~A Court for Owls~
“And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof:
and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls…and the satyr shall cry to his fellow…”
~Isaiah 34:13, 14
Dear Members and Friends,
I would take a misty woodland trail over an abandoned factory any day. Well…almost any day. Just every once in a while, when I don’t have time for a long trek in the woods, I turn to a pastime known as “urban exploring.” That’s to say, I seek out abandoned buildings and poke around in them. I know, I know. It’s dangerous and potentially illegal. But believe me; I’ve researched Pennsylvania’s laws on trespassing, and I never break them! And as for the dangerous part, well, you’re right. It’s not a hobby for the careless. Leaking roofs can mean rotted out floors and the risk of a nasty drop into the dark nether-reaches of an old cellar. And there is a real possibility of coming across living creatures in derelict buildings—many of them best avoided. But a part of me feels a little bit heroic when I venture into a historic structure and document its architecture before it passes beyond reach. I keep a record of all the old buildings I visit, with photos, and I consider it a kind of archeology—except without having to recall any of my Hebrew….
Such was the case recently when a friend and I paid a visit to an old church…that shall remain nameless. Actually, the church is nameless. I only figured out some of its story from a few telltale signs: a date etched in the cornerstone told me how old it was. A large, ceremonial tub—just big enough to dunk an adult—told me what kind of church it had been. The lavishly ornate sanctuary told me what kind of people worshiped there: professional people, movers and shakers, philanthropic types.
But nowadays, homeless squatters clearly occupy the old fellowship hall by night. All the arched stained glass windows had long since been shattered by vandals. A domed skylight was gone. Paint was peeling from intricate scrollwork in the ceilings and walls. When we came across the remains of a certain woodland creature, we fled the building right away, for fear of rabid beasties. And yet, it was a marvelous church in its day. I know of large towns on the Plains that boast not a single building as lovely as this old ruin once was. If chance had landed that church in Amarillo, it would be the grandest cathedral in town. But sadly, the beauty and historicity of a building aren’t enough to guarantee its survival here in the Pittsburgh area. So much of our history is lost year by year, as our “built environment,” our regional heritage, returns to the elements.
Before hightailing it back to the car, I paused a little wistfully in that cavernous old sanctuary. I felt the need to honor the unseen lives, the “cloud of witnesses,” that had brought their stories into that holy place. How many tearful or grateful prayers were whispered here—forgotten now by everyone except the One to whom they were addressed? How many people marked their life’s transitions here: the happy, nervous wedding days; the baptisms, sopping wet in yonder tub; the desperately sad goodbyes with coffins and chrysanthemums? How did the music once resound from the pipe organ, rattling the windows and stirring the soul? How many tears were held back or allowed to flow in this very room, now wasted? My heart ached for the stories these crumbling walls would never tell. The promise at the end of the book—the promise at the end of time—is, “Behold, I make all things new.” But which thing will be made new in this dismal place: the glorious house of prayer, the pristine forest that it replaced, or the primeval swamps that existed before that?
There are places in our lives that are made sacred by the events that occur in them, the thoughts we think in them, the emotions we feel in them, the people we become in them. There are places in our lives that cause us to be better than we would be without them. And those places are worthy of our reverence and care. They’re worthy of our frequent visits and our loving attention. What are some of your life’s holy places? I hope one of them is right here at Bower Hill Church.
In Christ’s Peace,