The theme of this series is “Finding the sacred in the Everyday.” Recently I received a comment asking “Why?” By the age of two, most of us learn that “Why?” is a really great question. Without going all existentialistic in my answer, I think the best response might very well be “Because.” I mean that honestly and not in a humorous manner. Because we are alive, because we exist, because we are always either moving forward or retreating, we are constructing a life. Sacred refers to that which is meaningful and I really believe we should look for and give value to those things that are meaningful. In my humble opinion, to do anything less is to stop living.
In his book “Choke”, writer Chuck Palahniuk penned: “It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos. What it’s going to be, I don’t know. Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. And maybe knowing isn’t the point. Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”
Mankind has forever been building. Chicago, Illinois, USA is home to the nation’s tallest church building. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, the Chicago Temple stands five hundred and sixty-eight feet or twenty-three stories. Its stone gothic spire announces to all the presence of the First United Methodist Church with a first floor sanctuary that seats one thousand and a sky chapel for smaller services. At half its height but perhaps the greater architectural marvel, the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan stands at two hundred and thirteen feet or sixty-five meters. Dating to the twelfth century, this beautiful structure made of brick, stucco, and tiles has withstood the ravages of time, man, nature, and invading armies.
Mankind has built structures to deities and in honor of spiritualities since the beginning. A Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva stands on the banks of the Ganges River. It’s gold-plated, fifty-foot (fifteen-plus meters) spire beckons its faithful in search of moksha or liberation. Biria Mandir is another Hindu temple in India, known for its curved, red shikaras, the tallest standing one hundred and sixty-five feet or fifty meters.
From the Giant Synagogue of Budapest to the Lom Stave Church in Norway, man has consistently erected structures to proclaim his/her faith. These material edifices should not be mistaken for the reason for the belief, though. “I would rather build a relationship than a wall. Can you pass me another brick?” wrote Jared Kintz in “This Book Has No Title”. Our buildings are beautiful works of art and I do not wish to disdain the skills and professions involved with their construction. The contractor of such, whether living in ancient times or today, has always had much to consider and resolve.
About the time we first learned the greatness in asking “Why?”, we also were given building blocks as toys. There is much to learn in the simple process of putting one thing on top of another. Indeed, our very lives are the process of putting one experience on top of another. While no likes or enjoys negative experiences, they often are the ones that teach us the greatest. We do not find the evidence and proof of our beliefs in the buildings where we worship. We find those things in our everyday living.
Writer Jared Diamond once noted that “The Anasazi [American Indians living in the southwest region of the USA] did manage to construct in stone the largest and tallest buildings erected in North America until the Chicago steel girder skyscrapers of the 1880s.” These tall buildings dedicated to worship are not new inventions of our modern times. Our ability to do the math required might be greater and our building tolls newer, but ancient times reflect the lengths and heights to which mankind has gone in seeking higher wisdom and knowledge as well as attempting to please mankind’s deities and great spirits.
“For us to deem a work of architecture elegant, it is hence not enough that it looks simple: we must feel that the simplicity it displays has been hard won, that it flows from the resolution of demanding technical or natural predicament. Thus we call the Shaker staircase in Pleasant Hill elegant because we know–without ever having constructed one ourselves – that a staircase is a site complexity, and that combinations of treads, risers and banisters rarely approach the sober intelligibility of the Shakers’ work. We deem a modern Swiss house elegant because we know how seamlessly its windows have been joined to their concrete walls, and how neatly the usual clutter of construction has been resolved away. We admire starkly simple works that we intuit would, without immense effort, have appeared very complicated. Alain de Botton in his book “The Architecture of Happiness” perhaps has written the core of the reason we construct such worship. We want it to be an accomplishment; we feel we must somehow earn it.
I know of no deity or spirituality that claims its spirit or deity can or should be contained within four walls, whether they be stories that reach into the sky or surrounded in an underwater cave or mountain cove. Most, in fact, stress the inability of man to contain their gods and spirits. These objects of our worship are greater than all we know and see. Bryant McGill once remarked that “We are all constructed out of our own self-dialogue.” We build our worship and faith in the internal conversations with our deities, not by walking into a grand building.
I agree with Constance Chuks Friday who wrote “A great man’s strength is identified by what he builds, not what he destroys.” We cannot give credence to those who pillage in the name of religion. The recent destruction of ancient temples and churches is not an act of devotion to a faith. These acts bespeak of evil, not goodness. Those ordering them and those carrying out such acts do not construct worship nor do they please any deity. They do, however, condemn themselves to a life destroyed by their own actions.
Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once confessed: ““Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” We find the sacred in our everyday living by constructing lives of value, by rebuilding after land mines explode in our own lives. The cornerstone of the soul’s foundations is laid with acts of kindness and goodness, acts the support human dignity and further the cause of mankind. We construct examples of our faith by living that which we worship. How we treat others is the stairway to the heavens which we perhaps one day will climb, the key to a greater life eternally. We construct testaments to our worship in how we walk our life, in the daily steps we take. Our treatment of others shows more than the tallest building, reflects who we are better than the shiniest of golden spires. Because we live, we must construct lives worthy of our faith.