On Temples and Our Hospitality toward God

templeBy Amy Carr

When praying the psalms, what images are conjured for you by the frequent mention of the Temple at Mt. Zion? I know I’ve written about this before, but as I’ve had this question in the background over the years, sometimes the kaleidoscope shifts into a new pattern of seeing.

First, a taste of what’s swirling in the kaleidoscope for me when I see the word “Temple” arise in a psalm.

As one who teaches an introductory course on the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), when I think of the Temple, I might think first of the rise of a kind of Zionism among a minority of Israeli Jews—a Zionism that seeks to reclaim the Temple Mount and rebuild the Temple, despite (or even welcoming) the apocalyptic chaos this would bring, given that a mosque now lies on the site of the old Temple.

Or I think about the debate between the progressive Women of the Wall and the conservative Women for the Wall—a debate about whether women should have more space to pray, and to pray in the ritual ways that Orthodox men are permitted to do (wearing prayer shawls and reciting Torah), at the Western Wall that surrounds what was once the Temple.

When I think about the meaning of the Temple for those of us who are Christians, I feel first that resistance that comes from knowing that most of us don’t hunger to travel to a Temple that no longer exists (a resistance shared by many Jews as well).

Then I think about how the Temple for us has become transfigured into Christ’s body—into the crucified yet risen Jesus, and into the Spirit-animated church that is the extension of Christ’s body.

And now, because it is Advent, I think too about Mary’s womb as the first earthly temple for Jesus.

That image ties into what occurred to me reading lectio this morning—a line that drew forth a new set of associations for the Temple and the psalmist’s joy in it.

This line snagged me: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God is shining forth” (Ps. 50:2).

This line evoked first what I’d read recently of the colorful embroidered linens and beautiful objects that graced the Temple before its destruction by the Roman Empire in 70 AD.

And then I think about my friend Kelley, who creates mandalas (including a circular coffee table in my living room, it tops a mandala made of broken ceramic plates, glass, and mirrors). She also organizes community art projects, especially the making of labyrinths at schools, hospitals, or churches. When I texted her recently from the San Diego airport to describe what I was enjoying about the spaciousness of its architecture, she replied that she was at that moment happily creating beauty in her art studio.

“Out of the Temple at Zion, the perfection of beauty, God is shining forth.”

Even if the Temple at Jerusalem is the archetypal temple of Jews and Christians alike, this line from the psalm reminds us that a temple itself is something made by human hands whose beauty comes through both our human patterns of making, and God’s own decision to dwell in that human-made space.

At Advent we pray, “Come and dwell with us.”

And we make and care for the Temple of God in all the temples we make in our shared lives.

Last night our church had a Salsa and Hanging of the Greens party. Someone had to go out to buy a new base for one of the Christmas trees. Someone else said she always carries extra white stringed lights in her car, since you never know when they might be needed; and last night they were, for the same pre-lit tree whose lights no longer worked.

My husband Michael thought the tree looks shabby with those old lights still on it, even though there are now new working ones stringed over the tree. He thought that wasn’t fitting for God’s house, and vowed to take those pre-lit strands off the tree, somehow, when the Christmas season is over.

God shines forth from the improvised lights of the tree as it is now, and from the intention of making that tree more beautiful for next year.

There’s one other place I’ve recently noticed God shine forth from the perfection of a temple’s beauty—in this case, in the courtyard of the temple.

Recently I attended a Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians conference in San Diego. We met at First Lutheran Church, which has a homeless ministry weekday mornings, including a breakfast and sometimes a health clinic. The morning we were there, those of us visiting were asked to participate in the first wedding between two homeless persons, held in the church courtyard before the morning’s breakfast.

We spoke for a while with the bride’s mother, a white woman who had married a black veteran. Their daughter was marrying a white man. She was pregnant, and they already had a son, a toddler running around, smiling at everyone with unexpectedly blue eyes.

Those of us gathered there for our conference were interlopers among the crowd of familiars who gathered in the courtyard, some of them at first surprised, then relaxing and beaming to be walking into a wedding of two people they knew.

We all sang Amazing Grace.

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