The incense urn bristles with
burning sticks, and the
blue-gray smoke curls lazily upwards
in the old Chinese temple
until a sudden breeze sends it swirling
in all directions.
The sun shines brightly on the courtyard
from a clear blue sky,
leaving the interior dimly lit and in shade,
cooler there than in the glare;
several people sit here and talk,
their voices humming, barely heard.
The tiled roof and upturned eaves
are cleanly outlined;
the tall red pillars stand contrasted
against the gloom behind;
the gilded carvings gather dust and grime;
the incense ash sits deep.
The painted door guards look on
with unseeing eyes, challenging no-one,
their job symbolic.
The ancient stones are worn still more
by soles of many feet;
the shrine is well frequented.
Lamps and candles burn on altars,
‘mid offerings of fruit and flowers.
The statues sit unmoving,
unmoved by the prayers and cries
of their supplicants.
We create the statues and then begin
to worship them, and often,
become afraid of not doing so,
or of displeasing the gods in some way.
This tendency’s been with us
from primitive times;
how strange, how amazing,
that it remains till now, when
we should have outgrown it long ago!
‘Tis not, as some have said and hold,
that God created us,
but rather, the other way around.
Who, then, are we worshipping,
Better to understand than to merely pray!