by Luke A. Powery, Dean of Duke Chapel
Duke Chapel is always being re-stored. Notice that I did not say “the Duke Chapel building” is being restored. Let me explain.
‘Restoration’ has to do with returning something to an earlier, healthy condi-tion. This word comes from the Latin, meaning ‘to renew or rebuild.’ When a piece of fine furniture is restored, the aim is to return it to its original state, causing it to look like it was meant to look, do what it was meant to do, and be what it was meant to be. In other words, make it whole again. Restoration is not necessarily about returning to the good ol’ days or some sort of golden era of faith. It is about returning to God and God’s salvation and becoming who God has always wanted us to be.
The restoration work that is happening currently to the chapel building is an attempt to return the building back to a healthy, architectural condition but this is not the only restoration work happening this year. God is always restoring this community, restoring us as people of faith, because we never fully arrive at the place of Christian perfection.
As Christians, much of the larger biblical story and perceived pattern of faith reflect a movement from brokenness to restoration in relationships with God. The work of Old Testament professor and theologian Walter Brueggemann is very helpful when thinking about this. Throughout scripture we see how people
in relationship with God often respond to God in unhealthy ways—pride, selfishness, resistance of some kind. This leads to experiences of exile and even destruction—for example, the plagues of Egypt, a curse for David, the children of Israel living as refugees, etc. But as Brueggemann and others note, the journey of faith with God is also on a trajectory toward restoration. God never gives up on God’s people. For instance, God follows Israel into exile in order to bring them back, and promises to restore them and their city of Zion; many of the prophets speak of this. Ultimately, we see and find restoration through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, revealing a God who loves so deeply that he will die for us to save us, to make us whole (salvation is wholeness), restore us, and to make us what and who we ought to be.
To speak of restoration implies that there was a prior relationship and condition that had gone in unhealthy directions. At times, we find ourselves broken, far from God and in need of forgiveness and restoration. We need renewal. We need to return back to a healthy and whole relationship with God. Restoration is not necessarily about returning to the good ol’ days or some sort of golden era of faith. It is about returning to God and God’s salvation and becoming who God has always wanted us to be.
But to be restored and renewed, we need spiritual scaffolding placed around our hearts in order that God may rebuild us inwardly to reflect God outwardly. Ironically, as God rebuilds the walls of our hearts, our hearts are restored to openness to God and others through a porous generous spirit. Honest confession to God will lead us on the path to restoration, even to the restoration of God’s joy in our lives. Like any Christian community, Duke Chapel needs this restoration, not only of our building, but of our hearts.
Restoration work will take time, but the promise of joy is worth the wait. May this portion of Psalm 51 be our prayer during Duke Chapel’s restoration year: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Amen.