With just a few free hours in Philadelphia during a recent trip, my friend and I had to carefully select which sites we hoped to visit. And with only a few spare dollars in our starving-college-student-slash-intern bank accounts, we had to pick sites we could travel to on foot—thus eliminating the cost of public transportation, though simultaneously limiting our options. We prioritized and planned, consulting Google Maps to find the routes and calculate the time we’d need to walk to each location. But as we charted our course, one site stood out—no questions—at the top of our short list.
After a quick lunch we trekked through the heart of downtown Philly, glancing occasionally at an iPhone GPS to wind our way through the skyscrapers and historic buildings and crowds. Soon enough we reached our destination—a construction site tucked between cathedrals and office spaces. A single crane jutted a diagonal across the skyline, and four granite corners stood, bracing themselves against steel bulwarks. A fence wrapped around the site, preventing us from standing too close to the building we had come so far to see. At one corner of the fence a sign displayed an architect’s vision for what the building would eventually become. The image depicted an impressive structure, white stone gleaming in the sunlight, two spires reaching or pointing to heaven, a refuge, a sanctuary, a house of God.
I studied the image for a while. Its completeness struck me, contrasting plans with the reality of how the building actually stood that day, empty, gutted, four pillars with no purpose, dependent on the tarnished beams that bore them up.
Yet—somehow—the third-dimension, raw-and-real stone corners of that partial building seemed more beautiful to me than the artist’s rendition posted on a board attached to chain-link metal. The stone was real. Machines had hewn it from a mountain quarry, transported it into a hectic city where it towered, waiting to transform into the house of covenants it had long since promised to become.
Someday construction workers will complete their task and mount the final stones and build the steeples. Someone will put up drywall and string electric wires and fill the rooms with chairs and vases. Someday someone will hang up curtains. Others will run vacuum cleaners over carpets covering the finished floors. And someday men and women will flock to fill the rooms in order to perform the ordinances God requires of His children so that they can live with Him again.
But even without all the walls and spires and windows—without the wholeness of completion—the structure already bore the name of temple.
I stood in awe of the Almighty’s house as sunlight surged from heaven to reflect off of the stones and beams. God had already poured His dedicatory prayer into and through and over the four pillars of the Philadelphia Temple’s granite, steel, and hallowed hollowness. The building—incomplete—already rang out praises to the Host Who needs no walls to call His own when all is in His hands and of His making. The site felt peaceful, holy, somehow separate from all the busyness and noise of Philly’s roads.
The Philadelphia Temple remains unfinished, inchoate. Its sanctity lies in the promise of what it can become if everyone who vowed to work to raise its structure follows through and keeps their word. In not too long a living prophet will recite the words that cap the project—a prayer denoting arrival and conclusion on one hand, and yet a brand new start as well as the structure finally fulfills the measure of its years-long creation, welcoming the kin of God into His presence in the house He built for them, and they for Him.
He beckons all to come into the temple, the construction site of souls not yet completed. He posts before them 2D images, blueprints, artistic sketches illustrating what they can become through years of work and yearning. He furnishes each spirit, cleans each heart, and reinforces. And somehow, although no spirit’s structure matches yet the plan for its creation—although each soul stands incomplete, unfinished, lacking—somehow God still bestows His affirmation long before His plans have met their whole, completed state. He loves the rawness of our real devotion. He hews and carves. We build with Him. We reach and point. We yield to Him the bit we have, and wait on Him to sanctify each part until He speaks the final words that elevate us to the fullest sphere of our creation.
The pieces of our hearts already radiate with praises to the One Whose finger will, one day, touch our souls to mark a conclusion and a new beginning.
As I gazed through the metal fence that encircled the Philadelphia Temple construction site, I saw myself reflected in the stone and steel, unfinished. Incomplete.
My spirit stood just as the partial granite structure, filled with emptiness and with potential.
And yet, despite the years of work and toil that faced the building and the girl that day in downtown Philly, our Creator whispered to us both: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?
We welcomed His soft prayer of dedication.
And then I yielded up one of my own.