Manoah and his wife are told by an angel that they are to have a child (Samson). In thanksgiving for the angel's message, the couple prepare a burnt offering (v.19) and watch as the angel himself disappears in the flames of the altar. Is Judges 13 showing us a link between sacrifice and the mystical presence of angels, and/or that being consumed by flames is a way to God?
American sculptor David Best’s Temple projects are contemporary evocations of this kind of mystical event (although they are purportedly ‘non-religious’). In constructing his huge and ornate wooden structures, using the skills and labour of as many local people as he can involve at once, he both harnesses and gives rise to an instinctive desire to make, mark, and adorn. Within the different communities in which he has worked, the participants’ motivations to contribute can vary from expressions of grief and loss, to a desire for forgiveness and community cohesion.
Best’s Temple in Derry-Londonderry was sited on a contested piece of land in one of the areas most divided and damaged by Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’; all too familiar with flames. It drew some 60,000 visitors, all of whom were invited to inscribe personal messages on the structure (or place them within it). Then on 21 March 2015, six individuals involved in the making of Temple set the structure alight and the work was razed to the ground.
In its evocation of a rite of purging, or perhaps offering, this symbolic ‘letting go’ of a damaged community’s anxieties, desires, and dreams could be said to have a sacrificial quality.
Manoah and his wife invest their intense and fearful hopes for a son in the sacrificial rites they perform. But these hopes and fears are also bound up with their faith in the strange heavenly messenger. So when the angel reveals himself as an angel by becoming one with the fire in front of them, it could be said that their sacrifice to God and God’s message to them become simultaneous. The altar flames are the outward expression of their most intimate prayer, and the first manifestation of its answer.
David Best Temples, http://davidbesttemples.org [accessed 11 December 2018]