It was almost a year ago that I was unexpectedly rushed to the emergency room by my wife at 4am with uncontrollable and painful vomiting. It turns out that I had contracted acute pancreatitis, which by some medical standards is one of the more painful conditions that humans can endure. I was in the hospital for 5 days, and it was never exactly certain how I got pancreatitis. The #1 cause is excessive alcohol consumption, and I don’t drink, never have. The #2 cause is gall stones, and my sonogram revealed that no, it was not a boy that we were expecting, and also that I didn’t have gall stones. So what the hell.
No matter, that’s not the point of this. I was out of work for almost two weeks. When I got back, I was talking to one of my colleagues about what happened, and she expressed particular shock about my hospitalization. In her words (paraphrasing) “You are the type of guy who is total ‘my body is a temple,’ and so for you to get so sick all of the sudden was really shocking for many of us.”
Since then I haven’t really thought of that phrase, except for I guess admitting that it’s true. I take pride in being healthy and active. I can’t say I always eat the most healthy of foods, but in general I’m pretty good about my diet, I don’t smoke or drink, and I like to typically get around 2 hours of exercise a day, whether it be surfing, running, swimming, lifting, you name it. (Coaching high school sports allows me time to accomplish much of this exercise, as I’m the type of coach who coaches from in the pool or on the field.) I guess I’d also be willing to admit that I’m a bit on the vain side as well, and exercise for health as well as aesthetics. But a “temple,” huh.
The phrase came back up to me today while listening to a homily in Mass. We attend St. Agnes, a Jesuit parish in the Haight Ashbury. It’s a really rad spot–inclusive, diverse, spiritually challenging, you name it. We’ve been going for a few years and feel a good sense of home there. Today’s homily issued to me a really powerful image that I just loved and have been thinking about ever since.
The priest was preaching on John 2:13-22. I did not know that at the time, but I looked it up in the weekly bulletin and whipped out my iTouch to make a note of the passage so I could reference it in this post. My wife in the pew next to me, as I reached through my jacket to get my iTouch, gave me a look like “Wow that is a ballsy move man, to start surfing the net in the middle of the Apostle’s Creed.”
In the passage, Jesus talks about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days. As the apostles later learned, he wasn’t talking about the actual temple, but the temple of his body, which he was to resurrect.
So Fr. Ray went into a stirring homily about the “body as a temple,” and it was inspiring. His basic argument was that if Jesus saw his body as a temple, then therefore all of our bodies are also temples, as we too are made in God’s image, and I dug that. I like the call to avoid self-destruction and to take care of yourself. He raised the hypothetical world in which all humans spent as much time thinking about their spiritual and physical well-being as they do thinking about work, and how much more serene we all would be. It made me remember an interview I heard with a Buddhist scholar, whose basic premise was No Duh the Dalai Lama is so balanced, he has spent decades in meditation. If we all did that, we’d all be equally balanced and happy. (Not to undermine the Dalai Lama, it was just a cool perspective.)
But what actually caught my focus in this homily was a challenge issued by Fr. Ray. If my body is a temple, the quite logically the body of everyone else around me is also a temple, as it houses each of their hearts and souls. To paraphrase his words, “when we approach a person in our daily life, we should approach them with the same humility and dignity when we walk into a sacred space or to receive communion.”
I love that concept. I can’t imagine a more daunting task, but it made tangible the the challenge of being alive in a world of human relationships. Every human around us, regardless of how pretty, despicable, agitating, or charming, is a living temple, and simply to be in his or her presence is a spiritual gift. If only I was strong enough to embrace this! I would be so much more grateful for every human interaction, so much less critical, and such a better friend!
I share this thought today because it is something that I think will stay with me for a very long time, and is a hopeful goal which will lead to more harmony and joy in life. I echo Fr. Ray and issue you the same challenge.