Friday, August 04, 2006

On Buildings and Souls

It was suggested to me once that I go to an old building and meditate upon it. The idea was to see what it had to teach me, to see how it had weathered storms, to see where its cracks, weaknesses and strengths were. Then I was to look at my own soul and reflect upon similar things from a spiritual perspective. What I’d like to share with you now is a little reflection on our monastery church building and on souls. I won’t say my soul, because I want you to look at your soul.

The first thing I noticed was that several of the pillars had old nail holes and other defects in them. Obviously the wood was not new even when the church was first built. We were quite poor in the beginning and had to use some scrap wood even in building the house of God.

Weathered wood was evident everywhere, grayed and in some places deeply grooved. In other places it had deteriorated so badly that we just had to tear it down and replace it. Still other places remained strong even though weather-beaten. Our temple has stood for about 26 years and I have stood with it for nearly 24 of those years. I’ve seen many storms lash at the church and have felt the building shudder with high winds. I’ve seen water leaking through the roof and pip-popping into old coffee cans spread out in strategic places on the floor. I’ve heard the crunching-plastic sound of a huge tarp billowing like some great parachute over the roof when it was all dismantled for repairs. But the church is still standing and the praises of God go on within her.

I recalled the termites in the lower structure and some powder post beetles in the roof decking (that’s country living for you!). I thought of what would happen if we didn’t deal with these intruders or if we did not take care to maintain other parts of the building. Eventually they would simply collapse and the church would not be able to function according to her design, could not be what she was built to be.

Certain changes have been made, not because something was damaged or deteriorating, but simply to increase the beauty of the temple. Utility does not stir the soul, but beauty does. And the temple is beautiful, even while bearing the marks of age and the various assaults of nature.

What about our souls? We too start out from the beginning somewhat flawed and imperfect because of the lamentable legacy of Adam. Even in our childhood innocence there were signs of an innate selfishness that would later manifest in our propensity to do our own will instead of God’s. Thus we diminished the reflection of the beauty of his image in us.

We have all undoubtedly weathered some (or many) personal storms in our lives, and we have shuddered under the fury of them. Perhaps we have sustained some serious damage because of them. We may have had much to suffer or had to make hard decisions or radical changes that altered the course of our lives. But look at yourself. Are you not still standing? Have you not survived? Do the praises of God not continue within you? Maybe they have become muted with pain and discouragement and sorrow. But the Spirit who dwells in your inner temple wishes to revive them.

You must look even more deeply now. Has anything invaded your soul which can potentially destroy it or which is actually doing so now? Are there bad habits or negative thought patters or besetting sins that are eating at your spiritual integrity like so many termites in wood? You can endure their presence for a while, perhaps even a long while, before you collapse. But are you willing to neglect your soul to the point that you can no longer be what you were created to be, no longer fulfill the mission God has entrusted to you? Some “rotted” areas of the soul simply have to be cut away and replaced by that which renews, strengthens, and supports the inner temple. This may mean adopting a new way of thinking or even changing the goals and direction of your life.

Once we cut out the dry rot or exterminate the destructive pests, we can also do some things simply for the sake of beautifying our souls. We can grow in virtue, we can open ourselves through prayer and meditation to deeper levels of communion with God.

You are beautiful, despite the marks of age and the storms you have weathered. Or perhaps you are beautiful precisely because of them. With the help of God you can “age” gracefully. You can still stand when the wind is against you. You have to be determined to do whatever it takes to preserve the Image, to be what you were created to be. And there is one thing that you must never forget: “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1Cor. 3:17).