The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this? Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. -John 2:13-22
About This Week's Retreat
Zeal for thy house will consume me (Psalm 69:9).The same zeal which inspired Simeon to wait in his last days for the Christ, and Anna to devote the whole of her widowhood to prayer in the Temple, compels Jesus to make a whip of cords to drive out the animal sellers and money changers profaning the sanctuary with idolatry, thievery, exploitation, and corruption. And maybe just carelessness or indifference to God – the opposite of zeal.
Zeal transfigures a worshiper's sight to perceive the glorious architecture and carvings, the magnificent embroidered curtain, the silent Holy of Holies of the Temple, as a mere shadow of something subtle, unseen, un-seeable. Zeal allows ordinary people to visibly manifest the Temple of Christ’s body through justice, peace, respect, understanding, holiness, love.
With zeal we preach the cross even while and it comes out sounding like foolishness. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
Nevertheless, fools or not, zealous or not, you and I are the living stones of the Temple. Perhaps only a fool can grasp this weird symmetry of grace.
This week's retreat asks you to move through a purgation of false ideals (Meditation One) to the idea of the soul as temple of God – a place of beauty (Meditation Two). Finally, I ask you to read a prayer from a young woman during World War II, soon to be deported to Auschwitz in impossibly anxious and dangerous times, vowing to maintain a place for God in the soul, even when everything, including life, is being taken away (Meditation Three).
Foolishly yours as always, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Stark Warning
I read the cleansing of the temple as a stark warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed in the name of God are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours.
His coming means a purge. So it is always not less with the shrine of our hearts than with the … Temple.
- William Temple 1881-1944
For Reflection: What sorts of things do you think need to be purged within the shrine of your heart? What particular manifestations of "misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed" might compete against or distract you from the Divine Presence dwelling within you?
Baal, 14-12 BCE, Bronze Figurine, Louvre
You shall not make for yourself an idol … Exodus 20:4a
And at noon Elijah mocked (the priests of Ba’al), saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." -1Kings 18:27 Footnote in the Oxford Annotated Bible: One of the sharpest satires on paganism ever penned. He has gone aside is probably a euphemism for attending to natural needs.
Their idols are silver and gold, they work of human hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; eyes have they, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; feet, but they cannot walk; they make no sound with their throat. Those who make them are like them, and so are all who put their trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8
God of Holy Rage, Too often we fear that to allow for anger is to become less like You. Let us meet the God of the prophets. You, who tells the truth. You, who holds fury at injustice. Help us to remember that You, in embodied anger, flipped the temple tables at the site of injustice and exclusion. In a world where the powerful terrorize the marginalize – exploit people and land – would You help us to become faithful discerners of when to calm and when to rouse? Rejecting that anger which leads to bitterness or hatred of another, yet tapping into a righteous rage when that which you’ve created is under abuse and neglect. The dignity of creation demands our emotions. Make ours a beautiful rage.
–Cole Arthur Riley Black Liturgies (Black Liturgies: “a project seeking to integrate concepts of dignity, lament, rage, justice, rest, and liberation with the practice of written prayer.”)
God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple: all you who believe in Christ and whose belief makes you love him.
Real belief in Christ means love of Christ: it is not the belief of the demons who believed without loving and therefore despite their belief said: What do you want with us, Son of God?
No; let our belief be full of love for him we believe in, so that instead of saying: What do you want with us, we may rather say: We belong to you, you have redeemed us.
All who believe in this way are like the living stones which go to build God’s temple, and like the rot-proof timber used in the framework of the ark which the flood waters could not submerge. It is in this temple, that is, in ourselves, that prayer is addressed to God and heard by him.
–Augustine 354-430 Expositions on the Psalms
For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. -Hebrews 9:24
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. -Acts 17:24-5
(Sing it now, - once more, with zeal)
The glory of these forty days we celebrate with songs of praise; for Christ, through whom all things were made, himself has fasted and has prayed.
