Several years ago, taking my regular turn presiding at the weekly Theology Faculty Eucharist at St. Michael’s in Toronto, I came upon an interesting bit of etymology that helped me prepare the homily. Exploring the word “contemplation” leads to the physical act of surveying a piece of land. When marked off, it becomes a “place for observation” – a templum… further described as an “open or consecrated space”.
In those early days of advocating for ecological ethics, I of course was very happy at the coincidence of being assigned the same readings as the liturgy presents us today.
The first reading is lush with references to the real exuberance of the earth: water that enriches, gifting us with rivers of life.
“Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.”
As with the aboriginal peoples’ observance of the four sacred dimensions of the earth, Ezekiel observes the flowing waters reaching all points of the compass.
Then St. Paul makes the wonderful transition: You are temples of the Holy Spirit. Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
However, it is very possible that one can almost feel jolted away from Ezekiel’s earthy splendour to exult in the Holy Spirit as other worldly Gift. Unlike Ezekiel, our cultural sense of the Giver of Life has abandoned the streams and rivers and seems to be found only beyond the clouds and stars.
In the Gospel account, when Jesus erupts in zealous anger in the temple at Jerusalem, if we can sustain Ezekiel’s religious sensitivity, it gives fresh authenticity to present day distress at how we have reduced the Earth temple to a “marketplace”.
Now, decades later, happily, we can be instructed by practical examples of how we can link sacred space and sacred worshipping community, where Earth and Spirit are evidently conjoined. (Google the recent America article):
However, time is not on our side, as the recent student Friday marches attest. So the message of the templum is more important than ever.
Stephen Dunn cp