Friday, March 18, 2011

Sacred spaces…

Did y’all hear about our recent outing to the Hindu Temple of Minnesota? Saturday, March 12, around 10 AM, a group of PCCCers met at church, loaded into the new bus (first time for many!) and drove to this temple in Maple Grove. Another PCCC cadre awaited our arrival; a further faction of five arrived minutes later. A tour guide gathered and greeted us, and for 90 minutes we explored what is, we learned, the largest Hindu Temple in North America.

First, I want to express my deep appreciation for the hospitality we received from these sisters and brothers of a different faith. Occasionally, we hear American religious culture described as full of conflict and division. In some ways, that’s true. Many faith traditions throughout history, certainly our Christian tradition, sometimes offered stridently closed worldviews. Seeking to express sincere devotion to God or Ultimate Reality however defined, some claimed their way of comprehending spirituality was the only proper path toward salvation or enlightenment. A “My way or the Hell highway” brand of belief. But more often, I feel, in daily life faithful people of many stripes practice a humbler religion. Surveys show that, among American Christians, over 70% believe God has created multiple pathways for receiving grace and forgiveness. I.e. Jesus is a great way, but not the only way. In my heart, I cherish the open instincts of our Savior, who called any and all to more holiness, justice and truth, without quibbling over the ‘correct’ religious or cultural background. A word for that practice is hospitality, and as pastor of a church who’s named “unconditional hospitality” as a core value, I believe we found companions for our journey at the Hindu Temple, however differently they describe spiritual reality.

But certainly, Hinduism is not Christianity! So it was enriching to learn more about what feeds their souls and helps ground their families in a culture worlds away from the Indian soil where Hinduism has grown for 5,000+ years. I can’t describe everything that struck me last Saturday, but let me name one issue that felt foreign to my religious understanding, yet was surprisingly, blessedly, familiar.

As you probably know, Hindus honor many deities. There’s a ‘trinity’ of sorts, three major gods- Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu- but also a ‘monotheistic’ impulse, for they acknowledge a unifying Spirit, Brahman, supreme over all. Beyond that, though, is a vast array of gods and goddesses to whom worshippers, communities, even geographic regions give varying degrees of devotion. The MN Hindu Temple has erected shrines for 21 divinities, and as we toured the space, we saw priests and devotees move from one shrine to the next chanting scripture, performing baby dedications and other rituals, and otherwise praying for blessings depending on the particular deity’s area of responsibility, so to speak.

That’s pretty different than my belief system, obviously. But something our guide said resonated with PCCC church culture. “We each devote ourselves to one or several gods or goddesses (for whatever reason), and develop a kind of relationship with them. Over time, that fosters a deep intimacy with that deity.” Our church talks often about intimacy; indeed, “friendly, intimate community” is another core value. Sometimes, that’s shorthand for, “We’re a small church”! But more profoundly, we honor intimacy- with each other and God- because, in my opinion, intimate relationship, i.e. love, is Jesus’ main prescription for transforming our lives and world into what God intended. “Love God (completely), and your neighbor as yourself.” Put differently, intimacy matters, perhaps more than anything. In Hindu tradition, a person or community might spend decades praying to Parvati or Krishna; pleading for help, celebrating success, getting angry at her/him for not delivering, saying, “I’m sorry.” Sound familiar?! Throughout life, therefore, a sacred space of intimacy grows in the group’s or worshipper’s heart, a nexus for faith to develop, sustain and guide devotees now and into the great beyond. Though I do things differently, I too seek increased intimacy with my God- Jesus, Lord and Leader of my life- trusting that nurturing sacred spaces, in my heart and elsewhere, will produce greater love for God and all God’s children. So I pray for you.

Grace and Peace,


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