Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent 3 : assessing juxtapositions

One never knows where he may stumble upon hope or grace, or at least a symbol of hope or grace. And of course, wherever there is a symbol of hope, indeed, hope is not far behind. And wherever there is hope, grace is surely and sure thing. I’m certain of it.
Truly, if one walks often enough in less trod paths, and less often in familiar steps of his day-to-day, nearly everything he stumbles upon may take him by surprise.
I am an avid explorer of the less stumbled upon. Few things bring me more joy than venturing into winter woods, walking along - and in - mountain streams, catching a glimpse over one more ridge. But I have to admit that until recently, I’ve seldom veered off the main arteries of urban landscape. I’ve spent little time exploring the wilderness of cities.
Last Sunday afternoon as the family ran off to grab a quick bite after church and before ballroom dancing lessons, I opted to use the moments to quiet my nerves and emotions. I decided to walk back to the old boiler building at the other end of the parking lot where I photographed Molly in her tutu for some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken so far. The juxtaposition of grace and decay that day has intrigued me ever since.
Truly, the more I thought about it, I decided that perhaps grace and decay aren’t such a surprising juxtaposition after all. Or rather, it is more surprising that we would be surprised at experiencing grace depicted in the context of decay. After all, where else is grace needed? Imagine stumbling upon a stable on a brisk night and finding a neonate swaddled in a feed trough. Imagine later realizing that regardless of where that baby had been born, it would have been grace juxtaposed in relative decay.

The building sits atop the steep bank of the Columbia Canal, and directly across the freeway from the old Penitentiary, all but portions of the huge granite wall razed to the ground. In the weeds, beside the building I followed a light path that led through thickets down to the canal and along the water to the freeway bridge. I walked under the bridge and climbed back up the steep dirty bank to where at least a few folks live in community behind pilings and steel girders, in make-shift bedrooms made private with sheets of plywood, and blankets.
On this brisk, but sunny afternoon, no one was home, and I felt as if I’d just walked into the open front door of a family in my own neighborhood, and had stepped beyond what was appropriate for me to explore. As I made my way back down the bank to the canal, I stumbled across this ceramic Angel sitting on a splatter of concrete. I thought of symbols, and hope, and grace. I thought that surely there is not one alley, not one attic space, park bench, boiler building, or freeway bridge that is not permeated with grace. And there’s always something there to remind me. Symbols and feelings of recognition.
One might think upon walking under that bridge, “there but for the grace of God go I.” But I do know that even if there go I, it is not without grace.