Something good vs. Something great?

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You know those chin-dropping moments when you see something you underestimated?

You know those chin-dropping moments when you see something you underestimated?

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Ariel Fana’afi Ioane

Look at detail!


That’s what it was like when I saw the Temple of Heaven. The temple of Heaven in Beijing is definitely fit for a god. Built from 1406 to 1420 during the Ming Dynasty by the emperor Zhu Di, (he was also responsible for building the Forbidden City), its purpose was to please the “Godfather”, the supposed father of every emperor- their blood tie to the gods. Every year the Emperor would visit the temple of heaven on two occasions.  

The first would be during the first few weeks of spring, to pray for a good harvest at the end of the year. For two days the emperor would burn incense to tablets which were kept in their individual temples, only to be brought out during this event of worship and pleading. The emperor would also fast while he prayed, not only to represent his people, but to also show how serious he was in trying to plead the “God-father” for a successful harvest.

 The second, as you might have guessed, would be during the harvest in autumn. (A Chinese thanksgiving, if you will.) Animals would be slaughtered, grain would be gathered and feasts would be conducted to celebrate and thank the “God-father” (and quite a number of weather gods too) for providing a plentiful harvest which benefits the entire country. 

On the rare occasion that a drought would occur in between these events of spring and fall, the emperor would visit a third time to pray again, hoping to please the gods so that the drought will end and a harvest will still be possible. 

It must’ve been quite a terrifying episode to not yield a harvest to feed the multitudes of people in this realm, so praying for a good crop was a serious event.

I spotted a tall building from a distance- the building where the emperor would pray- the temple of heaven. Again, the “feeling like an ant” sensation came into being again as I stared at the huge structure. 

The building sat on three white marble terraces, one on top of the other; carved in many complicated and twisted styles. Having three marble verandas like this on a building showed importance and grandeur. 

The temple on the top was painted exactly the same way the corridors were, with red walls and royal blue and green decorating the many leaves of roofs that sat atop it. Once Dana said we were allowed to roam for 45 minutes I sped up towards the structure.

As we were walking towards the temple, Dana (our guide throughout China) began to explain that the intricate paintings on the posts and the ceiling of the corridor - colors of green, red (obviously it had to be there!) and deep navy blue made the bulk of the decorations. They were so particularly coloured, it made me wonder where the artists’ patience came from! 

The ornate decorations on every wall were made several hundred years ago, using water based paints. Naturally, over time the paint would fade. Since the Chinese did not want to re-paint it permanently with oil based paint (since it would ruin its original look), every five years the corridors and temples would be repainted using water colors, thus maintaining the same ancient look their ancestors looked on and favored centuries ago. 

Near the middle holding up the roof were a number of thick, tall, red posts, decorated with fashioned pieces of gold plates, wrapped around them. In the center was a chair where I presumed the emperor sat during prayer. The rest of the furniture (mostly tables) were varnished and kept smooth, as they were used to place the tablets of the God father and the minor weather Gods as mortals fasted and burnt incense. Everywhere you looked there was something new to see. 

It was a struggle having to step away from such magnificence.

When I finally pulled my head out of the temple, my eyes caught another sight. On the edges of the roofs were tiny figurines of weird looking animals. Some had 5, others had 7, but one had 9 animals, mainly the big houses. I consulted Dana about this and she explained that they were the sons of the dragon and phoenix, a most celebrated couple in Chinese Mythology. The Dragon and Phoenix had nine sons. The Chinese used these little figurines on their roofs to tell the importance and size of a building, with its magnitude ranging from 3 figures to nine. That way, people could tell how significant a building was just by looking at the roof!!

Theophile Gautier said..”Art is beauty, the perpetual invention of detail, the choice of words, the exquisite care of execution”

This is what saw when I visited the Temple of Heaven… how detail was made, and how detail was kept consistent. Every little thing had meaning, and without the detail and attention,  the gist of it was lost, giving only half of the worship the people had meant to give to their ‘God-Father”. The paintings, the little ornate figures, the carefully carved marble terraces- everything, every little thing had to be flawless. 

This applies to life….really. Most of the time, we don’t feel like going the extra mile to make sure something is done right down to the last detail- the stuff no one seems to understand or see (we teenagers excel at missing out, it seems!). 

However, these little details have meaning of great importance. Not only do they complete one’s work, but it also gives a feel of absolute accomplishment.

Somebody once said that when you start losing detail, whether it’s in music or in life,  something as small as failing to be polite, you start to lose substance.  The Bible says when you work; work as if you are doing it for God, rather than mortal men. In other words, do it to the best of your ability, down to the last detail.   The difference between something good and something great is in the detail.

Who knows? Your blood, sweat and tears might result in a temple of Heaven, not only a marvel to look at and admire, but also a means of worship to Our Father.

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