‘Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look! The king has got a crown again!’ – About the Statue at the Cross-Roads, The Two Towers, Book IV, Journey to the Cross-Roads
A while back I was giving a sermon to my church that touched on restoration. A dear friend who was attending, Sara Lee, ask to talk to me after the service because she had a question. I had said during the sermon, “We all live among the ruins of what was intended.” I was talking about the world being in a fallen or shadowed state (thanks Madeline L’Engle) and how we all dwelt within the consequences both of our choices and the choices of others. Sara Lee, who is a person of great sunshine and joy, was a bit uncomfortable with the metaphor. I tried to explain my point of view in context of the sermon, but in retrospect I should have said something like this.
Ruins are beautiful.
Ruins are the primary tourist attractions in many places of the Old World. Who doesn’t love a castle, the Parthenon, the Colosseum, Stonehenge or the Great Wall? And who in our own country isn’t fascinated by old wooden houses, now covered in vines, or log cabins where our first settlers dwelt, or the myriad of old missions in the part of Texas where I live? Those places sing to us. They are powerful.
They sing songs of hope. Sure, they also sing songs of loss and the passage of time, but those markers of hope and joy and great endeavor are still here and we are moved by them; sometimes by their grandeur, sometimes by their mystery, sometimes by their sacrifice, but always we are moved by the very fountain of life that they mark.
Here these people met to worship and celebrate. Here these people fled behind walls for protection. Here this family struggled to carve out a home in hostile lands. Ruins are beautiful.
And we do live among the ruins of what was intended, but that’s not a bad thing, it’s a joyful thing. Even if the ruins are of your own making, they mean something. The couple in the ruins of divorce knows that they loved deeply, and they can usually figure out what went wrong so they can love again. The person in the ruins of grief at the death of a loved one lives in the shadows of a great love that has left them bereft but never could have existed without that relationship. The young man or woman in the ruins of addiction remembers what they used to be, to what heights they could have soared and if wisdom prevails, gets up and starts to rebuild.
Our God is like that, and through the teachings of Jesus and before He has told us that He brings beauty from ashes. He builds empires of laughter from the tearful ruins of failure. So, yeah, we live among the ruins, but that’s good.
It’s good nationally because we know what we can be again, a light to the nations, a city on a hill, all the best dreams of our Father’s.
It’s good personally because things will always go wrong and we will always have to get up again if we are truly of the righteous and the wise.
It’s good for our churches who struggle and scream to return to earlier, better days as we slowly learn what it will mean to be light and salt to a nation that no longer respects what we have become.
So pitch your tent in the shadows of the shattered columns. Raise your families under broken ceilings that sunlight pours through as well as rain. Throw your weddings and feasts in ancient places of beauty and worship to remind you that there is always Something Greater than ourselves. And don’t despair! Dance in the ruins! Sing! Hold hands and dream dreams of our rebuilding and the new monuments to joy we will build! Dance among the old places! Cry for their loss if you must but remember the joy and hope that was left to you in the ruins and replace your tears with laughter.
And then begin……there is much to be done.