I love a chapel—a modern edifice or a glorious old cathedral, a log cabin in the woods or a small town, simple, little church. They all bring me a sense of peace and reflection—reflection on the faith, devotions and prayers offered there. I love to visit houses of worship and see where God’s children come to commune with the divine. If I sit still, I can almost feel the cumulative faith of countless believers who have come to petition their God—precious souls, longing for healing, understanding, acceptance and surely for forgiveness.
Places of worship are where we connect with heaven. We bring our babies. We come to unite and celebrate the union of believers in marriage. It’s also where we come to say goodbye to those who have passed on and moved back to their heavenly home. Second maybe only to the home, these edifices can be, from cradle to grave, our most important sanctuaries!
Recently, I had time before a flight and was wandering around the airport when I noticed the airport chapel. Of course, I went into the small but clean non-denominational space. It was nothing much aesthetically but like all places of worship, it had the feeling of the faithful, the sense of children reaching out to parents—the feeling of longing for home and hoping for rest. It reminded me of many of the hospital chapels I’ve visited over the years. Imagine if those walls could talk! I love sacred spaces, edifices built for worship, prayer, sacraments, religious rights and reflections.
It also led me to ponder how some of my most profound moments communing with God have been in common places. God has given me comfort and direction in classrooms, hotels, parking lots, campgrounds, crowded streets, mountain streams and definitely in the quiet of my room by my bed side.
My own faith tradition teaches me God has heard and answered prayers in the belly of a great fish, a lion’s den, a fiery furnace, ships driven and tossed by the sea, the woods behind a humble homestead and a freezing dungeon in Missouri. I have come to learn for myself that God hears us in both beautiful buildings built to honor him, and busy city busses filled with his restless, wounded children. I believe he is eager to hear from us from both the temple and the testing center, the shopping center and the synagogue.
I’m not so naive as to not recognize that harm has been done in God’s name. However, I’m confident, on balance, that those who have built buildings to worship God, and then filled those pews to that end, do so with the intent to do good. Like the buildings they built, they are trying to provide shelter, comfort, and a place to gather as a community of believers. If there are leaks in the roof or problems with the plumbing, they do all they can to fix it.
I am always a little sad when I see churches that have been abandoned, neglected or re-purposed. I hope as communities we never walk away from churches because they did not live up to our expectations. Instead, I hope we can have the faith and tenacity to help our churches become what they were intended to be and what we desperately need them to be: a place where the troubled find rest, the sinner finds hope, and we all find inspiration to love and care for one another. As Isaiah says, “And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.” Isaiah 4:6.