~ Sanctuary ~
“How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord…Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O Lord of Hosts...” ~Psalm 84:1-3
Dear Members and Friends,
In the hilly farmland just east of Canton, you’ll find the ambitiously-named hamlet of Paris, Ohio. Unlike its namesake, but much like other towns around there, it consists of a single Protestant church, in the white clapboard style, and about two dozen fine old houses in varying states of upkeep and neglect. That’s how I remember the place…though I haven’t laid eyes on it since the 1980s. On a tree-lined lane amid the fields near Paris, there’s a one-room schoolhouse of dignified brick. Unless you were a real antique dealer, you might think the place was as old as the community, but it’s not. The school is attached to the home of a retired teacher and school principal who had it constructed as a place to tutor local children with learning disabilities. Wander about inside, and you’ll find all the trappings of education in early America: the potbellied stove, the large blackboard, the slates, the desks with cast iron legs and little divots for inkpots. This elderly lady used to tutor one of my brothers, and she hired me during my junior and senior years of high school to do odd jobs around her place. Thelma Powell was one of the most down-to-earth, least sentimental people I knew. But in retirement, in a stroke of wild eccentricity, she had this little school built onto the side of her home. It was her happy place, her sanctuary, a shrine to the all things in life that she loved. That’s how much she loved education and all its accessories.
I’ve often threatened Michelle that, in my retirement, I’m going to “pull a Thelma” and have a little church built onto the side of our house. Used pews are easy to find…and plenty cheap. Churches are giving away old hymnals. All in all, it should be a whole lot cheaper to arrange than a one-room schoolhouse. That’s how oriented my life has been around church, so much so that I’ve wondered—until the pandemic—how I would function in a world where I could sleep till 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. (I’ve adapted surprisingly fast.) Like Thelma, I have the happiness of loving what I do in life and identifying so strongly with it that I will miss its atmosphere when I retire. A retired attorney might construct a courtroom. An auto mechanic could build a garage, and so on. Perhaps you, too, know such a joy? What would you build? There are environments where we’re just at ease, settings where we are most fully ourselves. And they may have nothing to do with our careers.
Sanctuary. Where’s your sanctuary? In these times of pandemic, perhaps you (like me) have been denied access to some of the activities and the places that serve as sanctuary to your spirit. But the best places in our lives will leave bits of their power and their beauty inside of us, and they will sustain us even when we must be absent. I admit that the church can feel ghostly in your absence. (For a vivid story about that, Google “Rev. Densham, Warleggan.”) But ancient Judaism even survived the destruction of its beloved temple exactly because the faith was written as much in people’s hearts as on their landscapes. Whether in body or in spirit, let’s linger today in the places that make us who we are. Seek their old, old sanctuary for your spirit. Allow their strength to make us strong. We look forward to seeing all of you again here.
In Christ’s Peace,