Are We Missing Something?

washington-cathedral

Having recently returned from a trip to Europe, I now understand why most of my military friends stationed there don’t want to return to the United States when their time is up. It’s absolutely beautiful over there. I spent most of my time in Barcelona, Spain and in Italy. In both places, I was captivated by the art and architecture that abounds within the cities. You don’t have to go into one of the many museums to see works of art; the buildings themselves speak of their artistic heritage. Clearly, the European culture is a culture that appreciates beauty.

This trip wasn’t intended to be a spiritual pilgrimage, but it definitely turned out to be one. I was fascinated with the centuries old churches and cathedrals. When I saw the intricate stone exterior of the Cathedral de Barcelona, I knew I had to go inside. Located in the Gothic District, it’s construction began in 1298. Both lavish and somber, it’s beautiful interior literally caused me to lose my breath. I knew I was in a sacred space. Gasping for air, I stared at the artwork, the stonework, the woodwork, and the stained glass. Someone was playing the Doxology on the pipe organ. Feeling the powerful presence of God, all I could do was to sit there and cry.

Visits to more churches and cathedrals in other locations resulted in a similar reaction. These places of worship are treasure houses of magnificent pieces of centuries old artwork. Works by Michelangelo hang on the walls, as do sculptures by other renowned artists. As my tour guide told me, when these churches were built, only the best artists and craftsmen were hired to complete the interiors. They wanted these churches to bring glory to God. And that they do.

I began to think of the many churches I have attended over the years. So many of them have held their worship services in auditoriums or gymnasiums. We’ve been taught that the arts, along with many of the traditional Christian symbols are trivial, and that we should only go to church to get good teaching. I wonder if we’ve not thrown out the baby with the bath water in our re-creation of contemporary worship spaces.

I know God is present anywhere and He speaks to His people no matter what the venue. However, I can’t help but feel something has been lost in this translation. It’s not that God is in the artwork of these ancient churches, but the artwork points us to Him. I lost my breath because I saw and felt the beauty and glory of God in each of these sacred spaces.

Research indicates the contemporary church is losing people, particularly millennials. There are many reasons for this. I’m wondering if one reason might be our neglect of the power of beauty and the arts in worship. I wonder if coming back to the arts will renew that interest. Today, it’s hard to tell the difference between sacred spaces and our everyday spaces. We’ve swapped the sacred for the simple. And in doing so, we’ve lost something very, very precious.

2 Responses to “Are We Missing Something?”

  1. Beth Fussner says:

    Thanks for this, Ronda! I think we long for the transcendent, and there is so
    little to help us experience wonder that opens the heart to God.

  2. Barb Zepernick says:

    Rhonda, I have experienced this many times in churches in Europe and here in the States, when I enter a magnificent church that also exudes the holiness of decades, even centuries of prayers and worship in that sacred space. So humbling and awesome (in the true sense of the word). The cathedral at Amien, France made me weep!

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