Sunday, 11 December 2011

the heart as the true place of worship

I suspect that for most religious followers the idea of a religion without a central place of worship (institutional building) is completely unthinkable. Yet, scripture tells us that God never intended that we should build such structures. According to Fr. Scott Lewis associate professor of New Testament at Regis College that seems precisely the case. In his weekly column of the Catholic Register he provides the following reflection on the readings for Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B) Dec. 18 he tells us “The idea of building a house for God seems rather preposterous. In the verses omitted from the lectionary reading, God tells David in no uncertain terms that he is out of line.”

Again Fr. Lewis adds “God’s home and the only fitting dwelling or house that we can provide for God is the human heart. We should be very cautious of attemp-ting to confine, localize or domesticate God in any way. God is at work in ways that we have not even imagined — far better to be God’s instrument rather than God’s consultant.”

In several other verses to Chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians we are reminded that ‘we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building’ and16 then asked ‘do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?*

In subsequent verses, also omitted from the usual lectionary readings, warnings against building a house of religion is expressed in even more surprising and dramatic terms: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3: 10-15)

The following wonderful story by Fr. Anthony de Mello illustrates Fr. Scott Lewis’ point to perfection:

There was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was very cold, bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. The people were very interested. He showed them the uses to which they could put fire – they could cook, could keep themselves warm, etc. They were so grateful that they had learned the art of making fire. But before they could express their gratitude to the man, he disappeared. He wasn’t concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their well-being. He went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention. People were interested there too, a bit too interested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it in any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they were very wise, even wily. Do you know what they did? They had a portrait of the man made and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, but there was no fire. Where’s your fire? Where’s the love? - Anthony de Mello, Awareness.

It is strange to think that Jesus who attended and read from the scriptures at a synagogue and celebrated the various Jewish festivals at the Temple in Jerusalem would concur with this idea. Yet, I believe he would. When humankind determined they should establish their own separate houses of faith it also lead to exclusivity and various forms of violent division between the different faiths. Remember we know that God asks us to live in Oneness– not separate from one another. This blog was written just before I learned that the Catholic Church has purchased Rev. Robert Schuller's defunct Crystal Cathedral in California for a mere $ 57.5 million. What are we to make of this?

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