The incense urn bristles with

burning sticks, and the

blue-gray smoke curls lazily upwards

in the old Chinese temple

until a sudden breeze sends it swirling

in all directions.

The sun shines brightly on the courtyard

from a clear blue sky,

leaving the interior dimly lit and in shade,

cooler there than in the glare;

several people sit here and talk,

their voices humming, barely heard.

The tiled roof and upturned eaves

are cleanly outlined;

the tall red pillars stand contrasted

against the gloom behind;

the gilded carvings gather dust and grime;

the incense ash sits deep.

The painted door guards look on

with unseeing eyes, challenging no-one,

their job symbolic.

The ancient stones are worn still more

by soles of many feet;

the shrine is well frequented.

Lamps and candles burn on altars,

‘mid offerings of fruit and flowers.

The statues sit unmoving,

unmoved by the prayers and cries

of their supplicants.

We create the statues and then begin

to worship them, and often,

become afraid of not doing so,

or of displeasing the gods in some way.

This tendency’s been with us

from primitive times;

how strange, how amazing,

that it remains till now, when

we should have outgrown it long ago!

‘Tis not, as some have said and hold,

that God created us,

but rather, the other way around.

Who, then, are we worshipping,

but ourselves?

Better to understand than to merely pray!

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