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Apr 19, 2018
Texas is big, damn big. In the same amount of time that it took me to drive from my home in Amarillo to the ghost town where this church is located, I could have driven all the way through New Mexico to Arizona. And the hour before getting there I saw very few signs of civilization, no power poles, no buildings, just the highway and fences on either side. And for 2 hours I didn’t see another car.
St. John’s was built in 1906 and abandoned somewhere in the 1950s. It is one of my favorite places to photograph and pray. Ironically it is on private property with a sign that reads, “No trespassing unless you want to pray.” I pray as my shutter ticks away. The church is in surprisingly good shape for the time it has been unattended. The interior shows signs of habitation by animals. I love especially photographing it at night (look at my night gallery). But here is the interior just as morning is breaking. The Church faces east and the sun is pouring through the stained glass and lighting up the altar.
I can hear no cars or wind, or people. There is no livestock nearby. The silence is so loud that I can hear my breath and my clumsy fumbling with my camera sounds like thunder. I have never been so aware of the sound of my shutter. It is funny, this photo was taken in the morning after I spent the night creating a time-lapse of the stars moving over the steeple. There is an odd decompression that I go through when I do night photography. At first, I am taken back by the stars. It takes a full 45 minutes for the human eye to adapt to the dark. After that, in a place removed from light pollution such as here, the stars are beyond vivid. But then after several hours boredom sets in. If I look at my phone or turn on any light, I will mess up my night vision so I sit patiently and listen to the ramblings of my own mind. After I have thought out all I can think out, my mind starts to get quiet and this is when I really notice things, shadows and stars I never saw before, I hear distant sounds that I normally would not notice, coyotes and the slice of air as an owl passes by. Then I released something. I was no longer talking to God, I was listening.
I can’t really say I hear anything in those times. But then again I can’t say I don’t either. The universe becomes God’s voice and the beauty of the stars and creation becomes a loud message that has no words and speaks volumes. It is funny, my powerful prayers are prayers of silence. I have to get someplace silent so that I can hear anything at all.
This church has sat abandoned for more years than people used it for worship and yet it is still a powerful house of prayer for those who need to hear silence.
I have hundreds of photos of this old church. It is a refuge for me. I included it in my five-year retrospective art show, called the Hard Road. My good friend Ryan Archer wrote a prayer about the photograph. I day say it thunders too:
The Efficacy of Prayer
I sit in the grip of holy places
Of the hallowed spaces
Once loved fully,
Given blood to
Given Sundays to
Once again given to a
Space where atoms can
The way we give to
Those that mean
So much to us
And the way we give out
Our souls to
Life in orgasmic spurts of screaming
Kept in time
By the sound of children
Dropping nickels or pennies or dimes in to
Past plates passed
To understand this place
Is to understand a
Blade of grass
Dried up on its own
Against a cloudless sunset.
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