Tall Buildings

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” –Mark 13:2

Sky scrapers are powerful modern day metaphors. We build them higher and higher, competing to have the highest. They make us feel powerful, invincible, protected, successful, prospering. They represent our ego, our desire to leave a tangible mark on the world, our fortress from our own mortality and suffering.

Lent is a time to take our buildings apart, one brick at a time, and let our souls flap in the wind. It is a time to be vulnerable to the elements, to come out of hiding and admit that our buildings cannot protect us. Maybe we are better off without protection. Maybe God is outside the walls. This verse in Mark rings in my heart. Not one single stone will be left. This world is temporary. Our buildings cannot protect us. So maybe power, invincibility, protection, success and prosperity are not, actually, what we should be focused on.

Sadly, it sometimes takes our buildings to literally crumble to remind us. How do we not go straight to memories of 9/11/01 when we watched our great buildings come crashing down? We worked hard and quickly to rebuild, to show our strength, to sharpen our weapons so that we might feel protected. Arthur Waskow reminds us that fortresses won’t protect us:

In 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Jewish community celebrated the harvest festival of Sukkot. Many did so by building a sukkah– a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, since its roof must be not only leafy but leaky enough to let in the starlight and gusts of wind and rain.

In our evening prayers throughout the year, just as we prepare to lie down in vulnerable sleep, we plead with God, “Spread over us Your sukkah of shalom—peace and safety.”

Why does the prayer plead for a sukkah of shalom rather than a temple or fortress or palace of shalom, which would be surely more safe and more secure?

 Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable. 

For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness:

Pyramids, Air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers

But the sukkah reminds us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If as the prophet Dylan sang, “A hard rain’s gonna fall,” it will fall on all of us. And on 9/11/01, the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah. Even the wildest oceans, the mightiest buildings, the wealthiest balance sheets, the most powerful weapons did not shield us. 

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: It is a statement of truth like the law of gravity. However much and in whatever way I love my neighbor, that will turn out to be in the way I love myself. If I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me. 

Only a world where all communities feel vulnerable, and therefore connected to all other communities, can prevent such acts of rage and mass murder.

The sukkah not only invites our bodies to become physically vulnerable, but also invites our minds to become vulnerable to new ideas. To live in the sukkah for a week, as Jewish tradition teaches; would be to leave behind not only the rigid walls and towers of our cities, but also our rigidified ideas, our assumptions, our habits, out accustomed lives. 

 “The Sukkah of Shalom,” Arthur Waskow, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, Ed Paul Loeb. Basic Book, New York City: NewYork, 2004, pp. 106-107.

This Lent, I’m trying to identify the ways I build tall buildings around my body, mind and heart. I’m trying to be brave enough to dissolve the walls and build a sukkah in its place so that I may come to feel more connection to my God in my vulnerability.

Published by Ellie Roscher

Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

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