Angkor / Anchor

Three weeks ago, I was here. An other-earthly experience, really, and the one visit that began an entire month of many temple visits.

Can you believe it? Here I am, straddling some significant plate tectonics — half way between East (Singapore) and West, (Switzerland), our earthly goods sitting in Antwerp, Belgium and Karlsruhe, Germany, the rest of our equipment packed in a dozen suitcases out of which we’ve been living for three months, every last one of us on the brink of  a whole new life — and I’m out visiting temples?

You’re thinking, What?

I’m thinking, And what else?

Angkor Wat is the common name for over 400 square kms of Hindu/Buddhist temples built in the early 12th century, the peak of the Khmer empire.  Today, it is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When its original patrons crossed over the massive moat that surrounds  Angkor Wat proper, the main temple. . .

[caption id="attachment_372" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Angkor Wat Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

… they were symbolically cleansed, made ready to cross into heaven — into the City of Temple (what “Angkor Wat” literally means), or Mount of God, as they considered it — where they were initiated into a new realm of being, of full-souled worship. At a time in history of considerable and continual military and religious unrest, Angkor Wat stood as a pinpoint of refuge, a site of orientation and re-orientation with its architectural elements precisely aligned with the constellations so that it felt like the literal center of the universe.  For its visitors, it was an eye of calm in the larger landscape of turmoil, instability and cultural flux.

Not totally unlike the temple worshippers of the Khmer empire, I find myself in an epoch – – – personal and global — of uprootedness, serial shifting, and general all-over-the-place jerkiness.

Case in point: We returned late at night from Cambodia to our temporary housing in Singapore (we’d already moved out of our home in early June), repacked with eyes so blurry we did it by Braille, and flew predawn over Tokyo and LAX to Salt Lake City where we have spent the days camping out in my parents’ basement while reconfiguring our lives in preparation for getting our daughter ready to head off on a major life-altering endeavor, a full time church mission in Italy. Oh yes, and while smoothing the landing pad for our own arrival in Geneva, Switzerland, where our life begins in a brand new place.

All over again.

All happy upheavals, so I hope you read that last paragraph with a smile stretching your lips and grateful tears rimming your eyes.  I’m not complaining. This is by no means a trial, just a trail, albeit a bumpy, zigzaggy and erratic one. And since I’ve already done this transglobal transplantation trail a few times (16 times? Really?), my gut has long since battened down its hatches for the whirlwind.

When you’re in a whirlwind, it’s hard but necessary to feel — even if for a fleeting moment or two — “settled.”  Getting settled doesn’t mean the shifting quits, the listing stops, or you finally figure out where you packed your dental floss. No way. Things keep rocking for quite some time when you change planets and orbits and all the competing tides slosh into each other.

(And want a tip?  Forget about the dental floss.  You left it on a boat in Cambodia.)

“Settled,” just means finding a sense of orientation, getting your bearings, growing sea legs. Dropping your anchor.

An anchor is something larger than your puny human vessel, weightier than any whirlwind. It’s fastened to you, yes, but its line goes down, down, down, affixing you to depths immovable. It cuts through temporality, leaving the surface currents and fierce whirlwinds in a place apart.  On another plane altogether, in fact.

The temple, as the Khmer of Angkor Wat experienced, can be such an anchor, the ultimate earthly thing larger and weighter than the self.  I’d even go so far as to say that a temple, unlike a public meeting house, is a meeting place of heaven and earth, a safe harbor where the cosmos is anchored in place, a refuge where one can stand in God’s anchoring presence.

This is exactly what the Khmer believed.  It is, of course, what millions of temple-building people have believed over countless generations.  It is also what I have believed in the midst of every whirlwind in my life — and this comparatively gentle one is no exception. In the eye of this tempest, the temple. And I’ve started  with Angkor Wat.

As I hiked up steep steps of another of its many ancient and abandoned edifices, steps watched over by three-meter-wide stone smiles, the aging Brit next to me leaned on his walking stick and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  He paused, stretched his neck upward, and gasped, “These temples . . . are . . . sheer . . . revelation!”

He couldn’t have gasped my feelings better.

“Revelation,” I agreed under my breath, slurping a warmish wash of water from my canteen, eyeing the temple for shade from the sweltering heat. And up I trudged, tingling inside, right toward the god’s cooling gaze.


© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.