Life among the Pagodas

A monk collecting alms near Shitthow Temple. Photo by: Liz Duval

In Myanmar, we literally live among pagodas. They are everywhere. Pagodas or the ruins of pagodas are on top of practically every hill. Buddhists in Myanmar believe that one of the most obvious and permanent ways to secure merit is building a pagoda. The most revered pagodas are said to contain relics of the Buddha from one of his many past lives. Much of Myanmar culture revolves around the pagoda. Every high festival brings crowds to the pagoda. Not a few romantic relationships burgeon under the shadow of a pagoda’s spire.

How different it is for believers in Jesus. We are redeemed from our former disobedience, and God makes his home in us. We need no temple, for we are God’s temple. We are his image-bearers. Free to serve God and our neighbor without thought to our merit and full of confidence that our savior hears us.

We have different vices here in North America. We may not seek for healing, miracles and approval at gilded temples, but the thing that we hold in common with those in Myanmar is that outside of Christ, we seek life where life is not to be found.

Living in Myanmar, in the shadow of many pagodas can be depressing. Knowing that almost all of your friends and neighbors live without hope, seeking good fortune and merit for a better reincarnation from intricately placed heaps of stone. In a way though, it’s simpler. When the battle is overt, we tend to be more alert to danger.

What are the pagodas that you live among? What habits and patterns do you find yourself engaged in due to fear of man or out of a desire to make yourself acceptable to God?

Once a pagoda is named, we can bring the light of the Gospel upon it.

A village I once visited in the jungle had large stone slabs at various places near the path. I asked where these stones were from and I was told, “We used to worship the spirits of the land and whenever we made a sacrifice to appease them, we would place one of these stones as a marker.” “Do you still do this today?” I asked, “No, we are mostly Christians now, so we aren’t afraid of the spirits anymore, now we use these stones to do our laundry.”

A sacrifice stone along the path.


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