Monday, September 19, 2011

A Hole in the Holy of Holies

During the exile, the Ark of the Covenant was lost, and from then on the Holy of Holies was empty. That is what Pompeius found when he strode through the Temple and pulled back the curtain. He entered the Holy of Holies full of curiosity and there, in the very emptiness of the place, discovered what is special about biblical religion. The empty Holy of Holies had now become an act of expectation, of hope, that God himself would one day restore his throne.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 65

Reflection – If there is one piece of Old Testament lore that is familiar to the general public in our time of biblical literacy, it is probably the business of the Ark of the Covenant. People who would not be able to list the Ten Commandments with any surety know that they were carried around in an Ark (whatever that is), and people who know little about David, Solomon, and the Temple know what treasure lay at its center.
Of course we can thank Stephen Spielberg and Indiana Jones for that. But the key thing about the Ark is precisely what the movie was called, and what Ratzinger refers to here: it is, indeed a Lost Ark.
More importantly yet, there was no ‘backup ark,’ no replacement ark. The Jewish people did not do what would be almost second nature for us to do. Oh we lost the ark – well, that’s OK, we have the plans here in Leviticus, so let’s just make another one, and we’ll carve out a couple stone tablets to put in it, some imitation manna (I Can't Believe It's Not Manna!)… and no problem!
No. The tablets were written by God. The manna was given by God. The ark of the covenant was, in some sense, the very presence of God in their midst. There would be no rebuilding, no replacement, no attempt to fill the hole it had left.
While the New Covenant of Christ has changed a great deal of how we who are Catholics think about things like temples, tabernacles, holies of holies, and the Presence of God in our midst, while there is a new and eternal Bread and a new and eternal Law which abides with us forever, nonetheless there is a deep point Ratzinger is making here which is just as relevant today and to us as it was 2500 years ago.
Namely, we do not ‘make’ God present. We do not control or determine the gift of the divine in our midst. We receive the Manna, receive the Presence. We must wait upon the One who is the center and heart of our lives.
The Holy of Holies is the Eucharist, but it is also the very gift of God in our own hearts. It is that which is the center, the source, the heart of our own personal heart… and we neither control nor manipulate nor own this center. If it goes away, we live with a hole in our holy of holies, and that's all there is to it.
The Song of Songs plays with the image of the Lover who comes and goes, who is present, and then must be sought. Our God who we are to build our life around is like that, although He is, of course, always present. But his presence is mysterious, and more often than not feels like absence.
C.S. Lewis, in the Narnia chronicles puts it another way. Aslan is ‘not a tame lion’ – he comes and goes according to his designs. And our lives, if they are truly centered on this Lover, this lion, this mysterious God who is ‘lost’ and found and lost again, must reflect this mystery.
Things happen to us, things that are mysterious, hard to accept, hard to fathom. Our lives take twists and turns that can be painful. Things do not work out the way we had hoped. There are exiles; there are persecutions; there are terrible losses. Always in these the question arises somehow – what is my Holy of Holies? What is at the center of my temple? Something I can control or generate or manipulate, which in the end shows itself to have no power to save? Or a mysterious emptiness, a promise of fulfilment, an expectation, a hope that will not disappoint? This is the key question of all of our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.