Roger Marolt: I like churches, especially when they’re empty
I like hanging out in churches. I can’t think of a place where people, in general, act any better. You never know what people are thinking, even in church, but at least most seem to be at their best when they go there. Folks are quiet and polite inside a church. It’s not considered awkward to make eye contact and smile. Men still take off their ball caps inside and, while I don’t know exactly why, it seems like a good sign.
That’s how it is when people are actually inside a church. Churches are almost always peaceful, even when full, but when the church is empty there is tranquility. There is a difference. Peace can be found at the end of a football game that the home team lost by a lot and there is nothing to say about it. Tranquility is much more difficult to experience, even in the wilderness where there are distractions in the back of your mind like wondering if the peach in your backpack is getting bruised or the blisters starting to form on your feet because you wore the wrong socks.
It is not like a library. Libraries are mostly quiet, but people go there to work and research or find books that can’t be found online or would be a waste of money to buy. People are reading and bustling about, asking questions of the librarians ranging from, “Have you ever seen a first edition by so and so?” to “Is it OK to bring my coffee in here?” It creates a busy vibe.
People also whisper a lot in libraries and whispering is oftentimes more distracting than normal conversational tones. Few have mastered the art of a soothing whisper. The first time we set foot in a library, and every other time since, somebody tells us to be quiet or shushes us with an index finger to the lips, but nobody ever said it was disrespectful to talk in one. While people talk in churches, it happens so rarely at inappropriate times that usually only unruly toddlers get shushed, and then usually only once before they are hauled out under a frantic parents’ arm.
And still one of the best times to go into a church is when there is nobody else there, which is pretty easy to do. Churches, in terms of the amount of time people are actually inside, are some of the most underutilized structures on the planet. And yet, they are treasured and pampered spaces. Their real value, I think, must be measured not by how quickly the carpeting wears out, but by what people walk out of them with that they didn’t bring in with them.
I have formed the habit of slipping into churches whenever I can. That has turned out to be fairly often once I realized that there is one practically across the street from my office. It has been there for more than 100 years and has been a huge part of my life since birth, but suddenly I somehow started to see it. Now, it is the place I look forward to sitting down in for 10 or 15 minutes to tune out the rest of the world. It is different than yoga in that it does nothing for my balance and core strength, but I find it even more relaxing. Some of the things that come to me there I carry onto the yoga mat for further contemplation.
It is funny the things that make their ways into an uncluttered mind, like what happens to mine when I sit in a semi-dark church for a bit. Once I thought about how we cannot sin when we sleep, like it is some sort of reset for our inherit goodness. Another time it occurred to me that our spiritual essence, our souls if you will, are locked into our human bodies for now. This indescribable thing that makes us who we are, our very personalities, cannot wander away from us here on Earth. All we can do is leave traces of it by things we say and do that others remember. This is not the kind of stuff that comes to me in other places very often, not even my own bedroom before sleep overcomes me.
I know it may not seem like I am the kind of person who visits churches often, what with the terrible things I say about Lo Semple’s lack of skiing acumen or my constant barrage of disparaging remarks about the Snowmass Ski Area. To that truthful observation about a devious streak that runs through me, I can only point out how much worse I would be without visiting the church.
Roger Marolt has incorporated church visits into his overall fitness plan. Eamil at email@example.com