On building temples

Kester Brewin writes:

The city, our whole world, is a rich resource for enquiry and inspiration. We need not to build temples, but to see the world as a temple. To see each thing as sacred, as having the potential for beauty, for transformation, for guiding our thoughts.

The last sentence quoted above could well be a summation of my goals in life. To be aware of the sacredness of everything in every moment is something I strive for. In contrast to Kester, however, I think it is precisely this reason that we do need to build temples.

The voices that surround me are those that tell me the world is mine to be bought and sold, that it is a dangerous place in need of taming, that it is crude matter trapping a higher spirit. The world is a material to be formed into a product and escaped. To be transformed by the sacred beauty of the world I must train myself against those voices. I must learn to identify the sacred over the commodity. I must grasp beauty over usefulness.

When advertising is the dominant feature of both the landscape and the discourse, how do we reorient toward the sacred? This reorientation is goal of the temple. The temple is the place in which focus on the sacred is the goal. The temple is the part of the landscape in which the focus is necessarily on the sacred. The Temple is the site of resistance to the desacralization of the world. It does not (or should not) define itself as a sacred space in the midst of the profane, but as a point of focus on the sacredness of the world.

The temple is the training ground.

I pray daily. I set aside time to sit and be in the presence of the divine. I break out of the patterns of the day and put my focus on God through contemplation. I learn to experience the presence of God.

This practice does not imply that at all other times I am outside the presence of the divine. Rather it teaches me to become aware of the presence at all times. I don’t pray and then define all other activity as not-prayer. I pray so that all activity becomes prayer. I sit at my altar and practice specific forms of prayer so that I can orient my entire awareness toward prayer.

This is the goal of the temple. It is a space in which to learn to see the sacred, not so that everything outside the temple is excluded from the sacred, but so that outside the temple we can see the sacred in the face of all that tells us to deny it.

We build temples not to exclude the world from them, but to learn to see the world as the temple that it is.


  1. Elizabeth

    YES THIS! I love the way you frame this. That’s what I want my prayer to be, what I want my temple time to be… what I want my church to be: help to stay grounded in the beauty around me, when other forces would blind and distract me. This is an ecclesiology based in embodiment.

  2. “I must learn to identify the sacred over the commodity. I must grasp beauty over usefulness.”

    I totally agree…and that’s why I think you shouldn’t build temples, but seek out the transformation of the spaces tarnished by commodification, and make them useless, see their beauty and sacredness. To build separate spaces to do this is to commodify spirituality, and objectify it.

    As Meister Eckhart advises, ‘Spirituality is not to be learned in flight from the world, by fleeing from things to a place of solitude; rather we must learn to maintain an inner solitude regardless of where we are or who we are with. We must learn to penetrate things, and find God there.’

  3. Elizabeth

    KB, the proposed physical temple you’re discussing in your post is very different than what Gabe appears to be talking about here when he uses the word temple. I wonder if you noticed that.

    “To build separate spaces to do this is to commodify spirituality, and objectify it.”

    I could not agree less. Having a refuge to remember who I am outside advertising, oppression, and the hateful voices loudest in this culture has been and continues to be pretty damn critical to me having any connection to God.

    For some of us, it’s rather difficult to admit that we don’t have a perfect connection to God… that we can forget what we’re struggling for, and forget what that inner silence feels like. Refuge is a real need, especially with human culture’s capacity for harshness, cruelty and distortion of love. Training is a real need, when we are immersed every day in messages that attempt to do us harm. The kingdom is countercultural, and struggling against mainstream culture is exhausting. The temple space I see Gabe writing about is the very acts that nurture our understanding of God… the prayer time, the formation time, the repetition of messages of love that breaks through the repetition of messages of greed and hate. It’s also the dedicated spaces where that inner quiet can be relocated, when we can’t find it anywhere else.

    I have not always been able to find temple space in my life. I have not always been able to find what nurtures me, where I can hear God and ask for help in understanding what I am to do. The pain of those times is amplified when the message is reinforced yet again that I *should* be able to hear God anywhere. I appreciate you warning us about the dangers of building churchmall structures, but the other extreme is still too popular: insisting that all of us should be able to find *enough* clarity, strength and nourishment in any given space to keep us going on the right path. If you can do so, great. Not all of us can.

    I see nothing about flight from the world in the post here. I see an admittance that we ourselves are not God, and need strength outside our own; we need to draw from a well larger than ourselves when we work to expand beauty, grace, and peace in the world. And that’s exactly what a temple can be. It doesn’t have to be the expensive building you decry in your post. It can be the seed that spreads grace out into the surrounding soil. It can be a place to remember what quiet sounds like and what God sounds like when we’ve forgotten.

  4. “It does not (or should not) define itself as a sacred space in the midst of the profane, but as a point of focus on the sacredness of the world.” Beautiful! Namaste!

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