I'm about to use a word that strikes most people with either fear or elation, or at least a sudden urge to leave the room. Even elated persons might find their momentary joy deflate into dread, because this word, though ubiquitous in its usage, is a powerful one, and often hearing it out of another's mouth may cause some awful wrothful (say it three times fast!) consternation when it's not uttered just so, even when those hearing it use the word quite frequently.
Here it is: Church.
Oh come back here. I'm not about to proselytize, I have no agenda that requires conversion, no funny hats or robes, no burning candles or crosses or books. I'm only going to write about churches in the strictly physical brick-and-mortar sense. I like churches. Actually, I love them, inside and out. I'm in love with the aesthetic, with the instant hush they command, with the aroma of worn pages in the hymnals and the sense of reverence they evoke. I'm not religious in the traditional sense of the word; my mother briefly sent my brother and me to Sunday school while my sister attended services at a Baptist church in Roswell, New Mexico, but I suspect it was in hopes someone else would would have to clean up after me while she caught a nap. Or maybe she felt we needed divine intervention (I know my sister thought so). Anyway, it was there that I came to love the echo-y sound of the upright piano and the smell of the fat colored chalk the youth director used to limn the joys and sorrows on the blackboard, and later where I found serenity in the sanctuary that, to me, felt wholly removed from any saintly figure and seemed to have a presence of its own.
On the outside, I prefer the gothic structures of large stone churches. Those edifices loom larger than life to me, and are as inspiring as their interiors. These structures, more than any other, say without words that something important, even monumental, is happening within the walls, bigger than you, bigger than me, at least as large as Creation Itself. No other human-crafted structure speaks this way. Even when the messages they convey conflict with my own, they are powerful and undeniable. To stand in the shadow of a church is to understand that my opinion may be taken under advisement but with no promises.
Inside, serenity. Rustle of clothes on the seats of the pews, whispers, quiet smiles and greetings. Notice how in our modern world conversation anywhere else is of the raucous variety, voices raised so they can be heard above others nearby, some of whom are chattering on their phones to people not even in the same state, or even continent? Even in my neighborhood library people have taken to speaking loudly as if on the street outside. Everyone does this anymore, contending with the charp-charp-charp of being in the presence of fellow humans. In a church, it goes away. Everyone knows: Be quiet! You're in church!