We all have landmarks in our lives.
The masts on winter hill; The “RAC ship”; numerous nameless churches and pubs; The Angel of the North; Stirling Castle (pretty much half way from my house to one of my good friend’s house); The creperie in St Pancras. They’re places that show us the way, places that mark our progress, places to meet. They’re places of shared knowledge and experience; places of common history; places of hope, places of warning. Some are stark reminders of a dark past – anyone who has been to Auschwitz knows the importance of those physical reminders of what we can be at our worst, and why we must not just plough them under. They’re physical manifestations of the character of a place – symbols of hope such as the Statue of Liberty, symbols of pride such as the Empire State Building (the new Tower of Babel?). Some landmarks come with a story that can change or enhance what they represent for the people of an area – St Paul’s Cathedral in London for example; a place of hope that rose out of the Great Fire of London, it was miraculously unscathed during the Blitz of World War 2 (due in a small part to my granddad!). Because of this, the church has become one of the great icons of hope.
(Tangent – The welcoming text inscribed on the glass of the doors at the front doors as you go in is one of my all time favourite quotes and sums up what church buildings at their best can represent and what the true spirit of church is. It truly is one of the greatest church buildings in the world, in my opinion. If you get the chance to visit, it’s really worth it.)
So Landmarks are significant not just because of their size, unique visual identity and remarkable beauty, but also because of their stories. And this is more true of our personal landmarks. The places we’ve been, the places we’ve shared, the places that remind us of the times of joy and pain, the places where our stories played out. It’s that hotel we shared that I have to drive past every day; it’s the beach we played at; it’s the river we explored. It’s the restaurant where he proposed, the pub you passed as she told you she was pregnant, the park where he fell and first cut himself. It’s the church you go to every week, that place of worship, community and shared experience – hence why so many feel it’s important to marry in their home church, why LGBT couples are so hurt when their home church is not open to celebrate their union. It’s the school where you went through hell, where you faced those teachers, exams, bullies and homework with friends; where you built those friendships that lasted; where you found out who you were, who you liked and how to stand. They are places you can touch and feel and see, that remind you that your experiences were real, that remind you of friendship, of loss, of joy, of laughing, of faithfulness and resilience and accidents and fights and coming through it all. They are the places you can go for comfort, for confrontation, for contemplation. All because of the stories they represent. Our stories, your stories.
Cultivate your personal landmarks my friends, re-visit them. Tell your stories, share your landmarks. Share the wonder of others’ landmarks, their stories. Build your communities in those physical places, build on your common stories. Because those landmarks will show how far you’ve come, they’ll show when you’re almost at your destination, they provide common ground, a meeting place – they are your story in full touchable glory.