Monday, November 21, 2011

Raising tabernacles

 Last December, a cultural landmark from my town caught fire and burned down. The Provo Tabernacle was built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It functioned as an assembly hall for performances of many types and at types as a hall of religious worship. I have only one memory of being it in as a little girl and looking up at the high ceilings that stretched on forever.

And then one day, it was burning down before I had ever really known much about it. I thought about this as I stood next to its remains earlier this week. As part of my job, I cover the news in the geology department of my university. In conjunction with the Church, professors and students were there using ground penetrating radar to find the foundations of the first tabernacle built there.

So, there I was, closer to the burnt brick and shattered glass that I ever imagined I would be. A woman from the Church History Department stood next to me ready to answer my questions, but I had none—only overwhelmed feelings of glory and awe and sorrow.

That happens when we look at ruins that didn't come about as we expected—suddenly, rather than the wear and tear of time, as if something was stolen from us. I wish I'd seen it in all its glory more often, that I had more than one memory there I can barely place.

Sometimes in the scriptures, God refers to our bodies as our tabernacles. These bodies house spirits that move and drive us to living, to loving. Some religions see the body as something to be discarded, as something driven by evil urges, or as something that holds us back from being closer to God. In my church, we believe that having a body is essential to progressing and growing in the way God would have us grow. And that after we die, our spirits will be reunited with our bodies in a perfect form, much like the Savior who took His body up after three days in the grave.

Sometimes, friends die unexpectedly. They are gone quickly, as if they had gone up in flames before we had the chance to stop it. And here I am, looking up at the holes that were once windows to the heavens filled with magnificent light and life. Instead of a ceiling catching the earthly music that sings heavenly tones, there is a blue sky above me catching the music of angels who sound close enough to me that they are almost earthly.

The Provo Tabernacle still stands, which is marvelous to me. I can see the nails that held it together and the framework that made it rise upward. It is empty now, but not gone. Not any less wonderful because it burnt down. How beautiful its body still is.

Now, the Church will build a temple there—a celestial, perfect House of God that will teach about light, life, and love that lasts forever beyond the time of an earthly tabernacle.

Photos by my amazing friend, Marshall Comstock.

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