Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are We Just Touring a Cathedral? By Marcia Laycock

You could not stand before the building without looking up. It was one of those massive European cathedrals, built in the age of religious fervor, whose architects seemed to have one message - look up, look way up. Every line of the structure flowed toward heaven.

As I melted into the stream of people entering the church, I could imagine the throngs who, centuries ago, crowded into this cathedral to hear God’s word. It did not take long for that illusion to disappear. A tour guide with a voice like a megaphone began his litany of historical facts: how long it took to build the structure; where the stone was quarried and how many men it took to finish the job; who commissioned and who designed the works of art.

As we entered t
he sanctuary, the atmosphere changed as the building opened into the massive open area supported by pillars and framed in stained glass. For a moment I had the sense of history again, a sense of understanding the purpose for this edifice. The tour guide’s voice again broke through as he began to lead us toward the altar.

It was at that point that I frowned. From the back of the large group, I watched the guide lead the people up a short flight of stairs onto the platform, where a priest was in the midst of celebrating the mass. The megaphone voice was lowered slightly as the group passed behind the altar. I noticed some of the other tourists at least had the courtesy to look sheepish. Caught in the flow, I continued with the crowd, feeling as though we were all participating in a crime. When I think back on that moment, I realize we were.

When I think of it now, I realize at times we still are. In the presence of our God, we remain aloof. We stand back and gawk, yet remain indifferent and unmoved, failing to rejoice, faili
ng to call others to see and be amazed.

Some time ago a cartoon appeared in the pages of many Canadian newspapers. To Canadian baby boomers, it had immediate significance. One of our childhood television heroes, The Friendly Giant, had died. “Friendly” always began his program with the words “Look up, look way up,” as the camera moved up from the toe of his large boot to his smiling face. The newspaper cartoon echoed those words and showed a large hand reaching down toward him.

But it is not only in death that God tells us to look up. Like the architects of old, He designed our world to make us turn to Him. He put a yearning in our hearts to worship and made us into His church. He put a yearning in the hearts of writers to record and express the experiences of life and to proclaim His glory. All the lines of life say, “look up, look way up.” As writers of faith we must often ask ourselves, are we just touring the cathedral? Or are we striving to look up and reach for the glory of God in every word we write?

“For since the
creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

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6 comments:

  1. It's very true that our writing for Christian publications can simply become work. I have to stop myself every now and then when I'm working on a devotional booklet to actually participate in the devotion itself. And instead of just writing about God to treat it as an act of worship. Your cathedral experience reminded me of a recent trip to Malta where the congregants of a particular church had the cheek to close the door to tourists during services.

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  2. Good for the Malta congregants. I hate going into a great cathedral and having a tour guide treat it like a museum. I once had the privilege to visit Notre Dame in Paris and was terribly disappointed that I couldn't just sit quietly and absorb the sense of sacred place. I would think your tour guide would feel embarrassed to walk behind the alter during a service. I suppose those great edifices need money to maintain and tour groups are a source of revenue, but still...

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  3. Out of the mouths of babes.
    We walked into our Catholic cathedral in Sydney and were just talking softly when our two-year-old son, who was used to attending evangelistic services, said,"SHHH, they're having a meeting." Even at that age he understood something about reverence.

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  4. Yes Marcia,I've been in the same position in cathedrals in England and in Israel. Interestingly, in Israel we were commanded to keep quiet and the guide didn't speak until away from the worshippers.

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  5. Thanks Marcia. How easy it is for anyone to be tourists on a trail instead of pilgims of Faith who are on a journey. I enjoy looking at and into old church building and in some of them have been made to look up, way up. In others I've felt as though I should kneel and look within. I guess that is the way our writings affect others - or at least I hope so.
    Thanks.
    Ray Hawkins

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