Alone and fasting Moses saw the loving God who gave the law; and to Elijah, fasting, came the steeds and chariots of flame.
So Daniel trained his mystic sight, delivered from the lion's might; and John, the Bridegroom's friend, became the herald of Messiah's name.
Then grant us, Lord, like them to be full oft in fast and prayer with thee; our spirits strengthen with thy grace, and give us joy to see thy face.
Latin, 6th century trans. Maurice F. Bell 1862-1947
The Expulsion of the Money Changers, Giotto, 1304-06
Meditation Two (Insight) Inner Beauty
In the eleventh century the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina noted that to admire a mosaic for being flawless, ordered and symmetrical, was at the same time to recognize divine glory, for 'God is at the source of every beautiful thing.' In the thirteenth century, from across a divide of faith, Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, asked us to picture 'a beautiful house, this beautiful universe. Think of this or that beautiful object. But then, omitting “this” and “that,” think of what makes “this” and “that” beautiful. Try to see what Beauty is in itself... If you succeed, you will see God Himself, the Beauty which dwells in all beautiful things.' pp. 117-118
While a common reaction to seeing a thing of beauty is to want to buy it, our real desire may be not so much to own what we find beautiful as to lay permanent claim to the inner qualities it embodies. Owning such an object may help us realize our ambition of absorbing the virtues to which it alludes, but we ought not to presume that those virtues will automatically or effortlessly begin to rub off on us through tenure. Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love. What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty. pp. 150-152
-Alain de Botton The Architecture of Happiness
So many writers (Teresa of Avila comes to mind immediately) write about the beauty of the soul. But how do you perceive that beauty? What kind of a daily practice might you make to develop your sense of both observed and inner beauty – the beauty you can perceive around you and your own soul's beauty? (Can you see the concept of the beauty of the soul as a link between Meditation One (purgation of the soul) and Meditation Three (integration/ union of the soul with God in service to others?)
Meditation Three (Integration) These Anxious Times
“Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn't seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safekeeping instead of guarding You, dear God. An there are those who want to put their bodies in safekeeping but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, 'I shan't let them get me into their clutches.' But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms. I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with You. I shall have many more conversations with you. You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little. But believe me, I shall always labor for You and remain faithful to You and I shall never drive You from my presence. ...”
-Etty Hillesum 1914-1943 An Interrupted Life
You can feel the terror in this prayer. Yet she vows to consciously making room for God in her soul, no matter what happens. She realizes she can't worry about tomorrow, as hard as that will be, because it takes up too much space, a “shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings.” As if God needs assurance, she says she does not blame God. She confesses that she will be weak and faithless from time to time. Her strategy is to help God help her, and others, protect God dwelling within them, to the end.
What form does your compassion for God take? As you listen to the news this week, perhaps try to be more conscious of God dwelling in each and all of us and in nature, in the context of the tremendous suffering around the globe.
The Last Word
And I promise you, yes I promise you, my God, that I shall try to find a "home" and a roof for you in as many houses as possible. There are so many empty houses, where I will bring you in as guest of honor.
-Etty Hillesum 1914-1943
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?
-1 Corinthians 6:19
More on the Den of Thieves
The soul, the conscience of the faithful, is also the temple and house of God. Should this soul bring forth wicked thoughts, towards the injuring of our neighbor, these will settle there like robbers in a cave, slaying one by one those who pass by, thrusting the swords of their malice into those who are without fault. The faithful soul is now no longer a house of prayer, but a den of thieves; scorning the innocence and simplicity of holiness, it tries to injure its neighbor. But since we are instructed without ceasing against all such perversities of conduct by the words of the Redeemer throughout the sacred pages, even now Christ is doing what we are told he then did: "And he was teaching daily in the temple." For Truth teaches daily in the temple when it carefully instructs the mind of the faithful.
-Gregory the Great homily 39, quoted from Gail Ramshaw's Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary