If you are ever in St. Louis, you absolutely must see the famous Arch. However, even if you never get to go, I hope you will be inspired by this posting.
I was in St. Louis last week, because, for the first time in several years, I felt well enough to take advantage of joining Warren on a business trip. (Send a big “thank you” up to God right now on my behalf, will you?)
The Arch is nothing like what I expected. Forgive me, please, but I didn’t even picture it to be a monument, but rather some kind of “tourist-thing”, imagining that it might look like an upside-down horse-shoe, since it is represents the US “western” expansion (…I cannot believe I am admitting to this…what a dolt!) Instead, it is an awe-inspiring triumph, rising nearly 700 feet in the air. Wider at the bottom than at the top, it seems surreal in design--the top seeming far too narrow for which people to fit--when looking up from the base. It is covered by stainless steel, that glows in the sun and reflects the sky, clouds and trees around it. It is surrounded by rolling hills of grass, hardwoods and ponds, along with the Mississippi River just a few steps away.
It is a monument that satisfies the soul.
As we toured it, taking in the museum, watching the videos, looking out of the top and listening to the guide, I wondered about the “unofficial” version of the Arch’s story. I have lived long enough to know nothing this big gets done without a lot of sweat and tears… and pain.
My soul senses had been satisfied; now I wanted my spirit to be as well.
Civic leader Luther Ely Smith, birthed the idea in 1933 of building a memorial that would not only honor the country’s westward expansion, but also would revive the crumbling riverfront. Although approved by the city, opposition to the memorial began immediately. Even Smith’s own daughter argued that more practical things were needed during this time of depression. Smith in turn responded that even in such times, spiritual things were equally important.
It would be fifty five years before Smith’s dream was realized, as the project faced numerous stop-gaps including protests, changing administrations, WW II, character assassinations, budget impasses, and several lawsuits. The Arch was finally completed in 1968, although Smith didn’t get to see it. He died in 1951.
I wondered if Smith gave up on the Arch at some point along the way; I sure wouldn’t have blamed him if he had. Thanks to Google, my answer came within a couple of clicks. Luther Ely Smith remained steadfast to his call. Over a dozen years after its conception, the design was finally chosen. When, the decision was made, Smith’s perseverance was revealed in the following letter written to the architect, Eero Saarinen:
“It was your design; your marvelous conception…that has made the realization of the dream possible- a dream that you and the wonderful genius at your command…are going to achieve far beyond the remotest possibility that we had dared visualize in the beginning.” (1948)
Another 20 years passed before the Arch was finally built. As hundreds watched the final center section being fit into place, many of those who were present still predicted that Smith’s vision would be a failure. A film-studio team counted on it, cameras rolling, waiting on disaster.
But, fit it did. The dream was realized, and the Arch took its proper place as the center of culture and commerce for St. Louis, and stands as the tallest of all U.S. monuments.
Smith’s dream was undoubtedly inspired by the Lord. Although I couldn’t find anything written about his faith (since it’s near impossible to do so these days), his education from Amherst College speaks to it. The college existed at that time, “for the classical education of young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.” (Wikipedia). Smith was not only inspired to his call, but his faith carried him through.
How Can We, Who Live with Pain, Be Inspired by the Story of the Arch?
1 - Smith can be added to our “clouds of witnesses”. Hebrews 11 says that “faith is having confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (vs 1) It goes on to tell about many who demonstrated faith despite their struggles and deep sufferings. The bible calls them our “great cloud of witnesses” meaning it will give us strength to live out our own faith journey if we imagine them surrounding us like a cloud. Read it!
I have penciled another “witness” into my own bible as a member of my great cloud into the margin of Hebrews 11: “Luther Ely Smith", along with the notation, “The Arch” so that I don’t forget why he is there.
2 - Just as the “cleaned up version” of the Arch can leave us feeling dissatisfied, so can reading the text alone of the bible. Sometimes I think if I just read words in the bible, I should “feel” the power of them in my heart and life. For example, take this scripture:
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know
That suffering produces perseverance, perseverance , character;
and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured
out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
whom he has given us.”
If only reading this over and over made it true! Instead, it takes more than reading the words. For me, related to this verse, it has taken years of giving up my stubborn resistance to trust God over my own foolishness, and determination to see if scripture is true by testing it out, that allows me to slowly begin to taste the eetly begin to taste has slowly lead me to taste the sweetness of this verse. And, believe me, I’m nowhere near rejoicing yet! Maybe I never will be, but I continue to gain the peace of growing in perseverance and hope, despite, and indeed, because of my never-ending pain.
God speaks to you and to me through every trip we take--even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store. If we have our “spiritual antennae” up to hear Him, we can catch a glimpse of what He wants us to learn, digging deeper when we get home. He is the God who sees us and meets us right where we are, no matter where we are.
Take courage from those who have come before you;
Read the bible with intentionality;
Listen, friend, and go deeper, to get more.
Until Next Time,
Blessings of Comfort