The Chapel That We Crave
Even as I sat in a kind of outdoor chapel, reading the essay made me realize I need to spend more time in those places, physical and otherwise, where I'm entirely me, not split off in shards.
One of the things that make the Iyer essay notable is that he's talking about literal chapels as much as figurative ones, but he never mentions the word God—doesn't need to because that's not what his story is about.
He admits, "For all the years of my growing up, we had to go to chapel every morning and to say prayers in a smaller room every evening. Chapel became everything we longed to flee; it was there we made faces at one another, doodled in our hymnbooks, sniggered at each other every time we sang about 'the bosom of the Lord' or the 'breast' of a green hill."
I can relate to that feeling, having spent a fair amount of time in this musky chapel as a preteen and teen, even having acted (badly) in a 15th-century play within its walls:
As idyllic as it looks here, I don't miss it—almost never, in fact, think about it.
Iyer's essay is about the quiet spaces, sometimes but not always walled, that allow us to recharge. And maybe you have to be an adult to do that with intention.
"Chapels are emergency rooms for the soul," he writes. "They are the one place we can reliably go to find who we are and what we should be doing with our lives—usually by finding all we aren't, and what is much greater than us, to which we can only give ourselves up."
Call that God if you want, but he's not writing about religion, at least not to me. I have no interest in religion. Yet it turns out that this is the wallpaper I chose months ago for the computer on which I'm writing these words:
Hard to say which is the "chapel" in that picture—the space where I took it (on the way up the tower of the Freiburg cathedral, on a 50th-birthday trip to Germany with D. this summer to revisit some important parts of my life, in this case the site of my junior year abroad exactly 30 years ago) or what my eye was taking in.
Or was it where my mind rested at that moment as I held the camera, paused on the bridge between who I was and who I am now?