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Temple of Forgiveness

Photo By Kris Vagner

I was out of town this weekend, but in looking for a variety of religious experience, the Temple of Forgiveness, a temple designed by David Best in the Shangri-La-like township of Black Rock City, seemed an easy target.

This was the kind of place that tested my willing unsuspension of disbelief. It was a construct, a building that found a spirit, as opposed to the more traditional way of things. At many times in the past, before this column helped me become a little more sophisticated in my appreciation of spiritual things, I thought it was a pretentious crock.

The temple was approximately 40 feet tall. It was sort of a three-story design, although only the first floor was used by congregants. The floor was dry lakebed. The walls were of particle board, covered with geometric designs—squares, circles, Celtic knots. It was airy, of a natural wood tone and sort of a pagoda-style design. From above, I imagine it would look like a big plus sign with entrances at each endpoint and spires in the areas between the endpoints.

Although there is only one regularly scheduled service for this temple, a Sunday night fiery communion, congregants have, over the years, learned the liturgy: Individuals and groups bring memories they want to exorcise or purify. They express their prayers in many ways, leaving writings, trinkets—anything from works of art, Italian water bottles, silver rings, decoupage boxes—photos, even items of clothing. These items are left with the intention of becoming burnt offerings when the temple is torched on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

This is nearly a purely individual approach. No one tells anyone else the correct way to express their spirituality here. While the congregants were dressed somewhat less formally than I’ve seen in other churches, there were sincere acts of devotion in evidence. This church acted the same way houses of spirituality act in communities within larger communities throughout the world.

I’m just considering the lack of interaction among the congregants when a man came up with a smudgestick of sage. He waved it around me, and instructed me to wave my hands to aid the inhalation of the smoke. Although Hunter sat at my feet playing in the dust, the man ignored him, and Hunter returned the favor. That would probably not happen in a church that’s looking to grow its congregation.

“It’s sage; it helps purify the spirit,” he said. When he finished, I thanked him, and he pressed his palms together and bowed.

That evening, the wind came up as Hunter and I joined the throngs to watch the torching of the temple. We were downwind from the conflagration, watching those painful memories go up in smoke. I don’t know if was a freak wind or what, but those of us downwind from the fire had only to look up to see a ceiling of burning embers—some quite large—blotting out the stars. It was like a snowstorm, only the snowflakes burned like branding irons. As they began falling, and people began running, I heard honest cries of devotion like “Oh my god!” and “Oh Jesus” and “My hair is on fire.” I remained calm long enough to extinguish the red-hot ember on my neck and to put out the fire on the saddlebags on my bicycle.

I’ve got to say, despite the humorous flaming communion, the spirituality at the temple was just as sincere as the worship I’ve seen in more traditional churches and places of worship. This is the kind of church where congregants have found their own ways to experience spirituality, and nobody’s going to judge you based on your expression, clothing or camouflage.

Want to take Brian to your place of worship? Call 324-4440 ext. 3525.