Originally a Christian concept from Corinthians 6:19 “What? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God, and that you are not your own?”, the idea of one’s body as a temple has been appropriated by Yoga/New Age pop psychology to encourage fitness and nutrition.
In what I refer to as “California culture” the concept is used as an indirect criticism intended to inspire a person to behave better, while righteously trumping any possible retort.
I shouted it the other day at my Italian friends (all communication here is done by shouting) who had purchased undrinkably cheap coffee in the mistaken belief that no one would notice the difference.
As a person who has done yoga nearly every day for 17 years and attends to the entire supply chain of every bite of food, I do in fact treat my body as if it’s some sort of temple.
The interesting question is a temple to what? Paul was ranting on about undesirable sexual practices when he invoked this metaphor, going on to claim that our bodies are God’s and should therefore be used to glorify him.
If your cosmology is hallucinogenic, quantum, or otherwise New Age, you are likely to believe that there is no necessary distinction between God and humans – or, for that matter, between God and matter.
If, on the other hand, you still belong to Christianity, the Enlightenment, or psychotherapy, you are likely to think that you have a self with boundaries, although you may be bad at maintaining them. If you are an artist, you may sometimes feel that your ideas come from outside, as encouragingly argued by the charming Elizabeth Gilbert.
The yoga/fitness version of the temple sidesteps what actually distinguishes this category of architecture; the trumping resonance of the word is enough on its own, easily inhabited with “self-love” pseudopsychology for women (with candles) or Buddhist/Blysian turbomasculine solitude (with drums).
But now I need to explain myself to the Italians, who seem to believe that if food looks like what grandma made then it’s a heritage to be proud of, regardless of how tastelessly industrial production has degraded the quality of ingredients. And although the easy way might be to use Corinthians, I don’t want to encourage that sort of thing.
So who is the temple for? Is it for my hungry little ego, who really wants a raise? Is it for my handsome knight – a gym for a fitness prayer in svelte faith that his itinerary will in all due haste be routed to my doorstep? Is it for my lineage, my ancestors, for whom I really hope to get it together? Is it for my ethics, my responsibilities, and the courage and commitment to tilt myself against at least one of the planet-killing empires? Is it to the sensuality of embodiment itself, the gift and grace of presence with senses, a big plate, and a pastry knife? Is it to Gilbert’s muse, who comes to me, talks through me, gives me images and words, and then retreats to…where?… in my Grandfather Harry’s words “None of your goddamn business.”
Is it to connection and community, my people, with whom I hope to commune ever-more powerfully to make art, save the planet, and feast. The temple is a place for the solitary preparation to find and refine my best, to renew my humility before an altar whose sacredness I define, to take sustenance in faith that I have something to give, to listen – which is to pray that I will hear well that which I do not yet know.