A Day of Firsts: Hindu Temple and Toys"R"Us

Cora and Magnolia experienced two firsts today. I had one first. The one we had in common was visiting a Hindu Temple.  We went to the BAPS Shiri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills with a group from church.

We started our tour in the visitors center, and it was wonderful to hear more about Hindu beliefs and the idea that Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion, though different religious movements grow out of it (like the BAPS movement that built the temple we were at). I decided that was true of all major "religions," Christianity included. What stuck with me most is the combination of their belief in a universal God and incarnation - that God can be made manifest anytime, anywhere, through people. There needn't be a shrill announcement, the heavens needn't open, God can come and go as he chooses because God is God. They also believe that the universal God is over all universes. It's a belief that can really put humans in their place in the grand scheme of things. (Full disclosure: please pardon the any shortcomings of my attempt at relaying what I learned today.) 

(This is a view of the back/side of the mandir. We entered from the front.)

I loved when our tour guide said that he believes all people who worship God, despite their particular religion, are all worshipping the same supreme God. And then he made a few arm motions showing different tracks representing the various paths people can take to God, ending with his belief that all are valid and valuable. It reminded me of something Jake's grandma said to me not long after we were married - that there were many different roads, but they can all lead to God. I didn't appreciate that bit of wisdom as much than as I do now. Mammy was very wise. And so very loving in a way that transcends our everyday needs. 

From the visitors center, we went into the mandir. The outside was made of intricately carved sandstone. At a distance, it reminded me of a stalagmite sand castle. After we walked up the stairs, we passed through beautiful wooden doors and entered into a magnificent ethereal space made almost entirely of Italian cararra marble - columns and domed ceilings all carved just as intricately as the sandstone and wood we'd seen. They purchased the marble in Italy, and it was shipped to India where it was carved by stone carvers whose families had been in the business of carving for generations. When the carvings were done, each piece was shipped to Chino Hills and assembled in what amounts to a huge 3-D jigsaw puzzle. I believe the carving took 7 years, and the assembly took 5.   The interior was literally glowing. 

We stayed for the worship service. Before it began, people trickled in, found a place on the floor and sat in silence. Promptly, at 11:15, recorded music began a chant that worshippers followed along with. After a few minutes, the wooden doors hiding the shrines representing the gurus of the BAPS tradition opened, and the ritual began. I wish we would have had a play-by-play of the service to better understand all of the rituals and symbolism. The purpose of the service was to welcome God, both to the place, and to our hearts.

With all the things I appreciated about what I heard and learned, I was taken aback, literally, when all women were moved to the second gathering space, behind all of the men before the worship service started. My girls and I made up the first row of women, along with a Hindu woman who moved through the worship so beautifully. Magnolia asked, "Why do all the men get to sit in front?" 

I never, ever have a good answer. Not ever. I never will. (I think I said a very brief, "That's just how they do it here.") Though I was trying to stay really focused in the moment and spirit of worship, I couldn't help but think, "Expletive! No wonder gendercide, specifically femicide, is so prevalent in the country where the main religion puts women in the back." And then I thought of an even more personal thought, "Expletive! How will I ever EVER be able to end this break from a religion that doesn't allow my daughters [my sisters] the same leadership opportunities as their male counterparts?" Bleepity, blankin' bleep bleep! If huge organizations are going to keep women in their place [or anyone from a place at the table - a table without assigned seats] based on tradition, then we need to seriously start questioning the importance of those traditions.   

Phew, now that I got that out of my system (again)....

I couldn't help but draw a few parallels between the Hindu temple and being in a Mormon temple. Both are built to be highly attractive, ornate spaces where God is invited to dwell. Where we invite God into our hearts on new levels every time we attend. The actual materials of the mandir reminded me of moving through a session in a Mormon temple. There are a series of rooms that worshipers move through in an LDS temple. One of the first rooms, depending on the temple, represents the earth. The final room represents the highest degree of heaven. The exterior sandstone of the mandir reminded me of earth, the glowing marble interior reminded me of heaven. And then there was the ascent of the exterior staircase, that great climb that takes one's feet from earth to heaven. If one were to ask me what I miss most in my break from Mormonism, my first response would be my people, though I still get to experience many of them outside of church. The most personal response would be my time and work in the temple.  

There was a restaurant at the Hindu temple site, so we had some delicious Indian food for lunch. When our bellies were full, we headed home. When we were almost to the freeway, Magnolia said, "There's Toys"R"Us!" They haven't ever been to that store. We had nothing else planned for the day, so I flipped a u-ey, and we arrived. We must have spent over an hour browsing every aisle. Not every aisle. I didn't take them to look at any electronics/video games. I feel like that was about 1/4 of the store. 

It took a while to get home because it started raining, sprinkling is more like it, so of course the freeway was crawling. I thought of an LA-ism while stuck in traffic: "It's not so scary to drive in Los Angeles because you'll rarely be going more than 30 MPH. And maybe the reason why it is sometimes scary to drive in LA is because people are so used to not being able to go above 30 MPH that they lose all good sense when they can." 

Anyway, as were were driving down our street, I saw our other car sitting in front of our apartment. I knew Jake had gone to UCLA to work on his final paper, of three, that he's working on this week to fulfill his Special Field Exam, so I decided to ask if he wanted a ride home so he wouldn't have to take the bus. Magnolia had fallen asleep about an hour before in the car, and I didn't want to end that miracle. He gave me a thirty minute timeline, so I turned back out of our complex, and we hit the road. Goo was still snoozing when we got there, so I drove around UCLA, which took about twenty minutes, and let Jake know we'd just hang out somewhere until 5 when the music library closed so he'd be able to maximize his time. 

We parked at 4:31, Magnolia promptly awoke (she almost never wakes groggy), and we went on a tree climbing adventure. We stayed until our $3 parking limit (aka 1 hour) was up. At one point, Cora reached up and grabbed a branch that would have been way out of Magnolia's reach. Cora said, "Come grab it, Magnolia!" Goo trotted over and reached the once impossibly high leaves, beaming with pride, and beckoning me to acknowledge the accomplishment. Cora kept a slight smile, letting her little sister have her moment. I LOVE these girl, these smart, amazing, wonderful, generous, beautiful soul daughters of mine. 

(I wish this would have captured both of their smiles. But I was glad I saw those initial smiles in first person and not filtered through the screen of my phone.)


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