As I reach out to artists to collaborate on iconography for the Twelve Believers project, we are starting to confront the question of the architectural and liturgical context that the icons will ultimately inhabit. My hope is that they will live in a chapel within a guest house on our family’s property. This is essential to the Twelve Believers project and, I believe, an enrichment to the overall Gospel Desk story, so in this post I want to introduce our guest house and its situation.
Last year, God blessed our family with a remarkable property on the edge of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, on a hill called Spring Hill. The property is in two parcels, each with a house on it. Our family lives in one. Lord willing, we’ll be able to develop the other into a guest house that in some measure can serve as a physical home for Gospel Desk.
Compared to the internal, private sphere of the main house, the guest house represents a more external and public aspect of our family’s home. But that’s just the beginning of its symbolic meaning.
Down the valley through the trees I can glimpse the Methodists’ clock tower at the center of the village. Rising behind us is a hundred-acre wood. Our property symbolically occupies the boundary between civilization and wild, known and unknown, order and chaos, structure and freedom, conformity and individuality, unity and multiplicity. It is a threshold, a portal, a gateway. Moreover, despite our proximity to the village, the property is difficult to get to. The road we live on is not terribly long, but it is narrow, winding, and sliding down the hill. Some houses are sliding with it. We’re at the end, giving the property a feeling of isolation, almost otherworldliness. It’s a bit of a monastery in the sky, a place to detach and recenter, but also to pray for the bustling world below, which I am bound to re-enter. God invites me, here on the symbolic edge of a civilization in which I am the main character in my own story, to inhabit the story of which he is the main character—thanks be to God!
The guest house building itself has not been occupied for decades. The utility lines are gone. When we took ownership (stewardship, I prefer), three fully rusted acetylene tanks(!) occupied the porch. Junk filled the upstairs and downright rubble the downstairs. I shoveled out 50 bags of former plaster and about as much dryrotten flooring to reveal a clean crack in the foundation that explains the back wall’s unsettling lean. It’s not actually clear to what extent the building can be saved. The detached garage did collapse, long ago, and now cat litter and yard waste fill the spot. Here, then, is the plain meaning of Gospel Desk’s motto, I’m working on a building!
In the opening chapter of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis summarizes an ancient anthropology: “The head rules the belly through the chest.” I see in this a pattern for what the guest house at Spring Hill can become, if the Lord wills it: a library upstairs alongside the chapel, and living quarters downstairs. Maybe some day you will be able to visit, studying in the library with the Narrative Apparatus, praying in the chapel with the Twelve Believers, enjoying this special spot with us, and recentering your life within God’s story.