“Let the site tell you its secrets.” — Christopher Alexander
I joke that my propensity to arrive early for absolutely everything is a sickness, but in reality it is a treasured quality since it reminds me of mom and dad. Being early is my heritage. With age, it seems that I am less impressed with my unique qualities and particularly value those characteristics that connect me to a larger story.
I arrive very early for work on Sunday mornings to prepare for our church’s collective time together, a couple of hours early in fact—and love it. We decided to meet in stunning Stauffer Chapel this summer thanks to a brilliant suggestion from my friend, Sara, and the setting has made the early morning solitude particularly delightful.
I like the strange sensation of opening the door to discover that no one else is there and being the first to step inside. I like turning on the lights and straightening the hymnals and removing the leftover trash from the pew racks. I like arranging the podium and communion table just right and reviewing the sermon, imagining the congregation at breakfast preparing to join with me and with others. I like propping open the doors and hearing the gurgling fountain outside and then returning to the deafening quiet inside and the intense feeling of anticipation. I like to notice the sun pierce through the massive stained glass spraying psychedelic graffiti all over the quiet sanctuary.
Famed architect, Christopher Alexander, argued that users of a space know more about their needs than the architect and wrote, “Let the site tell you its secrets.” In my sacred Sunday solitude, I don’t seem to be able to articulate my needs, but it sure seems that the space has secrets to tell. I listen each week and can almost hear them. Maybe if I listen long enough?
In reality, I’m not sure that sacred spaces have actual secrets to tell. But maybe the wonder that is found in showing up early to listen is secret enough.