Demands of the Season

A few years ago, my son Hank was exploring possible choices for college. After touring the beautiful University of Chicago campus on a blustery but sunlit day, our family found itself at the corner of South Woodlawn Avenue and 58th Street in the Windy City. That’s the address of the Robie House. The Robie House was designed and built around 1910 by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s the greatest existing example of a home designed in the Prairie School architectural style that Wright popularized. Horizontal lines, flat roofs, broad overhanging eaves—the Robie House is designated as a National Historic Landmark Site and was one of the first homes in the country placed on the National Register of Historic Homes. As an architectural buff in general and a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright in particular, I wanted to go inside. My two sons, specifically uninterested in Frank Lloyd Wright and quite reasonably indifferent to the arcane details of American architectural history, and also hungry, voted against my idea. My wife, Kelly, was marginally supportive as long as it didn’t take too long. There was a sign along the Woodlawn Avenue side of the house—I recall it said something about the tour entrance being on 58th Street, but I saw a door along the back at the end of the driveway of the house and headed that direction, as my plan was to just go inside and look around for a minute.

The Prairie School design and sensibility came about partly as a reaction against the assembly lines and mass manufacturing of the early twentieth century, so everything about the house was finely crafted, and the back door was no exception. It was beautiful, made of dark wood, walnut. Most of it, though, was glass, and it had a dark, polished metal handle. I turned it and pulled, but nothing happened. There was no click and I felt no engagement of a lock. The handle just turned and didn’t open. Inside, I saw a little gathering near the door, so I kind of waved—happy to have stumbled upon some people with whom I could share my interest in Frank Lloyd Wright. However, none of them came over to help out. They all just looked back out the window with expressions of mild irritation. At that point, I tapped on the glass of this lovely door. Behind me, I heard, in sort of mortified voices, “Dad, we have to go around.” Nonsense, I thought, and doubled down on my efforts, turning the handle again, waving, tapping. Now, a stern-looking older woman—protective and docent-like, cracked the door as one would if a suspicious person were on the back doorstep. What she said to me was, “Do you have tickets for the tour?” What she meant was, “You can’t just walk through the back door of a Frank Lloyd Wright museum to haphazardly stroll around.”

Behind me, my kids had fled. Kelly remained, presumably in case I needed to be bailed out of jail for breaking and entering a national historic landmark. In my defense, I just wanted to go inside for a few minutes. In their defense, they hold guided tours every half-hour.

It turns out that you can’t just go in and look around in such an important place. The place demands more of you. They take it seriously because it’s important inside, it’s historic inside, and because of that, they ask that you to take it seriously too.

Just like some places demand more of us, some moments in time, some seasons in our lives, demand more of us as well. This season we’ve been trekking through seems to be one of those times. We’ll undoubtedly look back on this moment as useful in the future with respect to measuring the levels of fortitude and grit we have inside of us. We’re gaining a sense of knowledge concerning what we can endure in our families, our marriages, and ourselves. We’re learning to handle pressure and where our emotional vulnerabilities might lie. We’re getting to know what we’re made of. And even if we didn’t enter this season with a complete sense of its significance, now that we’re inside, we should not be proceeding haphazardly or in a “business-as-usual” kind of way. Instead, we should be moving ahead thoughtfully, strategically, even rigorously, with a frame of mind that reflects not only the moment’s significance but also the knowledge that how we’re proceeding now is setting us on a certain trajectory for the future.

My friend J Hill is an artist, an art instructor, and the best person I know to lead you through a museum if you want to expand your knowledge and soul. His advice is to approach a museum with at least a little personal strategy in mind, that is, an idea of what you want to see and experience. He suggests picking maybe just three or four pieces to focus on rather than trying to consume everything at once. Trying to take in everything often leaves you walking away remembering little and being truly moved by nothing. I think this might be a good approach now too—to simplify our goals for this moment in time. To focus on just a few things that we want to be sure to accomplish in addition to the things that are required of us each day.

If we want to be able to say we’ve handled this season well—that we’ve done the best we can—then it’s important to be aware of where we are, to have an idea of how we’re moving through it, to not try to do too much at once, and to treat this challenging season like a momentous time, as the sacred place it is.

God, help me think about where I am and to respect this place, to respect this time, and to use it with prudence, knowing that all of this and all that lies ahead is sacred ground. Amen.

This post originally appeared in Let It Be Said We’ve Bourne It Well: Following God in the Time of COVID-19 by Gregory Funderburk.

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