P1030190There is a bison, with eight legs, running underground in the dark. It’s beautiful. There is also a horse with its quadriceps bulging, flexing and moving, graceful and lovely.

There are mammoths, lions, leopards, panthers, bears, owls, hyenas, and
rhinos. They are all together in a ancient, hidden place, drawn on limestone in the famous Chauvet cave in southern France.

What should we make of this beautiful ancient art, these creatures, these fluid lines, their shading, their placement in a cave on a cliff, their simple, graceful beauty?

Scientists and art historians are still working on that, but at the very least Chauvet tells us that ancient people understood the grace and dignity of animals, the beauty of motion, the power of place and of art

Last week my friend Joaquin and I stood in the inner courtyard of my church in Chula Vista, California and looked around. The patio was a bit cave-like, and not.

A two-story classroom loomed like a stucco cliff on the south side, the church sanctuary sat like a stately piece of art on the west side. The sanctuary is Spanish Revival, stucco, tile, with arches, and a bell tower. It’s nice, some good lines, but by way of contrast, in the center of the courtyard squats a small house — old, chipped, worn and out of character.

Joaquin and I walked into the little house to check the electrical subpanel, then came back out and looked around, like spelunkers, blinking upon returning to the surface. Ugly, cracked black top covered the ground at our feet. Overhead was better, a nice Ficus tree in a bright cerulean sky. At the east end of the courtyard reclined a patio garden room, recently renovated, very nice, with brick pavers in circles, trellises with vines, curving areas of grass bordered by Agapanthus — good lines.

But the house in the middle, as we turned back to it, pointing out this and that — very un-Chauvet — no art, no grace, a minimum of dignity. This little two-bedroom bungalow was the true eyesore on the property — nothing revival or Spanish about it — cracking paint, decaying wood, composition shingles, a huge, warty, rusted swamp cooler on the roof.

Joaquin and I looked up from the swamp cooler to the bell tower on the church sanctuary. A decorative design graced the stucco tower; dignified arches and a lovely red tile roof capped the top. There was no match here, between the swamp cooler and the bell tower. In fact the entirety of the little house, by its very design and essential character, broke the dominant architectural theme, like a blotch on a canvas.

On Tuesday of next week Joaquin’s property developer and I will sign an agreement for him to jack up the little house, roll it down to the street, put it on a truck and drive it away. It is going to a new home, in a residential community, where it will get a facelift. I’m glad to see it on the move, finding its legs, repurposed in this way.

And the church courtyard, it will at last open to more light, it will begin to breathe freely, be given eight legs, a beautiful stucco wall, with lovely arches, and bright green grass and flowers and climbing vines. And the courtyard and the bell tower will run together at last, like the horses and the bison at Chauvet.

People will come here, I know it, to this artful courtyard, with its Spanish Revival motif, as if to a destination. Children and young adults and their parents will meet here and they will luxuriate in this sacred, open cave, and like the ancients, take joy in the beauty of motion, the power of space and the redemptive power of art.

How will that happen?

This is a church, and I believe that God himself do that.

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