I took the confirmation students into the church for some prayer time; they are excellent prayers, and getting better each time. They find a quiet spot, away from the distractions of their peers, and have learned to quiet themselves and be at peace with the Lord for some time.
It is an excellent thing to learn, an excellent discipline to practice and I am honored to be with them each time they enter into prayer.
I, on the other hand, have a class to worry about and have to keep an eye open, so I do not enter into that quiet as easily or deeply as they. They sat in their pews, quietly breathing and being open, and I was sitting in the back, looking around, making sure everything was set for them, so they could have this experience.
Which was when my eyes fell upon the back of the pew in front of me. I was looking down and saw how the varnish on the back of the pew in front of me was worn off. I ran my hand over it, still smooth, but there was a definitive discoloration, just in that one spot, and a few feet away, another one and another after that.
As I looked down the row, the back of the pew was discolored all the way down. My eyes looked to the pews in front of me, row after row of pews and each one had on the back, places where the varnish had been rubbed off.
The pastor in me began to wonder how much it would cost to refinish every one of the 64 pews in our church, and that little reflection in the dim quiet of the church, surrounded by praying sophomores, gave me pause. Yet, it was not the cost factor that ultimately made me realize the folly of my thinking, it was something deeper.
The pastor part of my brain wondered about cost, and worried about upkeep of the parish furnishings, but the most mystical past began to remember why the varnish had worn off in the first place. I stretched out my arms over the place where the wood was slowly beginning to show, and my arms stretched naturally over the spot; arms stretched out in the natural posture of kneeling prayer.
I began to wonder just how many arms had to stretch over the back of that pew to wear the varnish off like that, and the arms stretched over the other spots that stretched out over the length of our beautiful church. I looked up at the men and women sitting quietly in their home, their parish home, their family’s home, and realized what a gift it was for them, for me, to be in this place worn so profoundly by the hundreds, thousands, who had come before.
Young arms, strong arms, arms holding children and infants, arms stretched out in grief and confusion, arms stretched out in supplication and need, arms stretched out in gratitude, arms grown weak through years and the endless burdens of life; they have all rested on the wood of these pews, used them, worn them and made them beautiful.
I know as the pastor, that I should be concerned about the wear, and the future use, of the pews in the church, but as the pastor of this parish, I am overjoyed at the wear and tear on the pews.
It is said we are a disposable society, a people who cast off the old quickly and easily so that we might embrace the new and unique and more interesting. Perhaps we are, and I do it just as easily. There is around us, however, a multitude of things that, if we pause to think, remind us of so much.
You can see only a worn couch, or remember why it is worn; the friends who sat there, the time spent relaxing there, cuddling there, holding children there. The worn carpet is a worn carpet, but also a testament to playtime, sleepless nights, visitors and family life. That is the nature of life and a home.
As I make my way through the church, I notice the things that are worn and a part of me makes a note to make sure they get fixed and updated, but a part of me is grateful for such a home. I am grateful for the walls, thick with the prayers of generations, the faded pews, the cheerios on the floor.
It’s not perfect anymore, but it is home.