Of Wood and Worship

Churches are a mainstay of my European travel thus far.  I love ducking into church after church.  I admire the artwork and the architecture.  So much of a community’s heart is poured into its church.

In my church-ducking escapades, there have been some impressive ones.  I’ve seen gold stretching from floor to ceiling.  I’ve stood before altars and effigies that cost more than this country’s GDP.  They are unarguably imposing.  Many of them, I would even say, are quite stunning.

The only trouble with massive behemoths is that they hit the same note over and and over again.  They are very good at making me feel small.  Nothing wrong with feeling a bit of my own nothingness.  But, nothingness in the face of what?  In the face of God, or in the face of what has been gilded and sculpted?

It all feels a little hollow if I’m only reminded of the men and women who made it. If all I can see is the craftsmanship, it never ascends to the state of worship for me.  It’s inspiring, certainly.  But, not awe-inspiring, necessarily.


This, little building, on the other hand, felt like the very embodiment of worship.  I wonder, not at the magnitude of what has been accomplished, but at the substance of it.  The palpable, tangible substance of it.  This place is breathtaking, not in an act of wresting, but in surrender.  It is a sigh instead of a gasp.


It strikes me as amazing, that, a century ago, someone (or a group of someones, no doubt) decided to put their worship into physical form.  I’m curious about them.  I would like to meet them, to know them.  I want to understand their hearts, which they poured into these pillars and beams.  Maybe that’s what’s so interesting to me.  They have created something that is a statement about their relationship with their God.  Walking inside that is sacred.


Maybe every person who creates a Cathedral or synagogue does the same thing.  But, there is nothing of grand gestures here.  There is no pretense.  They created a little tiny church on a little hill, which I can’t imagine that they ever thought would draw any particular attention.  Walking in here, it seems that what they have done is simple and frank and holy.  I have to believe that these people were following the injunction to bring their gifts before the Lord.  In the pews they carved, in the lamps they created, they worshiped.  They shout their hosannas in stain glass and alters.  This little church feels like worship incarnate.  


Yes, I know that worship is an action, not a location.  It is found in a hand lifting a neighbor.  It is compassion extended, in spite of differences.  I think all of that is worship.  And is sacred.  But, somehow, these markings convince me that the hands who made them must surly also be hands to extend kindness and acceptance and forgiveness.  


I know, of course, that the one doesn’t follow the other.  Talented hands can be quite cruel.  But, as I stand in this little edifice, that’s not the story that I feel.  I see only worship embodied, and my soul rises at the sight of it.  Touching these benches, my heart catches.  


Here, worship feels like a statement about God, but also a statement about our fellow humans.  This church is scaled to people, not to grandeur.  There is no chance of slipping impersonally in and out.  There is an intimacy here.  I cannot be deceived that my relationship with God is independent from my relationship with every other soul He put on this Earth.  In this church I do not marvel at monuments and alters.  I marvel that I might come into a relationship with the divine.  


Getting There: This is the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Jaszcurówka.  It’s just outside of the mountain town of Zakopane, in Southern Poland.  It’s one of the stops on the Wooden Architecture Route that winds throughout Małopolska (Lesser or Southern Poland).  The route includes 237 sites, everything from large churches to traditional huts.  I'm dying to go back and explore more of these.