Soaring columns and colours that dance on the walls due to stained glass windows letting in the light, Gothic architecture is a pretty specific (and stunning) look. It’s one that is extremely prevalent in Spain and particularly in the many Catholic cathedrals and basilicas that sprinkle the country. As I learned more about the architectural choices and the significance behind them, I definitely grew to see the beauty in them as an offering of creativity by architects seeking to honour God and in some cases (such as the Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona), an opportunity for the entire community to come together and create a place of communal worship in the centre of the neighbourhood. Cathedrals are truly awe-inspiring and I think some cases, really do create a sacred space that draws people into contemplation, prayer and ultimately, a meeting with God.
However, I also saw a lot of excess. A lot of wealth being demonstrated by ancient royalty to prove their power and “devotion to God” while they simultaneously allowed their people to starve, while they destroyed minority communities, while they exhibited cruelty instead of love. Some of the places I visited felt so joyful and spirit filled (guys, visiting the Sagrada Familia was actually such a holy experience for me, despite the crazy crowds of people trying to get their perfect picture). But some of the cathedrals and the history behind the buildings, the context of how and when these monuments were created, made me feel sad, made the hallways feel empty and hollow and fake. Monuments to man instead of God. Wars waged over who got to worship within their walls. Monuments to the institution of religion instead of a home for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts.
I’m currently working on a post about what God was teaching me about having a pilgram’s heart and mindset while travelling, as well as some just about travelling with my mom and the incredible adventure we had. For now, I want to share with you this poem I wrote while exploring one cathedral that felt like a museum to the king who had built it and a space for the Church to honour itself instead of Jesus. I am not going to say which one because I don’t think it’s important for you to know. We must acknowledge the history of spaces and also know that the Lord renews all things; who am I to say that God will not meet you in that particular cathedral in a powerful way? He met me there. In that centuries old building that felt like an empty tomb, Jesus reminded me that He is wherever I am. And He also reminded me that I am not innocent of the same sins I felt there. I too try to build up things that show the world how faithful I am, instead of just walking it out and being the church to the people I meet. I pray that this poem will be a prayer I don’t stop praying, that I continue to seek to honour God with the things I am choosing to build with this life. And you dear reader, what are you building? What do you want the monument of your life to show?
You are not contained in cathedrals.
Yet we strive,
build up impressive monuments,
instead of creating churches out of our lives.
We each want to prove that we love you the most.
Build big enough examples to see for miles,
and yet we can’t even find a smile
as we walk past yet another beggar.
So easily we forget;
you are in the rags that we turn our eyes away from.
Gilded statues and gold,
we are willing to give our money but refuse to let you hold
Surrender is a false concept we bury deep in the foundations
to hold up our own creations
instead of being fully present in the one You gave us.
And Jesus, I know you are with me always,
in the mountains and in the hallways
of this church.
But may I never try to keep you here.
These drafty hallways and ruby coated walls,
heaven on earth is not this at all.
you have all the riches you need.
Instead I offer you my heart.
take away my tendency for jealousy and greed.
Build cathedrals in my soul, Lord.
May I worship you each day,
singing holy, holy, holy is the One
who has shown us all the Way
to the Father’s throne.
It is not here, not made of velvet and stone.
Instead make pillars out of faith Lord,
to hold me up when life is hard.
I can survive without stained glass windows
but losing intimacy with You,
I can’t afford.
For though I see the beauty in these walls,
when our bodies are all temples, echo chambers of your call
for each of us to know You
we shouldn’t need a massive space to prove
may I never create for creation’s sake,
for conquest, power or for pride.
But as an imitation of your love
that is tall and deep and wide.
God thank you for this journey,
as you carve in me a pilgrims heart
Your Holy Spirit rests in me, in my study, work and art.
Let these buildings not distract me,
or others from the truth
that it’s not about the saints and angels
but the simple joy of knowing you.
teach me as I worship,
with each step and every breath,
how to find You in this world of wild excess
and more importantly, in the quiet and the rest.
These buildings are stunning and some have pointed me to you.
But others are empty of the Spirit,
honouring earthly kings and their world-views.
I learned that in Spain three religions warred,
wanting power and control,
but you Lord are the Lion
who comes in as a baby, with a cry and not a roar.
Though you are the keeper
of all Creation big and small,
You sacrificed the last True Lamb
to save us one and all.
Cathedrals do not contain you
though they amaze me with their size
You are in our daily rhythms, in our hearts,
our prayers, our minds.
Build signposts in my heart Lord,
to keep pointing me back to You.
Let me love bigger than a basilica,
so that it is You my actions point to.
Make my life a work of art
A sign that reads humbly but clear
that this is not an empty building, temple, body.
The Holy Spirit dwells here.