-mortar place, but what about the “holy city,” the “new Jerusalem“ of Revelation, in the antiphon? What about Ezekiel’s temple, with water flowing from its sides? Was that a metaphor? What about the temple thronging with money changers and crooks in the Gospel? Are these metaphors?

Of what?

St. Paul begins with a metaphor. “You are God’s building,” he tells the Corinthians. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

I get what he’s saying, I think. But doesn’t Paul open the door to the “I’m spiritual, not religious” crowd? Doesn’t this crowd believe they can live without real, actual temples—you know, the bad kind with male authority figures standing around in robes telling us what we can’t do?

BTW, does the usage of temple, referring to a side of the skull, derive from the belief that the only real temple is inside our heads?

I have been sensitized to such questions by reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I figure, if I’m taking another pilgrimage, I might want to ponder the meaning of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage involves walking (usually) to an actual place. Usually in that place there is a temple.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is about a man named Graceless (renamed Christian!) who, weighed down by a heavy burden and convinced that his city will go up in flames, sets off for the Celestial City. He is so determined to make the journey that he leaves wife Christiana and four sons behind.

Clearly, Christian is walking toward a temple—The Temple—the new Jerusalem of today’s antiphon. He has a destination, an end point, a living goal. But isn’t Bunyan’s Celestial City only a metaphor? But then, a metaphor of what?

What happens to our lives when they are lived metaphorically—without an actual goal or physical end point? What happens if heaven is not for real?

Does the human heart need a target for its devotion, a real place to which it is going or must go? And if not heaven, then what? The board room? The shopping mall? The TV-room couch? The graveyard?

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