Brick by Brick

Did I Say That Out Loud? Musings from a Questioning Soul

By Meg Barnhouse

From Skinner House Books

Wit, wisdom, and hope from the minister in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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All summer, workers have been building a brick wall along the road by my neighborhood. Against the brutal heat, they stretch a tarp overhead to get a little shade. I’ve watched them take bricks in their dusty brown hands one by one, butter them thickly with mortar, line them up, and tap them down—row by row. One man who looks to be in his seventies is the leader. His skin is the color of bittersweet chocolate; his beard is gray. Slender and tall, he moves from one group of bricklayers to the next, reaching and bending, looking like a heron in a marsh. When he pauses, he stands very straight. I see him teach the others how to do the work.

He stoops over to look at a line of bricks, hands on his thighs, inspecting the work. Sometimes as I drive by, I see him put his hand on the back of the person he’s teaching. Often they are both smiling.

He looks like he loves what he’s doing. I wonder how he can love building walls, day after day, handling bricks, teaching the art of laying bricks. Is it the teaching he loves? Seeing how his students learn, what their styles are, how their work shows their character? Does he love the wall itself? Does he know about when it’ll be done? Does he look forward to seeing it finished? Or does he love the process, the feel of the bricks in his hands, the squish of the mortar, the challenge of making the symmetry of pillars and arches, the geometry of it?

I think, from the look on his face, that he loves the process. I imagine that he never thinks about the end of the project, the completion of the wall. I think he will go on to the next wall as if it were just a continuation of this one, then the next one and the next, and never be bored.

I want to be like that, and I am, I guess. In my job as a minister, the bricks are stories. I hear stories of family and work, stories of loss and reconciliation, stories of rejection and disaster, illness and healing, birthing and dying. I tell stories every Sunday and in between, teaching, challenging, confessing, inviting people to learn and laugh and think.

Brick by brick, story by story, we build a church, seeing the patterns, the symmetry, the plain joy of setting one story on the other, sustained by the strong and beautiful structures they make. We will never be finished.

It’s okay.