You Are God’s Temple

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

I Corinthians 3:16

Yesterday morning, I read a blog post by Linda Unger, who travelled to spend a week with the United Methodist Committee on Relief to document how United Methodists are providing aid to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. In the post, Linda highlighted a few key scenes, and one image has really stuck with me. It is her description of the cathedral in Palo:

The Roman Catholic cathedral in Palo allowed its grounds—where many of the severed tree branches and parts of trunks had come to rest—to be used for a mass grave. The figures of two angels, standing high above where the cathedral doors used to be and beneath the roof that no longer is, remained inexplicably intact and watchful.

I did a google search on the cathedral and found a Wall Street Journal article about its fate after the typhoon. The photo of the building is both heartbreaking and beautiful. I carried this image around with me all day, as I wished everyone, from our food pantry recipients to members of our staff, a Happy Thanksgiving.

I am aware that this will Thanksgiving week be a time of significance for all of us, whether or not we are looking forward to it. Many of us will spend days with friends and family, reflecting with our loved ones about all that has transpired in our lives since we saw them last. Some of us will enjoy that time, and some of us will find it stressful, upsetting, and even unbearable, for whatever reasons. Some of us will spend the holiday alone or missing holidays of the past, when we remember being happier or healthier. And some of us will be marking losses, of people, places, or situations. The holidays are always a time of significance, in some way or another.

As I have thought about our collective holidays, I have held that image of the cathedral in my mind, and I believe it has a few lessons to teach us as we go into this holiday week.

Lesson 1: Accept the things you cannot change. Last year, the Palo cathedral underwent a $35 million renovation. Today, it has no roof, is exposed to the elements, and is littered with debris. I know this would make our Board of Trustees fall to their knees in despair. But the ministry of this cathedral is more significant today than it was a year ago when its walls shone with new paint. And that is only possible because its priests are focused on what the building can do today rather than all that has been lost in the past. As we encounter our family and friend situations this week, may we accept all that has come in the last year, knowing that the past simply cannot be changed. All we can do is ask that God guide us to do the best we can with our present and future.

Lesson 2: Pay attention to physical and spiritual needs. The priests at the cathedral recognize that the spiritual trauma that people have experienced is as important as the physical.

“The victims and survivors need peace in this kind of disaster,” said Father Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila. Peace and healing, he said, are as essential as relief goods for survivors “because they are still in trauma and hopeless because of what happened in their lives.” (WSJ)

At the cathedral, as bodies come in to be buried, they are blessed. Masses are held. Families leaving the city ask for emergency baptisms for their infants, and they are received with grace. These spiritual needs are just as important as the physical needs for food, water, and sanitation, and the work of the cathedral in this time recognizes this. On the other side of the world, we too should remember that we are not just going to be sharing physical space and meals this week, but that these holiday rituals serve a spiritual purpose. Even the conflict and depression we may experience during the holidays have spiritual roots, and this must be attended to.

Lesson 3: Pay attention to God’s call on your life in every moment. A few weeks ago, the rector of this cathedral was called to do everyday pastoral and church administrative tasks. But, after the typhoon, he is “now performing new roles, including aid coordinator and undertaker” (WSJ). This is an extreme example of taking on new roles in new situations, but the same idea holds true for us as we visit with family. In most cases, we have a long history with our families, and we may tend to want to fall back into old habits with them. But, over time, we change, they change, and we need to be attentive to how God may be calling our relationships with family members to change. Children and parents may switch places in care-taking and care-receiving roles. Given new situations, you may be called to be more gentle or more harsh with a loved one than you ever have been before. Changing our roles within our families is hard but necessary sometimes, so pay attention to how God is calling you to be this year.

Lesson 4: Take time to attend to what has been lost. The cathedral in Palo has opened itself to become a morgue and gravesite in these days, knowing that the dead must be acknowledged and grieved before healing and restoration can begin. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, stability, or other significant pieces of our lives. Acknowledging these losses and allowing in some of that sadness is a painful, but necessary part of the grieving process which is especially potent during the holidays. Know that joy will return in time. As Linda Unger writes,

And, yes, the sun rises, even though, in the midst of so much destruction, it may seem impossible. For survivors, it rises and announces the start of a new day—a day perhaps eerily quiet, but a new day nonetheless. The sun rises, and we can do…something—to ease another’s burden and to make this day better than the day before….

Join us this Sunday in worship, when we will take a special offering for United Methodist aid to the Philippines. You can also donate here at anytime, but know that if you give to any United Methodist project on Tuesday, December 3, your gift will be matched.


United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) executive, Jack Amick, center, with Typhoon Haiyan volunteers and family food packs. Photo from UMCOR.