God’s Cathedrals

I’m working today with scenes at Paris’s American Church, Madaba’s St. George’s Chapel (Jordan), Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica, and Venice’s St. Mark’s (where the aqua alta rages at this very minute—bring your Wellies!). As I wrestle with the copy, embedding nuance about architectural styles (France’s limestone versus the Venetian tendency to loot everything, then combine it into a hometown pastiche), I gaze up-valley at a landscape braced for winter, perched at an elevation that takes winter seriously.

Which best represents God’s glory? Richly veined marble, and gilt applied with a heavy parishioner’s hand? Or graying sagebrush, and aspens anchored in fallen puddles of still-orange leaves?

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I think about the church where I most feel holiness—St. Chapelle in Paris—and believe I’m shallow because I’m influenced by stained glass and gothic arches. I ponder why a fragment of the Crown Of Thorns (Louis IX’s reason for building the edifice) merited such extravagant architecture, and if he wouldn’t have been greeted by his Maker as warmly if he’d given the money to the poor. I doubt I’ll have the answer in my lifetime.

I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks dip and soar this morning, and wondered if angels fly as gracefully. I heard the wind, which literally howled across this mountaintop two nights ago ushering in an early winter blast, and thought of the passage in Job (38:7) when the “…morning stars sang.” I smelled earth’s stubborn freshness after two inches of snow Saturday, and remembered the lingering scent of incense in St. George’s Greek Orthodox environment.

I seek holiness in structures, icons, ritual. Doubtlessly, there’s good theology behind these manifestations of faith. But today, as I look at a landscape that will sleep beneath a blanket of snowy white six weeks from now, I see God in His greatness. I am thankful for his general revelation (seminary term!) of Himself.