“My father’s house has many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go there to prepare a place for you?” John 15
When I was ten years old, my mother took me out of school one day and drove me into Los Angeles. She parked alongside a vacant lot by the 110 Freeway where sat two enormous, dilapidated Victorian houses, cut into halves and moved to the site from Boyle Heights, which was undergoing a dramatic redevelopment project.
The houses looked forlorn, like someone had done surgery on them and forgotten to stitch them back up. They were gray from the wear of weather. But with a little imagination, I could see a glimpse of their former grandeur.
Mom told me that lots of houses like these were being destroyed in the redevelopment process, but a few people had saved these two and they were planning to renovate them so they could be displayed here on this hill, like artworks in a museum. She was thrilled that this was taking place in our Los Angeles culture which was all about the latest, greatest thing bulldozing itself over the classic and historic.
That was 40 years ago, and today Heritage Square is a small but thriving labor of love. It includes a half dozen Victorian homes, a train station, a former Methodist church and plans for a drug store. Volunteers restore the buildings and give weekend tours dressed in Victorian attire.
I visited Heritage Square again last week as a way of remembering my mom. In front of one of the homes, known as the Perry Mansion, a sign was posted: “This Place Matters”. I stood and wondered at it. What is the place that matters? The house, or the land it sits on? Does it matter because the house is beautiful? Or because someone you love once lived there? Or does it matter because your mother once stood here with you on a Tuesday morning when you should have been in school, etching into your consciousness the importance of remembering the best of what has come before?
Today my mother has been dead exactly 26 years. But I don’t have to go to Los Angeles to remember her. She is everywhere–wherever there is great art or architecture or a beach or a bench to sit on, or a flower. She resides on a peice of real estate in my heart.
This place matters. My heart, that is.
Places matter because they are the setting for meaning-making events. But the heart is a very big house with many rooms. There is room for all your experience there: all the people you have loved, every hymn you have sung, every story told, every candle lit.
Is your church a place that matters? Does it matter because it’s on the corner of 12th and Main Streets? Or does it matter because it’s in your heart?
P.S. If you are ever in L.A., you can visit Heritage Square, too!