I love cathedrals. In fact, I love virtually all church architecture. We’ve driven through hundreds of towns and cities in our lifetime, and every time I see a beautiful (or strange) church building I say, “Let’s see if we can go inside.” My bride always balks.
I’ve tried all the doors. Approximately 80% of the time, they are locked. If you think there is a metaphor in there, you may be right.
I Want To Speak In Cathedrals, And They Want To Speak In Me
As a communicator and worship leader, I am overwhelmingly drawn to the idea of expressing the life of Christ in these places. If I could get myself invited to every one of these locations noted below on my Pinterest board, I would take off like a rocket and do a “Hope Is Everywhere” tour.
I emailed Westminster Abbey once to find out what it would take for me to speak there on the “Hope” topic of the radio show. I even used the old “nearly 2 million listeners” line. They didn’t reply. Apparently, I may need two Ph.D.s to even get in the wedding chapel.
But I had an epiphany the other day as to why I want to speak in these places. Sure, I was an acolyte and worship leader in a United Methodist church where I came to faith in my teens. And sure, the hymns are a first language of worship for me. But even though our small, beautiful little church in Middletown, PA nurtured my heart, it wasn’t primarily its aesthetic that drew me in.
It was a desire for artistic collaboration that drew me in.
I realized that I don’t just want to contribute to what the building in which I am speaking represents.
I want to collaborate. I want to speak in the architecture, and allow the architecture to speak in me. Can you collaborate with a building? Sure. One is really collaborating with the architect. That combination creates works of art that serve those who experience – who encounter – the words and music resonating uniquely in that sacred space and time.
I want to collaborate with a church or cathedral’s design, form, materials, acoustics, and color. I want to participate in its purpose. I want to work with it to accomplish a task of great profundity. Really, I want to combine art forms with the architect, and leverage the harmonic blends of sound, visuals, and oratory than can shape the soul.
I want to weave my life’s mission, in a time and place, with the mission of the designer. It is collaborative design that I am after. My skill (I’m told and feel in my bones) is in the art of speaking. The architect’s skill is in the housing and environment. Why shouldn’t we make a miracle of art together?
As for me, I’ve spent many years speaking and leading worship in functional buildings with functional purposes. But I’ve also had the privilege of speaking/leading worship in a few stunning locations. It’s all a gift. From leading and speaking in a gym (our church building for many years), to a small Oxford cathedral, to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome (can you imagine the glory of singing with a group of 70 Vineyard leaders in a marble chapel under the Dome of Michelangelo?), it is a privilege delivering sacred truth.
But I’m always drawn back to classic, old, yet innovative architecture. It feels like a “match” with what I am trying to communicate.
That’s it. The message matching the architecture. A home matches a message. An office building matches a message. A church matches a message. A cathedral matches a message. Collaboration is the art of matching, mixing, and mining shared gifts – whether they flow through words or wood.
Architecture As Message
So, why do some architectural spaces say “Meet with God,” others say “Share life together,” and still others say, “Play basketball?”
I believe it because architecture, like all art, is itself a message. In the case of cathedrals, we experience a message made of marble, brick, glass, steel, rock, and wood, and that message can vary. One cathedral bellows, “Awe,” and another whispers “Intimacy.” One suggests you “Feel small,” and another prods you, “Feel big.” Some declare, “This is about the transcendent God,” and others invite you to believe “This is about the imminent Christ.” One triumphantly states “God matters,” and another, through design, shape, and textures, emphasizes “People matter.”
Of course, we bring our philosophy and perspectives to any building, making what happens within its confines a collaborative effort.
When my wife’s Armenian grandmother, Grandma Siranouche, spoke of her cathedral in her small village growing up, she told me, “It was our cathedral. All of it was ours.” In other words, when she walked in, the cathedral became something other than an objective building. The cathedral became her place of community and worship. And they became someone when they walked in; they became a devout Christian, in her case, a devout follower of Jesus.
The investment in the beautiful architecture was an investment in food for the souls of the people in her village. We should never suggest that building a cathedral is more important than caring for the poor – but we should also never suggest that feeding the heart with beauty is less significant than other manners of feeding needed to sustain human beings in hope over a lifetime. My good friend Gregg Finley, is a specialist in forms of church architecture, and used to remind me that buildings that feed the soul must never be underestimated.
Architecture Is A Language Of Worship; What Is Yours Saying?
Architecture is one of the languages of worship spoken by the Church across history. For all the silliness that surrounded their construction (good golly), many architects had a deep commitment to their faith, and to Christ, driving their work. Today, many of our ancient buildings may be relegated to the world of museums or visitor attractions, but their design had a purpose.
To embrace the purpose of the cathedrals could make them become something again, and us become something with them.
Look at these images, then consider the buildings in which you worship. What message do they leave you with, week after week?
Truth is, I have a full-time job and a lot of life we’re living.
But I want to speak in cathedrals, and they want to speak in me.
Follow Dan’s board Cathedrals on Pinterest.
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