Sadly, people often fill up their hearts with things that aren’t so good to worship. The temple of our hearts can get messed up and overrun with garbage, or taken over by invaders. When we are too attached to something too small, we call it idolatry or addiction. When we are addicted to something, it has captured the temple of our heart, just like the story we hear at Hanukkah about the Syrians who captured the temple in ancient Jerusalem.
I remember a friend who got caught like that. This was back when we were in high school, and she had gone to see the movie, Bonnie and Clyde, about the two famous gangsters. Somehow that movie became the most important thing in her life. She started dressing like a gangster, and smoking marijuana, and drinking beer; she stopped paying attention to school, and started hanging out with kids who were skipping school and going to stores to shoplift. She became a different person, who didn’t care about anything or anyone anymore. I don’t know what happened to her after I left school. I hope she found a way to clean all the junk out of her heart.
But each of us at some point in our lives has been taken over by something unworthy. How could we not be? We are surrounded by advertising, by greed, by competition, by individualism, by dogmatism, by ideology. Just to survive we make compromises; we learn to align ourselves with a group or a product. We divide into red and blue states. We worship a good thing until it becomes an idol for us. There are many ways to be too small.
When our heart has been taken over by something unworthy, it is a battle to win it back. It can be the hardest thing we’ve ever done in our lives. Like the Maccabees who won back the temple in Jerusalem, we may need to dedicate all of our strength to reclaiming our own temple again. We may need to gather others together to help us. But this is important. This is the temple. This is the heart of our life.
The feast of Hanukkah is known as a celebration of miracles. It reminds us that the dedication of the temple is not a simple thing—that there will always be battles over what is in the temple. That we must always re-dedicate ourselves to the worship of what is worthy of us. When I reflect on the old story, I ask myself, again, what is in my temple today? To what is it dedicated? Does it need to be purified? The miracle of Hanukkah was first of all believing that change was possible. Even when all seems hopeless, if we take the first step, if we light the first candle, the way will open up. We take the second step, and light the second candle.
If you had a temple in the secret spaces of your heart, what would you worship there? We can make a choice to worship that which has true worth for us. Rumi advised:
Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.