If you live long enough, some of the places that have been important to you, those buildings that have helped shape you, are remodeled, changed in ways you don’t approve of, or are even destroyed. Several years ago now I arrived in my hometown to not only be impressed by the new high school and athletic stadium that had been built but to also see that the high school I and my parents had attended had been leveled…knocked to the ground…and only an empty hill stood where so many of my formative days had been spent. When I visit these days I always have to go to where the high school once stood. I look at the still empty hillside and try to remember the red brick building, the stairs where I waited for friends and the doors to the auditorium where I exited on my way from graduation to an entrance into what I believed would be an exciting, adventurous future. The halls and classrooms that sowed that desire for my dreams, some of which have been fulfilled, only exist now in a shadowy memory. The walls that housed the seeds of the dreams of so many, first loves, questions, challenges, discoveries, are no more.
As humans we create structures for all our endeavors. Houses. Schools. Libraries. Churches. Stadiums. Shops. The dwellings in which we find shelter from the weather, where we settle in to be with other people, where we find sanctuary and safety, where we move from those who once lived in caves to those who take command of their environment and put down roots reflect that we were here, alive. The buildings we have known in our lives help us tell our story and the story of those with whom we have made and lived our lives.
The power of buildings moved front and center for me this week. The seminary where I received my education has sold its buildings, including its beautiful chapel, and will be moving to a new home in what is hoped to be a more central, convenient location for its future. This past week I attended a service of gratitude for how the structure served and nurtured so many. I thought back to the idealistic and wide-eyed way I entered that building for the first time. My questions were large and deep and it was a place that welcomed them and me, allowing me to live into a future I was still imagining, discovering. The classrooms and hallways were hotbeds of theological conversation and intellectual insight. And the chapel, built after I had graduated, became a place of artistic beauty and experimenting creatively with how worship can be expressed. And it has the most amazing acoustics!
But like all buildings and the people that inhabit them change comes to live in the midst of what had once been familiar and secure. That change necessitates remodeling, renovating or even pulling up stakes and moving. This service of gratitude allowed those present to say thank you to the people and the Spirit that gave birth to the walls and floors and the dreams and hopes that had found a home there. And it allowed for saying it is time to embrace the change that is woven with both loss and possibility as the building is handed over to another school with younger people and their own dreams with which to bathe the space.
As I sat in this beautiful chapel, listening to the music, hearing words well chosen and well spoken, I noticed that outside the window workers were already lifting tiles for a new roof, making the place safe and warm for the next tenants. I smiled at the metaphor of preparation even as we were doing the leave taking. It is probably always this way but perhaps not always so visible.
Naomi Shihab Nye writes in her poem “Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change”:
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.
Change in our lives and in the buildings that house our lives is inevitable though most often painful. And yet most of us would not choose to live lives like train tracks…no curves, no breaks, no growth. And we would not choose that for the people we love or the dwellings that house us.
My childhood home went on the real estate market a few months ago. The walls within which I grew and was launched will hopefully soon be a nest for a new family. Change…curves…breaking…growth…comes to us all. Within the walls of my first home new dreams will be formed and hopes will be given wing. It is called life and it is always moving, changing, remodeling, reforming into a future that is unsure and, hopefully, blessed.