Our first stop in Thailand was the 700-year-old city of Chiang Mai, also called Thailand’s “Rose of the North.” Our guide, Noot’s, description of the city, however, was a little less flowery. (No pun intended.) “You’ll see two things wherever you go in Chiang Mai—7-Elevens and temples,” she said.
And she was right. We walked and drove through the city and spotted 7-Eleven stores everywhere—on street corners, next to gargantuan shopping malls, and tucked between the 3000 plus coffee shops that fill the city. Each one a sign of the convenience Thai people love and the contemporary and modern feel of the city.
An ancient influence that runs deeper and stronger, though, is found in the Chiang Mai Buddhist temples. Three hundred temples lie within the province of Chiang Mai. Within downtown’s one square mile there are 36 active temples.
Culture and commerce are tightly wrapped around Buddhism. School children take field trips to the temples. College freshmen students make a short a pilgrimage to dedicate themselves to Buddha at the temple. Everyone is encouraged to make merit, that is, do good deeds to bring them good fortune.
The stairs leading up to Wat Phra That (wat, I learned, means temple) on top of Doi Suthep mountain are lined with opportunities to help one do good deeds.
You can give money to the little Hmong girls who offer to pose for a picture,
buy bunches of lotus to lay at the foot of the Buddha.
purchase caged birds you can set free,
or you can buy candles to light, or give money to the monks, or money to build temples (which explains why there are so many temples). All of these are good deeds that supposedly grant you favor with Buddha.
While some temples are simple and unassuming, most are stunning, even opulent. Gold-leaf stencils decorate the walls. Towering golden Buddhas gaze down at you from every side. The top of the Wat Phra That is decorated with hundreds of carats of small diamonds.
Later that day while experiencing the luxury of a Thai massage (what a rough life I lead, I know), I couldn’t get the Chiang Mai temples off my mind. Their glory is in their gold. Their pride is in their grandeur. They are breathtakingly beautiful and yet empty of any real power.
As the masseuse kneaded knots out of my shoulders, I couldn’t help but contrast this with our Heavenly Father. God’s glory is in his presence. He is powerful to move, hear, and draw near to those who call on him. That’s when I understood in a fresh way the task those who are filled with his Spirit have. Whether that means exploring a new itinerary for a company called Niteo Tours, teaching a class of 5th graders, babysitting grandkids, or running a business, we can bring God’s powerful presence to places and people who long for something real but perhaps don’t realize it yet.
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.
2 Chronicles 5:13, 14
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