There is no doubt in my mind that there is a great deal about the modern world that can be learned here in Malaysia. When I look at the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, I see countries that are unavoidably committed to Globalization. In this process, not only out of intrigue, but out of necessity, we have to learn how to get along with each other. This process is putting Muslims, and Catholics, and Buddhists, and Jews, and Sheiks, and all sorts of people in close proximity with each other, quite frequently. I must admit, we make strange bedfellows.
Malaysia is a quintessential example of a country struggling with the reality of the modern, pluralistic world. In this country live the Orang Asli (Indigenous people), the Malays (mostly Muslim), the Indians (mostly Catholic and Hindu). and the Chinese, (mostly Buddhist and Taoist). Together, and not without strife, they have tried to form a national identity these last 50 years since achieving independence from the United Kingdom.
It is for this reason, that I consider Malaysia to be “Holy Ground.” It is at the crucible of social development for the modern world, and not just because it has two of the tallest buildings in the world, to the envy of my hometown Chicago.
I learned about Holy Ground in a fantastic way today. I don’t want to discourage reading, but reading about other religious traditions is quite inferior to actually being in their temples. Reading doesn’t afford you, let’s just say, the experience of being yelled at by a temple guard for wearing shoes into a temple. That is what happened to me today. In my visitations, I visited Loong Tien Koong Temple which is a Taoist temple. (Which reminds me that I may have been misinformed about the nature of the temple that I visted in Vietnam. I apologize here in the form of progressive response, rather than rewriting previous blogs in which I most certainly misspoke.)
The temple has a strict policy about photography, and I was not allowed to take pictures inside the temple. I was able to take plenty of pictures outside, and if you have downloaded Google Earth, you can view my pictorial of the temple by clicking here.
The temple also doesn’t allow you to wear shoes in the inner sanctuary, a fact I discovered only by making such a mistake. I apologized as I took off my sandals and went placed them outside. I then walked back into the temple.
Foreign temples are a mystery to me. I studied the origins of these religious traditions in college, but being in the temples is quite different. I see the statues and have no idea what the mythology behind their presence indicates. But then I wonder, “What is the real difference between these statutes, and the statues of the Christian heroes we call “Saints?” I observe the incense burning, and the sweet smell reminds me of the incense to which I am accustomed in the liturgies of Catholicism. I see the offerings of fruits and grains, placed on altars with sheer curiosity. Catholics also offer grain formed as bread and wine in a simple sacrifice to God. What is hoped to be gained by offering oranges? In these sanctuaries, do the Gods come and eat these offering symbolically? I know they are not left to rot, and with certainty, the sacred ministers come to consume these gifts in the end.
Walking around barefoot reminded me of the famous Bible story of Moses before the Burning Bush. Moses similarly was scolded that he should take off his sandals because he was on holy ground. I don’t claim to believe in the humanist transcendentalism that I perceive Daoism and Buddhism to profess, but there was a definite understanding by me that I was walking on Holy Ground. The bare skin of my feet dancing across the floor, in the presence of sacred myth, embodied through fantastical and exotic art, with soft sweet aroma smelting from venerable terracotta, told me that I was on Holy Ground.
I remember my mother as a child, who insisted that I were shoes, not only in public, but in private as well. Now I am being asked not to wear shoes, and especially in public, this feels… soft. It is not only in the temple that this feeling endures. It is the custom here not to wear shoes in the house of my hosts, so I do not.
And when I am in the house of the God of my profession, it is also the custom in Malaysia, not to wear shoes. Today, I attended daily Mass at Holy Family Parish, where everyone takes off their shoes before entering the chapel. The liturgy of the Sacred Eucharist should always make one feel vulnerable before God, but the intimacy one feels when there is nothing that separates the sanctuary from its caressing tickle of one’s inner sole, is quite remarkable. It makes one feel humble before God, and humble before the presence of your brothers and sisters.
I don’t have any pictures of Holy Family as of yet. I will at a later date. Instead, I have pictures from the Catholic parish of the Visitation today. They were loaded to your computer during the previous hyperlink, but you can view the pictures directly by clicking here. It was noted that my first Catholic parish to visit in Malaysia was the parish of the Visitation.
It is also noted that my first experiences of Malaysia are experiences of coming to know what I means to be on Holy Ground. The Second Vatican Council and the Catholic Church teaches its members to uphold all that is truthful and good about foreign religions. Even if I believe, as I do, that these traditions do not disclose the fullness of truth, what they have to teach me is sacred. In one day, Malaysia has taught me, that in the presence of diversity and difference, one must be humbled in such as way to walk plainly, and with reverence, towards others. Only from acknowledging that we walk on the holy ground of each other’s presences can we begin to venerate the God created dignity we each posses. It has very little to do with agreeing with someone. I don’t agree with the entirety of Taoism, but I do recognize that walking amongst the Taoist, is walking on Holy Ground.