Repairing the Chapel

July 4, 2009

Reparing the Chapel


Repairing the Chapel

The chapel has taken damage in the winter turning to spring.

Ivy has forced the two window lights away from the back wall

and the thaw has rotted some wood along the casement.

It’s not my chapel; no chapel genuinely belongs to anyone.

Ownership is merely the responsibility of maintenance.

Like owning anything beautiful,

my job is to preserve it and pass it on

for the next unknown temporary owner.

Increasingly maintenance of churches,

like so many wonderous structures, is a choice for society everywhere

(I found nearly 4,000,000 hits on Goggle search “abandoned churches”).

It’s nearly a famous cliché, a self-criticizing ethical criticism.

Why spend resources on a building that does nothing,

when there are starving people in…?

But a more fundamental question is lost in the deflection

of allocation of religious resources to those most needy.

Why does anyone need a chapel at all?


There are hundreds of religions and hundreds more

sects and sub-sects arguing within those beliefs. Our collective

knowledge of the divine is by turns cosmic, petty and confounding.

There are magnificent mosques, basilicas, synagogues, padodas,

shrines and temples—sacred architecture abandoned by cultures

that have left this earth for places unknown.

Mega-churches are built on the scale of sports arenas.

as well as hundreds of thousands of nondescript churches and assemblies

where sincere congregations meet in their fellowships of worship.


But a wayward chapel is something both personal and abandoned

in hope that it will find its way into the right hands.

What starts as a random real estate transaction develops

dimensions of communion I would generally reserve

for translating poetry or interpreting art.

With the exception that it isn’t academic—it’s purer labor.

Someone wanted me to repair the window.

Someone wanted to touch my hand,

or more to touch their hand.


Repairing the chapel window has asked me to an open commitment.

It doesn’t speak, but asks in the language of aloneness.

I’m no tourist here. I am here. I am. I.


There’s no one in the whitewashed room, but I’m not alone.


Through my life I’ve visited chapels.

In Canada after arduous travel I heard the Madonna

House Community sing vespers in a sobornost house

 imitating a Russian pilgrims retreat. The nave was barely

forty degrees, vapor poured from the casual choir.

Tears flowed, I met a saint, ate in the etiquette of silence

and washed dishes with aged nuns. There’s a small chapel

in Kentucky where I listened to a beautiful young woman

play Shubert as the sun set. Then she walked out in the late spring

evening and kissed me for a long time.

I spent a half hour in Beethoven’s chapel.

There’s a chapel in Tzintzuntzan where I watched a crucified man

suffer next to a naked fluorescent tube hanging from a ceiling.

Since I was ten I’ve made trips to nondescript Calvary

Cemetery Chapel to observe a sad parade of priests

bury my family. I stood in line to retrieve miraculous dirt

at Chimayo. I mention these chapels, because they were

filled with astonishing events.


This chapel is like the empty bowl of my soul.


I know a poet who resurrected a lost rose garden.

In my imagination I dreamed of him touching the earth

that unknowns had touched, hand digging through the loam

 to Rilke’s Roses. 

One poet tries a simple and physical connection

to another poet who wasn’t there. So it is in the chapel,

a connection to a someone who isn’t there…a quieter

whispering, not rational and not effusively emotional,

—different than the rituals of religion.


I prime the wood and hear my Grandfather’s voice

reminding me a brush is made to spread paint and not leave

a brushstroke.  He was a patient perfectionist.

In the chapel repairs I sense a similar inventive patience.

Myopically I prime the window frame.

I go on working a coat just beneath the surface;

to restore the surface—as the someone who came before me

must have looked on in tired wonder

at the slow progress of keeping a chapel the same.

3 Responses to “Repairing the Chapel”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Beautiful writing. Made me think of all the cathedrals I visited in Scotland. My co-travelers went to castles, I went to cathedrals. I said I was going for the pipe organs, but really I think I was going for the beauty, not just of the architecture, but of the feelings and comfort and communion with something sacred that others had left behind.

  2. domzuccone Says:

    I think I’m satified that there’s a communion too. I’ not asking for salvation, maybe just to not be alone…yes

  3. Meredith Says:

    Oyyy you’re such a great writer…

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