By Tom M. Deliganis
When I was much younger I toured many of the spectacular Cathedrals in Mexico City with my family. I recall being confused by the superimposition of poverty against the opulence; as I observed the dirt poor, as well as the rich worshiping in these spectacularly ornamented edifices, adorned with enough gold to feed several third world countries.
I still struggle with the obscene gap between the filthy rich (and I think the word ‘filthy’ is a good one) and the barely surviving poor – a dichotomy that somehow ironically is always present in close proximity within the poorest and most corrupt of nations, such as Mexico. However I do find Cathedrals inspiring. I recall first visiting the Canterbury Cathedral in England and experiencing an almost overwhelming presence of an awe-inspiring God. At that moment I finally ‘got’ Cathedrals. I had similar experience at America’s National Cathedral in Washington DC. I believe that in both cases I was walking in the authentic presence of God, and the almost indescribable experience of worship that swept across my body and soul was God born, even if the catalyst was a mere man-made architectural marvel. Man-made indeed, but God inspired. How else to explain the fact that Cathedrals exist? Especially when you consider they are as a result of multiple generations of people and their leaders sacrificing almost beyond measure in their building. Surely such a phenomenon cannot be explained by some mass obsessive-compulsive disorder that, coincidentally, happened in hundreds of locations across multiple centuries.
There is something much more significant going on here. It’s true that great walls, castles and even pyramids have also been built at an excessive cost of lives and resources, but there was always a practical consideration to these enterprises; usually having to do with security, either in the ‘here and now’, or in the age to come. Cathedrals are, by design, fashioned to be a physical expression of our souls’ seemingly obsessive need to worship. Worship whom? Our creator, of course. In the most beautiful way our cultures are able; resulting in a consistently corporate expression that places the ‘all of us’ way above the ‘one of us’.
Yet if we do indeed conclude that Cathedrals are God inspired, then this brings us back to my confusion in Mexico. As I think deeply (for me anyhow) about this quandary of wealth and poverty, it occurs to me that the ultimate expression of true worship, is true love. Not only love for God, but simultaneous and interconnected love for each other. True God- inspired worship will always end with an urge to love. So it’s not that the filthy rich aren’t inspired by the Cathedrals they enter just as much as the poor who enter alongside. And it’s not that I don’t genuinely experience God’s majesty and presence in these very same edifices. It’s just that many of us settle for the self-indulgence of God’s love for ourselves and then allow that same self-indulgence to prevent us from experiencing the full measure of love which always gives as it receives – and then returns in a dividend of blessing and love that makes the self-indulgent part seem small.
Perhaps the designers of these Cathedrals had an idea that the smaller I become – then the less I matter. That humility would be inspired by grandeur, and that the full realization of our insignificance would clear away the barriers we put up against God’s desire to see us merely love one another.
Well written Tom.
Europe & particularly the UK has some magnificant Cathedrals, York (although called a Minster’) Durham, Wells, Salsisbury (painted by John Constable) Canterbury you mentioned and Ely Cathedral (known locally as the ‘ship of the fens’).is just 10 miles from where we live. Agree with you they are awe inspiring and despite all our modern technologies, the experts are still unsure of how these were actually constructed. Before leaving my home City of Bristol my School Church was St Mary Redcliffe (its just a ‘Parish Church’……….having said that it outshines many Cathedrals, indeed Queen Elizabeth Ist said after visiting it is ‘The goodliest, fairest and most famous parish church in England’… she was right…check it out: http://www.stmaryredcliffe.co.uk
Geoff, thanks for your comments. I would love to take a Cathedral tour of the UK. You can tell that I am fascinated by them.
St Mary Redcliffe is impressive indeed!
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