The sanctuary of the congregation I serve is built into the ground, with two stories of windows rising from its lowest level. The glass windows—some lightly stained and some clear—show through to an area outside meant to evoke a canyon.

Using stretches of wall that cross the windows, an artist named Sam Terry created a complex work. It begins with large tree roots seeming to come up on one side from water rolling over boulders and on the other side from the base of the pulpit. The roots grow into a massive, gnarly, infertile-looking trunk that appears to be almost dying. She crafted it from random pieces of desert ironwood shaped with epoxy. As you look up, this trunk becomes a cross. The longer of its two arms stretches as far as it can, as if it is reaching for something it can’t grasp. It is bent, just slightly, where an elbow might be. The end just slightly suggests a clenched fist.

To the left of that strong arm there is a narrow gap running diagonally. The crevice dips down into the trunk and stretches up toward the top, slicing across the cross’s center. One has to jump over the gap to see the shorter arm, which looks nothing like its opposite. The left arm doesn’t grasp. It isn’t thin or knotty. It doesn’t ache from weight or pain of death. It appears not in the heavy gray of ironwood but in the warm brown tones of African walnut. It is smoothed, polished, and alive.