Arch Support

My family and I went to Florida for spring break this year.  We never go on a trip for break so this was a rare, special treat!  We spent time on the beach, in our rented condo playing cards, watching March Madness {because EVEN A BEACH won't keep me from the best time of the year!!}, a bit of shopping and a bit more of eating.  We also spent an afternoon going to see an old military fort.  Some people love these kind of things because they are fascinated with wars and history.  Some go because they love all things military.  I enjoyed it because of the.......arches.  What?  Crazy, right?  

I love architecture. Anyone who has read my writings before knows how I love facades, doors, thresholdsbarns and all those architectural!  I love to see how something is built.  I admire the creativity and thought that goes into designing a structure.  I am a sucker for details.  But more than that, I am, admittedly, a dork when it comes to seeing meaning beneath the architectural details.  A complete dork.  I actually walk around these places and look at the architecture and think {paraphrasing a saying an old pastor used all the time} "there's a message in that".  I love thinking of how what I see translates into a lesson on how to live my life.  I know, I are now in agreement with me on the whole dork thing. And I ok with that.  I am secure in my dorkiness. ;)

Ft. Pickens is a large, well built fort that is located at the western tip of Florida. It was used to protect the city and the opening to the bay that housed the Naval yard.  It was designed to allow the military to sweep the bay entrance with cannon fire when it was being compromised.  In order to achieve this strategic plan the fort had to be built to house oodles of extremely heavy cannons.  Fort Pickens had many cannons on the top of the fort and several below at ground level.  The ones below are set in a gallery.  A gallery is a long enclosed corridor on the base of the fort's walls.  They allowed for protection from enemy fire and had small window openings where the soldiers could fire the cannons from. These galleries are directly under the area atop the fort that the larger cannons are fired from.  These are incredibly heavy weapons and so, in order to support the hefty artillery, the fort had to be built to withstand this weight.  The designers decided to use arch support.  They built this fort with galleries lined with dozens of arches.

{Ft. Pickens}

Normally an architectural support system relies on horizontal beams that are sistered with each other.  There is a whole other beautiful message that can be found from architecture. {read Glennon Doyle Melton's thoughts on this on her blog} But the architects of Fort Pickens knew they needed an even stronger system to support the load this structure would hold.  Arches are stronger than horizontal beams.  Why are they stronger you ask?  Well, it is in the answer to this that the message came to light for me....

Arches are based on the idea of a wedge. If several wedge-shaped blocks are placed side by side it results in an arch. These blocks, or bricks in the case of Ft. Pickens, are called voussoirs.  A voussoir is designed very carefully so that it can press firmly with its neighboring bricks to support a heavy load uniformly.  At the top center of an arch is a keystone. This is the center bigger brick or a group of larger voussoirs that, as a group, become the keystone.  When a mason is constructing an arch the many voussoirs, on the sides, are placed first one next to the other.  But they can't stay up and need support from below...until the keystone has been placed. After the keystone is set there is no other secondary support needed.  The keystone is critical in supporting the heavy load. 

We all are voussoirs. I am.  You are.  The checkout gal at the grocery store is. Your car's mechanic is.  Your neighbor is.  Your parent is.  Your friend is.  The world is full of voussoirs.  

It is also full of heavy loads.  We all have things at some point in our lives that are hard and difficult to carry.  

Health problems.
Financial struggles.
Relationship conflicts.
And many more.....

These are all weighty things that make us weary.  We feel like the load will never lighten.  We feel alone in the struggle to hold it all together.  

Maybe we should learn from an arch.  The voussoirs were designed to be set close together, normally without mortar.  Side by side.  Nothing separating them. Alone a voussoir does nothing.  But many together creates an astonishingly strong entity that can withstand tons of pressure.  And, furthermore, a whole gallery lined with arches can create a system that equips each other to be a force against extreme pressures. Together we are stronger.

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much"
~Helen Keller




{photo credit:Sarah Stevens,  Ft. Pickens}

But let's remember that an arch full of regular voussoirs needs extra support, even when there were many firmly placed with each other.  They need temporary stability because, until the keystone is placed, they {even together} can't support the weight that will bear down on it.  They all need a keystone. The keystones are critical.  


{photo credit:Sarah Stevens,  Ft. Pickens}


We all need a keystone.  We need each other, but without that keystone, we can't handle the weight of each other's struggles.  We can walk along each other, in our lives, and not need secondary support.  We can, unknowingly, be a part of the larger structure that gives aide to others who can't carry their load alone.  We may be at a point in our lives when we are not struggling with anything, but in being a small part of the larger arch, we are lessening a burden that someone else is carrying.  The keystone allows us to all stand tall, feel steady and have hope.  

What do you believe your keystone is?  For some people it is family.  For others it is knowledge. For some it is the basic respect and kindness for others.  For me... it is my belief system.

My keystone is similar to the ones found in the arches at Ft. Pickens.  They had the grouping of an odd number of bricks that were larger than the other ones that, when placed side by side, created a keystone.  The arches at Ft. Pickens had 5 large voussoirs for their keystone.  Mine has 3.  I believe, wholeheartedly, that my keystone is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Without any of those 3 my load is impossible to bear.  Without them I am unable to be a support to others when my life is good AND to receive support from others when my life is hard.  My keystone is the divine support the arch of the world is strengthened, empowered and blessed by.


May you be a perfectly shaped order to come up right alongside another to provide support.

May you, in doing so, be a part of a human structural entity that holds each other up and the loads that are carried.

May you recognize what your keystone is and trust in the knowledge of that.

May you experience the benefit and blessing of that keystone and the architectural support that it creates. 


March 31, 2016 — Sarah Stevens

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