On our way to and from church services on Sunday, my wife and I drive past the ruins of a large barn. As I sit here and think about it right now, I remember it as having burned, but the foundation (which may have housed a milking parlor, perhaps?) and some of the structure are still apparent. I notice it almost every time we go by, and there is some reason why it draws me, interests me, brings out in me some kind of longing. There’s no real surprise here, as I’ve often found ruined buildings aesthetically attractive, moving, or provocative somehow. If there is a ruin somewhere that I pass by often, then it is “cleaned up,” or removed, I feel a sort of disappointment.
A couple of weeks ago, when we passed the ruined barn, my wife commented on her memories of the barn before it burned. It was very striking to me that she remembered it so clearly, so well, in so much detail. It only became clear to me as she talked about the barn as it had been that I had payed little to no attention at all to the barn until it became a ruin. This made me think about how ruins stand out for me in an environing world to which I otherwise am much too oblivious. A building can be redone, or a new building erected, and I might ask her as we pass it, “How long has that been there?” She will often smirk, because she knows my oblivion well. “At least five years, maybe ten.”
Since my wife made those comments on the barn, comments that clearly showed her focus on what was NOT a ruin, I’ve been contemplating how strongly my attention is drawn to ruins. I’ve always especially noticed church buildings, new or old, ostentatious or simple, beautiful or ugly. But ruined church buildings are among my favorite things. I’m especially moved by good black-and-white photographs of ruined places of worship.
And this especially seems significant: It’s not ANCIENT ruins that draw me. It’s “modern” ruins. It’s structures built within the strikingly short (by global standards) history of the United States of America. And especially in the Midwest and the South, semi-rural to rural.
I have not yet come up with any good explanation for my apparent partiality to such ruins, and to how for me they have a sort of religious ambiance, or resonance, or “feel” to them. But it seemed like something that I should not only mull over myself, but also toss out where some others could see, if they are interested.