In his poem What's in the Temple?, Tom Barrett poses three questions:
If you had a
temple in the secret spaces of your heart, what would you worship there?
would you bring to sacrifice? and
What would be behind the curtain in the holy
I think that the first question, "what
would you worship there?" is quite a challenging one for Unitarians, as we
do not presume to define God / the Sacred Divine for others, and some of us do
not believe in an external divine other at all. Our Unitarianism these days is a wonderful “free faith based on the inner authority of the
enlightened conscience.” And our
consciences are enlightened by not only what we think and believe with our
heads. Intuition and feeling are also considered
important, thanks initially to James Martineau, the great 19th century
Unitarian theologian. And our beliefs may change over time, as part of a process of continuous and continuing revelation.
So my answer to the first question might
be: I would worship the God I believe in, whom I have come to believe in
through exercising my reason and conscience, and through bouncing ideas off
other Unitarians. And that the God I believe in is a personal God, who exists
both "out there" as well as "in here", and whose divine
principle is Love. But that is just my answer, as a unique Unitarian, and this belief might change over time.
Friday, 16 May 2014
What's in the Temple?
At first sight, the second question "what would you bring to sacrifice?" may seem to have little relevance to modern Unitarians. But I think that if you understand the word "sacrifice" in terms of giving something up, it makes a lot more sense in a Unitarian context. Because our Unitarian faith should not be practiced lightly, without commitment, and making a commitment to something often involves sacrificing some part of our old lives.
My answer to this second question would be, in the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross "all that is not truly me, all that I have chosen without choosing and valued without evaluating, or accepted because of someone else’s extrinsic judgment, rather than my own; and all my self-doubt that keeps me from trusting and loving myself or other human beings." This is a work in progress; to fulfil it will take my whole life.
Barrett's last question was "What would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies?" The holy of holies was the innermost sanctuary of the
Temple in Jerusalem, and
was separated from the rest of the
by a curtain or veil. According to the Hebrew Bible, only the high priest could
go in there, and he only once a year. The holy of holies was said to contain
the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the ten commandments given to Moses by
God on Temple Mount Sinai. This was the most holy and
precious object in . Temple
So the answer to the question what would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies refers to that which is most precious to each of us, which we prize above all other things. Or perhaps what we appreciate most about our own faith tradition, in my case Unitarianism.
For me the important thing about Unitarianism is that we are united in our diversity; united in the mutual provision of this safe and sacred space, in which we may explore our diverse beliefs and faiths, knowing that our doubts and questions and beliefs will be held and respected, and that we will be welcomed just the way we are.
And it is precious. This way of being united in diversity - a way of being religious and spiritual that involves mutual respect and acceptance and love - is what would be behind the curtain in my holy of holies.