Backwater steeples in a broken town;
Cities on a hill falling down;
What used to be…
Glistening paint, the dazzle of brilliance…
…a peace upon the cobbled stones, resting under boots of war. The smell of bakeries, wisps of divine presence in holy places, how it greeted and escorted faithful up the stair case to a pew meted by repetition, so that a kind of immediate joy awaited; resting beside dancing eyes of children, caught up in rays of light in stain glassed panes. The minister lifted the imagination to see Moses parting a sea, or Daniel staring down lions. His gravel voice, his steel gaze always watchful for a turn of the head, just a flinch and he bore in, like a surgeon’s scalpel, rooting out anything taking the place of God as God.
The organ sat to the side, as ancient fingers played, and sore feet pedaled, lifting the spirit of the congregants into a flight above the hard scrabble streets they trod, willing them, daring them to journey into the unknown places, where transcendence meets transparency, and humility meets a mountain of inexhaustible promise. How has God come among men? Where does the eye go when they first glimpse the majesty of Wonder, and think to themselves, just for a fleeting moment that God is bigger than their fears, wider than their anxious narrow ideas, and deeper than their furthest fall from grace?
Squirming ten-year-old boys, and bashful premed adolescent girls watch with bated breath as the minister paces the altar, moving this way and that, gesturing with hands, and lifting his voice. They imagine him invincible, a pillar to placate their doubts, and a voluminous vessel of tangible hope, breathing, shouting and finding the right words to convey imagery to build a depth of knowledge for faith to step upon.
Mamas with their brood stared glassy eyed, not allowing themselves to be carried too far in this message of hope. They are those whose hearts wrung out of tears, have found in the harrow, the secret to joy. Their smiles and ‘amen’s’ lift the minister, whose delivery of faith has everyone forgetting for a moment that out there, the streets have eaten their young.
That was then, vibrant and brimming with tears of apocalyptic joy.
And now, is now…
What can a broken, blistered church steeple teach us about ourselves?
Once, when our own spiritual journey bent into the upward trail, joy burst amidst a thousand tempting other voices, and we clung to God who kept us on a straight path. Under a brilliant white steeple simple words were believed, stories marveled over, with a family likeness to a Father in heaven. We had come to new faith, new wonder and breathed lightly, tip toed around the throne of God as if it would all shatter into a day dream before we could take it all in. Under the steeple life was organ music, loud shouts and vibrant stepping, the minister’s booming utterance, and the sound of muffled weeping, all brought us living waters that saturated us, made us believe, and showed us that nothing is impossible with God.
Then perhaps time rushed on, and the inevitable entropy of disease and discouragement wore faith down, so that like the Mama’s who sit by their squirming sons, we ceased to find a reason to hope the way we used to. How does one carry trials without them crushing the soul? The organ music doesn’t lift us, and the stain glass windows are soiled, so that the sun’s brilliance has dimmed into gray shadows. Backwater steeples. We live in those shadows, though sunlight splashes us, invites us to dance again, we have resigned our hopes. Belief? That has gone by the way of cobbled streets. Boots of war? They lie in the closet, gathering dust of forgotten promises.
Yet, the Good Judge has served time that we deserved. The path back to the brilliant white washed steeple is clear. Fact is, the door is always open. Walk the aisle and sit in your place, that same one which held your fevered heart so many times, drew you into silence before transcendence, and splashed you with a holy longing that defied explanation. Sit down, and listen, don’t speak. Listen, and you will hear your own muffled cry, like the mama’s, and you will remember the sounds of amen, and know that you are only a prayer away from dancing, and the sound of a Voice that invites you to joy.