Monday, February 15, 2010

Temple of a Mid-Atlantic Lake

I wish America had more temples, though I'm not sure they'd be a hit on Maryland's Eastern Shore. When I read travelogues or history narratives of the Far East, writers frequently encounter and describe temples, which are austere and welcoming and always open. People go in and sit--to pray, to meditate, to be still, to be thankful, to be mindful. And I feel like that is something we are missing out on.

Our churches are locked when there isn't a service scheduled. You don't just walk up and go sit in a church by yourself or with other spiritual pilgrims if you're rolling through or you might find yourself meditating in the back seat of a squad car.

At the same time the predetermined open/closed nature of an American church seems a good analogy for how we see God/the Universe/Creation: we worship only at certain set times, say Sunday mornings. Beyond that we don't have time in our fixed schedules. And we need an ordered service spelled out for us to tell us how to go about it; an instruction manual, Salvation! Some assembly required. Why would we know how to do something like that ourselves?

If there is a "temple" that is American, in its architecture, in its meaning in our history, in the way it/they dot our countryside, I'd vote for nominating the barn. You could take that shape with its connotations and turn it into something cool. But don't go poking your head into someone's barn to sit and pray or meditate or you're likely to find yourself at the wrong end of a double-barrel scepter...

A few years back Mike Keene and I went to Appomattox, Virginia, to run 34 miles on trails around a lake--our first ultra marathon. It was February, pitch dark, and 14 degrees cold when we started. There were about 250 of us. The lake was frozen.

As we ran and the sun came out and the day warmed slightly, this strange, beautiful, eerie, welcoming, off-putting, awe-inspiring sound began to unravel as we ran along the lake. I've never heard a dinosaur bellow, but it might have sounded something like this sound. It was the ice on the lake cracking and melting. Living on rivers that is not a sound you will ever hear.

I think about that morning and that race and the people I met and talked to and why they were there, and the things we saw and heard and experienced that day. And that lake and that sound and the cold and my body and endorphins and soul warming over the temperature, and that is the first thing that comes to my mind when I picture a temple that I have been to. A temple of a Mid-Atlantic lake and the pilgrims who were there, that morning, that day, to pray.

Holiday Lake 50K++, Appomattox, Virginia, February 2007, with some fellow trail pilgrims, from the race that got me to start writing this blog, three years ago. Photo by Andrew Wilds Photography.

No comments: