In his poem, The Chapel, Nicholas Trandahl sets out what he looks for when it comes to faith and spirituality. A lifelong seeker of truth and inner peace—especially after a period of deployment in the Middle East with the U.S. Army—Trandahl imagines a fictional space deep in the heart of the wilderness, a peaceful and quiet place where pilgrims and seekers can finally rest after their journeys, free from worry and anxiety. In some ways, Trandahl’s chapel is similar to Shitou’s Grass Roof Hermitage. The quote from John Burroughs that starts the poem reflects that divine importance of nature.
“If we do not go to church so much as did our fathers, we go to the woods much more, and are more inclined to make a temple of them than they were.”
-John Burroughs, The Gospel of Nature
If I haven’t found God yet,
that’s because I haven’t come across
a lonely little chapel tucked back in the
mountainous depths of a dark green pine forest.
It would be summer, wouldn’t it?
Warm and green—
a good year.
The chapel would be built of rough-cut timber
and only accessible by meandering hiking trails
that connect the points of light that are
scattered across the map like hot
little embers of motion, disease, and vitriol.
The long arduous trails would weed out
all but the most determined of pilgrims—
those of us most in need of something.
Those of us that have been searching
for a long damn time—
searching of some sort of salvation that we
couldn’t gather from our fellow man.
The mountain meadow where the chapel sits
would be thick with a myriad blanket
of wildflowers, and the high snowy summits
of distant mountains would gleam far beyond
the tops of the pines.
A garden would be behind the chapel,
thick with flourishing produce—
onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, radishes,
and maybe a few fruit trees.
Our hands would be gritty with soil
from pulling a fresh crisp meal
from the cool fist of the earth.
There would be no cemetery at the chapel,
no tilted crosses and crumbling gravestones
all flecked with lichens and loneliness.
The only tears shed at the chapel would be
tears of relief and realization—
no tears of sorrow or desperation.
A single holy man in faded jeans and
a worn flannel shirt would oversee
this quiet chapel—
a hardwood walking stick in his hand.
He would be a kind and gentle man
of few words and many smiles.
His brown beard finally gone grey
and a smoldering tobacco pipe
fastened in his serene smile,
he would give clean cold water
to all of us weary pilgrims.
Sometimes he would offer us
a bit of good whiskey and a wink—
those of us that appreciate such things.
The holy man would rarely talk,
but he wouldn’t need to—
we’d all know that he loves us and
wants us to finally find whatever it is
that we’ve been searching for.
In the chapel, there wouldn’t be
a sermon, or a pulpit, or a golden altar,
or a goddamn collection plate, or a ritual,
or a confessional booth—
only hushed stillness and whispered prayers.
Colorful sunlight would fall
through old stained-glass windows—
all of it a little tinged in yellow and green.
On the pews, the sleepy content wayfarers
would be bathed in the vibrant glow
passing through the fragile moss-flecked saints
in their centuries of stillness.
The holy man would walk silently
throughout the chapel—
occasionally offering an encouraging
squeeze of the shoulder or a whispered phrase—
I’m so proud of you.
The sylvan hush of the chapel would
only be broken by birdsong in the meadow
and in the pinewoods beyond, and the
ancient tolling of the belfry
at dawn and dusk.
Nicholas Trandahl is an Army veteran, poet, journalist, outdoorsman, and traveler. He finds inspiration in new adventures, nature, books, good food, and the understated beauty of everyday life. His writing communicates a sincere search for truth and answers and his fondness for the natural world in an age where humanity’s connection to the earth is tenuous at best. Trandahl lives in rural Wyoming with his wife and daughters. His poetry collections are Pulling Words (Winter Goose Publishing, 2017), Think of Me (Winter Goose Publishing, 2018), and Bravery (Winter Goose Publishing, 2019). His novel Good Brave People is being published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2020.