The arch figures prominently into the architecture of the monastery, and it is a repeated motif at Emery House as well. Arches are structures with deep spiritual and psychic resonance. They embody and symbolize many things: strength and support, lightness and openness within density, a beginning and an end. Archesare entry points into liminal space. In mythology, arches or doorways are understood as thresholds in time and space (chronos, the temporal world) through which one passes to enter another kind of time and space (kairos, the spiritual world). Arches are iconic: while grounded in the present, they draw one’s gaze upwards to a higher ideal or transcendent reality. In the New Testament, the archis also a fundamentally Johannine symbol. In John’s gospel we hear Jesus saying, “I am the way,” “I am the doorway to the sheepfold.” This may well have figured into the architect Ralph Adams Cram’s extensive use of the arch throughout the monastery.
The arch symbolizes our identity as a community: our discipline of prayer and worship, our ministries of spiritual formation and spiritual direction; our teaching and retreat leading, our advocating for and empowering those who live in poverty. We find the arch a strong and inspiring image, yet the arch is also a paradoxical image which is built on weakness. Many centuries ago Leonardo da Vinci wrote that “an arch is nothing else than a strength caused by two weaknesses; for the arch in buildings is made up of two segments of a circle, and each of these segments being in itself very weak desires to fall, and as one withstands the downfall of the other, the two weaknesses are converted into a single strength.” This redemption of weakness is a reality we brothers continually experience. We know one another very well, not just our strengths but also our weaknesses. We often witness God’s strength being perfected out of weakness, both in our life together as a community and as we minister to others – individuals confiding in us their own experiences of suffering, grief and loss, and their longing to know God’s real presence amidst God’s seeming absence.