One of the observations that I had when I was driving from my home to St. Louis for Urbana this time around was the desolation that seemed to be rampant. Farms once thriving were marked by overgrowth, the buildings left and decaying. I identify with the solitary wooden barn, its walls almost mesh with the holes in them. They used to have real purpose, but now they’re shells of what they could have been.

But, one image that really struck me was a church. This church was something built at the beginning of the last century. A typical church for a small rural community. Painted white, a small sign out front. No parking lot to speak of, right off a back road.

The community was in tatters, homes that used to be the backbone of this small mountainside community were abandoned. Random junk strewn all over their lawns, and doors missing from their homes. I’ve seen this type of thing in small towns all over, moreso recently than at any other time in my life. But, this church haunts me.

The church stands there. Its white paint still white, but wearing off. In fact, almost half of the side I saw as I drove was streaked with the underlying colour of the wood underneath. A one room church building, forgotten off the beaten track. Slowly disappearing from view. As I drove past, I almost pulled over to see more, but if I had, the view from the road would be obscured. The sign out front, which usually told the folks what the upcoming sermon was going to be was so faded and worn, that you couldn’t even tell what type of church it was.

I actually a few minutes later, had to pull over to catch my breath about the whole thing. The symbolism of that reality is quite striking. The building, shape and colour, you knew it had to be a church. The small community gone. But the building still stands. Yet, instead of finding inspiration in it still standing after everything else had been wiped away by time, the realist or pessimist in me found this conclusion…

It is still standing… but for what? Who recognises what it’s actually doing anymore? Where are the people that it is supposed to be caring for? It’s been standing so long that people no longer know what it stands for anymore. It’s a relic of a time gone long ago. Noble at one point but either purposeless, or impotent now. I actually ached inside at the sight of it. My heart still does.

Rather than get political or hyperactivist, I’d just like to wrestle with that for a little while. The myopic part of me wants to turn inward and look at how sometimes my own faith is like wearing the rags of light that the paint on that church represents. It used to be a full robe of light and life, and now sometimes I live on the remnants of a faith of a time gone by… kind of like that church. It used to be something that people could live on… it used to be something I could live on. Now, I’m not sure life exists there anymore.

I’m still rattling that image in my head, and perhaps my first assignment for the 2010 Writer’s Challenge (thanks Tia) will have something to do with that. But, I can’t shake that in my mind or heart, and I’m not sure I’m ever supposed to.

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