The Manhattan Temple and the Gates of Central Park
By Geoffrey Biddulph

I have been traveling to Manhattan on business for more than 20 years.  For the first time this week, I felt like I did something truly good.  It involved a trip to the temple and a walk beneath saffron gates.   And I gathered some insights about how they are somehow related.

I am a convert to the Church.  In the bad old days, trips to New York inevitably involved a lot more time shouldering my way to the bar than putting my shoulder to the wheel.  Before:  Miller Time.  Now: Moroni Time.

Entering the Manhattan temple to me felt as if I had just stepped through CS Lewis’ wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  On one side was a bustling city, dirty and grimy with rude taxi drivers and stern grimaces.  On the other was tranquility, whiteness, peace, amicable greetings and calm visages.

I can’t imagine someplace more sparkling and ordered than the Manhattan temple.  The building is small for a temple, and every square inch appears to be put to good use.  But the details – the Deseret bee hives, the fine wooden panels, the paintings in the Telestial room – could not be more exquisite.

The ceremony is something I have gone through now a few dozen times.  But each time, I learn something new.  This time, I learned something about myself after I left the temple.  As I walked out, one of the temple volunteers thanked me twice with a huge smile and a squeeze of my hand for coming to the temple during my business trip.   His sincerity washed me clean of cynicism and meanness.

I walked out seeing the city with completely new eyes.  Instead of grime and dirt, I saw a sparkling city and a crisp, sleek night.  Instead of rude taxi drivers, I saw happy couples walking hand in hand, laughing gaily and enjoying the lights and the night.  I walked past a group of young men hanging out near Columbus Circle, and instead of fearing their tough talk I admired their gregariousness.

Could it be that you can see the same events completely differently if you look at it while still clothed with the Spirit of the Lord?  How differently Jesus must have seen the Earth than did the people around him!  Where others saw decrepit lepers, he saw fellow brothers and sisters with a potential for exaltation.  Where some saw blood and suffering, He saw billions of souls washed clean by his sacrifice.

Would that the Spirit of the Lord flowed out of our temples to wash the earth and change perceptions and minds so that all of us could bask in the grace and love of the prince of peace!  It would be like a tsunami of truth.

And there, in Central Park, were planted thousands of orange arches over 23 miles of paths.  The saffron robes of the arches blew gently in the breeze.  Sightseers calmly clicked pictures of the rows of orange.  Here, just a few blocks from the Manhattan temple, were inanimate, unarmed soldiers of thousands of arches “terrible as an army with banners.”

The orange sentinels were part of “The Gates,” a new public art fest set up by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.  Christo is the artist who wrapped the islands near Miami in pink fabric in 1983 and ran a 24.5-mile white nylon fence in the hills near San Francisco.   The pair negotiated for 26 years with New York City officials to install 7,500 steel gates, each 16 feet tall.  Dangling from each gate is a lengthy square orange fabric panel.

“All our work is about freedom,” Christo and Jeanne-Claude say.  “Nobody can buy our projects, nobody can sell tickets to experience our projects.  Our projects are once-in-a-lifetime and once-upon-a-time.”  Christo and his wife paid for the project themselves and never asked for a cent from any government.

Walking below these endless saffron gates gave me a feeling similar to that of sitting in a temple sealing room and looking at myself in a mirror stretching on forever: I got a sense of the eternal.  The project made me think of progression – just as we must endlessly progress to arrive at exaltation, we must also progress and have patience to walk through the endless gates in Central Park.

And temples are also free – nobody can sell tickets to enter and experience them.  Entering the temple of the Lord depends on choices and obedience.  The Lord gives us the freedom to choose whether to pursue the eternities or get stuck in the mundane.

I have no idea whether Christo is a Christian and whether he honors the Messiah who bore his name.  But it is clear to me that he has a special sense of important symbols – freedom, agency and the eternal appear to have meaning for him.

His public show will disappear on Feb. 27 after being in Central Park for only 16 days.   But the temple will be there much longer.  I plan on returning again and again, and I hope each time I am able to see the city around me with brand new eyes.

Geoffrey Biddulph is the author of a novel called “Island of the Innocent,” an adventure story that describes one man’s conversion to the fullness of the gospel.   More information can be found here

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© 2005 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved

About the Author:

Geoffrey Biddulph is a 1985 graduate of Stanford University in California.

He worked for several years as a professional journalist for publications including the Miami Herald, the Arizona Republic, the Economist and others. He became interested in telecommunications in 1992 and began a career in sales and marketing that led him to work for LANautilus, a Miami-based company. He has held many Church callings and is involved in Church Public Affairs in the South Florida region. He has two children and is married to the former Cynthia Markey.

Geoffrey Biddulph is the author of a new novel called "Island of the Innocent," an adventure story that describes one man's conversion to the fullness of the gospel. More information can be found here. 

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