We didn’t know there’d be a fee. I’d never paid to get into a church before, at least not right on entering. We pushed open the heavy oak doors and hoped that whatever lay on the other side would be worth the unexpected loss of cash. Rob strode down the aisle but I stopped just inside the doors, stilled by the hush of the cavernous space that I felt rather than saw in the dim light.
I moved into the main portion of Boston’s Trinity Church, eyes adjusting. Stained glass spilled everywhere on all sides in a silent orchestra of light and color. Every window told a story in a different style; some looked as if they could have come from a medieval church, others were modern. The half-circled altar gleamed gold straight ahead. And everywhere was the stillness; I could hear the church breathing in, out, in, out, while next door, skyscrapers pierced the air.
Old churches fascinate me. I love to imagine the dedication born of worship that has gone into making them. It’s said that the great medieval cathedrals of Europe took decades to build; workers knew the church wouldn’t be completed in their lifetime. What made them do it? Was it an exaggerated sense of duty? Did the priests and popes bully them into it? I don’t know the answers. Perhaps these craftsmen merely saw this as a way to earn a living. Perhaps they had no idea their work would live on.
I like to think at least some of them saw that creating beautiful spaces for people to gather in reverence and worship is worthy work. God thinks so too; He gave His people specific instructions for the building of beautiful worship spaces in Old Testament times.
As a nondenominational evangelical, I’ve spent most of my life worshipping in contemporary spaces. The building I attended the longest is a modern, clean space which comes best alive when the music starts. It’s a good place; genuine worship and community happen there. But when we moved (via a church plant) to a place complete with stained glass and wooden pews, my soul felt satisfied.
I used to think that if I felt too much during the singing time at church that it meant I was only caught up in the emotion of the moment. If a melody was so beautiful that I focused on it, I would rein myself in and concentrate on what I was singing instead of how it sounded.
But I was robbing myself of the joy of beauty, and I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I have come to understand that God makes us with five senses for a reason, and the more we can engage all of them in worship, the more we honor Him (orthodox churches understand this; one of the reasons they add incense to their services is to engage the sense of smell). The beauty of the space enhances everything that happens in it.
God is honored when we participate in beauty, because all beauty starts with Him. We lose something when we ignore this. The wonderful thing is that we can always find beauty when we look for it.Even if your place of worship is a cardboard box, you can still find beauty in the worship of the people around you.
So that’s the challenge, and the inspiration. Honor God by finding His beauty in your worship, wherever that might be. And when you find it, don’t take it for granted. Us nondenoms pride ourselves on our rejection of tradition but I think sometimes we go too far and forget we were made to crave beauty. It’s not necessary to worship in a cathedral, but it is necessary to worship with all our senses and with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Beauty helps us do that.
As we moved through Trinity Church, the air absorbed us. We read all the stories living in the stained glass. There was Jesus, front and center, and, as I turned to glance behind me, there He was again, large in the soaring back window enclosed by glowing blue and gold. I was surrounded by His presence, both in the glass and in my spirit. It was a worship experience without words or music. God, who once was fully human, understood.