Cathedrals

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It’s been a while, and I realized this little blog needed some updates. So when I came to Panera today to work on Writing Stuff, after dealing with a couple of more pressing things, I got to work with WordPress. The first object of business was the header photo.

It used to be a picture of me; which, I suppose, is appropriate on some level (after all, the URL is literally my name). But I didn’t like it very much. It’s a little unnerving to see your own face staring out at you in hundreds of high-definition pixels whenever you open up your website.

On a whim, I went looking through my most recent folder of pictures for something that would fit. That folder just so happened to be photography from my recent school trip to England.

As I scrolled through the photos, one stuck out. A high, vaulted ceiling, set diagonally in the composition to highlight the massive proportions. Canterbury Cathedral.

That may have been my favorite place we visited in England. More than St. Paul’s or Westminster even, you could feel the grandeur and beauty of the ancient church building. Even with the vaulted ceiling of the nave boarded up, you could see it. The most impressive moment was at the very end of the tour, when we stood at the intersection of the nave and the trancept, on the steps leading (I think) to the altar, and looked up.

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My pictures can’t really capture it. It’s not meant to be captured–something that grand, that glorious, that big can never be contained by a camera lens. It’s not supposed to.

It’s meant to do something else. The sheer height of a Gothic cathedral, with the stone vaults and flying buttresses, is supposed to draw you upwards. These buildings that often took lifetimes to build had a purpose that loomed larger than the lives of their makers. They’re meant to inspire awe, to provoke wonder. They’re supposed to get the human mind off itself and set it on God.

The cathedral is wondrous in itself, but it’s not supposed to stop there. We defy utilitarianism–beauty is an end in itself and it is no waste to spend a century building a stone cathedral–but the value of beauty is grounded in the being of God. It reflects Him and points to Him at the same time.

I won’t say I had any spiritual experience in Canterbury Cathedral, but that’s not really the point. The point is that ceiling reaching up towards heaven, reminding us that we’re not alone in the universe and God is greater and more glorious than words or camera can ever tell.

There’s a verse in 1 Peter that I like–

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Now when I read those words, I have a picture in my mind. A stone cathedral, rising into a clear sky, lit inside by stained glass pictures of the saints. A ceiling that stretches to heaven.

But there’s a difference, too. God’s people–that temple of living stones–don’t just point to Him. We are “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). He lives here, in our midst. His Holy Spirit is here, and He will never leave. For all the glory of cathedrals, sometimes it’s a musty, dead kind of grandeur. This temple is alive.

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