Saturday, May 7, 2011

Being Other

Traveling as an American, or as any other person who carries a label for others, it's been interesting to hear people engage us in conversation about the killing of Osama bin Laden.  I must confess a bit of defensiveness:  hey, I'm not the one who pulled the trigger or made the call.  There are shades of gray in everything and especially this event.  But it's interesting to be away from home and encounter the strong, unshaded opinions of others on an event like this. Interesting to take a deep breath and allow people to have the time they need to be critical or supportive.  Interesting to be an American away.

The Hindu Mandir in NW Toronto~ 24,000 carved stones fitted together; finished in 2 years' time.
Yesterday we had another experience that was an experience of being "Other."  Our daughter Emily took us to a Hindu temple complex on the NW side of Toronto, right up against the highway.  This is called the BAPS Swaminarayan Complex.  It consists of 2 large buildings, a short, teak carved all-purpose building where they hold meetings and educational events for men, women, and kids; as well as a breathtaking large temple. This temple was build in just 2 years, and everything was carved by hand in India.  24,000 pieces of carved rock fitted together afterward with no supporting metal in the structure.  We weren't allowed to photograph inside, unfortunately.

The entrance to what we could call the "parish hall"

Upon entering the "parish hall," women go to the left and men to the right.  You put your shoes in a cubby and walk around in socks...

Inside the temple the construction was very reminiscent of a mosque we had visited in Cordoba, Spain.  This mosque had been built in the Middle Ages and then was re-appropriated as a Christian church at a later time.  But the structure and decorations remained very much the same within the mosque.  It was amazing to see how both a Hindu and Muslim place of worship echoed the other's form.  A huge difference between the two was the Hindu use of images for the divine (humans and animals) vs the Muslim proscription of any images (and hence the proliferation of decorative elements such as calligraphy--the elevation of the Word as the beauty of Art).

Inside we were told there was to be silence, as this was a place of meditation.  And there the boundaries and differences dissolved.  Quiet is quiet, stillness is stillness, and the One speaks within it all.  If only we can gather ourselves up to receive.

There is strength in difference, unity in otherness.  It waits for us.  Quietly.

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