Monday, April 15, 2019
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
There are few who know that emotions are tangible.
I know because I am filled with them. Humans have breathed life into my paint and foundation and flooring. I wasn’t born from a womb. All of humanity is my mother, and I become a mother to them, a womb to shelter them.
Within a few short millennia, humans have leapt into the skies and plunged into the oceans, photographed particles, measured the speed of light, split atoms, cured diseases. It will only be a few more years until their instruments are fine-tuned enough to measure the matter of feeling that permeates everything around us. A fine mist of pollen, an ethereal smoke, that floats through the air and settles into the walls and carpets. Here, feel the hum of fear in these walls. Here, the golden orange light of joy courses through the glass of the windows. It will straighten your spine if you sit near. Here, your feet will drag in the concrete sludge of sorrow left in the floorboards. I am what you make me.
I have heard whispers of houses where men re-arranged the insides in fury, drove nails into them as if their wooden flesh were a threat. The crash of porcelain echoed within those places, and the whip and crack of punishment, and the roar of disdain. The unshed tears of women and children seeped into the floorboards, a continuous, incomplete baptism. A sea that would not part.
In houses like that, after the terror is over, the weight of everything left becomes a grindstone. A house cannot help but let out some of what it carries. It bleeds from the walls, gathering in unseen beads that slowly drip towards the carpet and make the family dog whimper. It slips out in little ways…a creak on the stairs, a door that closes on its own. Sometimes it comes in gusts, bursts of wrath that topple books from shelves, send pictures flying from the walls, and make lights flicker and pop. Sometimes the memory of a man’s voice, his agony and fury, flies from the rafters, his words ricocheting from floor to ceiling. The neighborhood children would speak of it in whispers.
Perhaps I could have been a theatre. Never quiet places, where feelings upon feelings upon feelings bump and tumble and multiply, knocking props off from shelves and popping lights in the rafters. If I were a theatre, they would leave a light on within me, to appease the ghosts.
Or else maybe I could have been a museum, where every stroke of paint is buzzing with feeling, where stone and wood and metal and cloth are alive with it, and the air vibrates with what is left behind after people stand in awe and clutch their hearts.
But I am not a museum, or a theatre, or a house. I am a church. For some, God is just a word, but within my walls, reverence is tangible. There is a beauty to that uniquely human emotion. Other animals do not seem to worship. Humans look upwards and ache with hope. It fills the stained glass windows. Every beam of wood and every stone is weighted with meaning. “This is important,” each of them says. “I am made beautiful by your hope.”
In older places, the hope and sorrow and joy and fear of centuries make each room feel bigger than it looks. Feelings compound upon themselves, multiplying over time. At first, there is reverence and wonder and awe at the way the light shifts, at the coolness of stones, at the bend of wood. But that wonder seeps back into the light and stones and wood, until even people who believe only in what they can measure sense the weight of that wonder.
The stones do not matter only because they are carved. The wood does not matter only because it’s old. The glass does not matter only because it bends the light. Their power is in what they contain, in the fine matter of what was felt there. The word God alone does not make this place sacred. It is sacred because a woman came to that place and mourned the loss of a child. Because a man came to that place and thanked Something Bigger to be alive. Because a child came to that place and hoped for something they could not name.
Come, walk among my ruins. There is wonder here, a looking upwards and upwards. The acidic burn of hatred hissing in corners. Hope against hope. Whispered prayers, whispered sins. Tonight, the memories of these feelings taste of ashes.