Apr 3, 2007

Why Are Buildings Special?

by Terri Wagner

During the Saturday afternoon session of GC, I found my attention wandering a bit. The Tabernacle means very little to me. The stories the GAs told about their experiences was touching, especially Brother Monson's and gave interesting insight to the way the church administration has changed. But I was still puzzled as to why this building had such significance.

I'm sure it has a wonderful history; I'm sure if I lived in Utah, I might understand more; I'm quite sure I'm missing something here.

Do buildings matter? I'm not sure. Years ago, I lived in what I consider my adopted state (military brats never feel at home anywhere) of Virginia. When she came visiting, I took my mother on a ferry ride across the James River to the oldest still-standing plantation in the area. She was impressed by the history, the people who had stayed there, the old ways of a forgotten time; however, I was impressed by the living tree that has stood there for several hundred years. I wondered if maybe Moroni has passed that way in his wanderings. I wondered if George Washington or the early Jamestown settlers had sat in the coolness of this tree; in short, I was impressed with the tree!!!

I can't remember the talk or who gave it, but someone once told about having an experience in a rock canyon (I don't see much of those around here) and contemplating how old the rocks were, and in a sudden burst of realization (don't many of our testimonies come this way?) knew with complete certainty that he was actually older than the rocks. His vision of how old became a testimony of eternity.

Can buildings invoke that feeling? Is there something significant in bringing the building up to code? Will it play a more important role in the future? Why are buildings special?


  1. Interesting question, Terri. I think they matter only in the human investment that they contain, in the memories they house. Several years ago I visited some of the homes from my childhood--we were itinerant, too, as my dad worked for the Bureau of Reclamation. I had a profound religious experiences in one of those dwellings, and I remember the feeling I had as I stood in front of that tiny cottage--it was much larger in memory than in reality. I felt a profound sence of reverence and awe. I don't think I would have had the same experience had I simply recalled the moment. I needed the structure to give solidity to the experience.

  2. Who was it that said something about an unexamined life is not worth living? Thank you, Terri, for pushing me to think about what the Mormon Tabernacle means to me. I grew up in and near Rexburg, Idaho, and I remember going at least once with my parents to a general conference. It was in this tabernacle that I shook hands with Heber J. Grant, the first of many prophets I have touched. I remember the hard benches and the time I had to sit behind a pillar, but this was overshadowed by the joy of being there.

    At Utah State in 1944, I took a class in Art Appreciation where the professor taught in a darkened room with slides. The first half of the semester (we had quarters then) he showed only buildings we learned to appreciate and identify; pyramids, skyscrapers, capitols, Stonehenge, the Parthenon, Mount Vernon, and even a small adobe home surrounded by well-tended lawn and garden, with ivy adorning its mud walls.

    On our travels we have stopped to find and take pictures of homes we have lived in, especially the seven we purchased and sold. As the poet says, "It takes a heap of living in a house to make it home." I presume that is the key that opens the heart to any building.

    You are right, Terri. A building in and of itself is a product of man, and can be destroyed. It's the life represented that's important. That's why we care for and beautify cemeteries--not for the landscaping alone, but in remembrance.

    In a sense, a biography is an edifice to honor life.

    And of trees: When my father attended Harvard, long before I was born, my mother somehow obtained a small shard of bark from the Washington Elm. She glued it to the glass over a framed picture of this historic tree. It meant a lot to me, especially when I remember Joyce Kilmer's poem that ends, "Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree."

    Keep loving trees, Terri, but consider rejoicing in the very buildings that have housed people and events you love.


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