Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New York #1

It's spring break, and HH and I are on vacation in New York City. We wanted to have a real travel experience, to someplace we'd never been, that still would be reasonably in budget. NYC has enough history to keep me happy, and enough technology and fun stuff to keep HH happy, and so far we're having a great time! Our feet, however, are not having such a great time, since we've walked like 15 miles so far (at least it feels like it).
I'm not going to recount all the things we've done and make this a travel diary, rather, there are some experiences I want to think through and get down on paper... er, blog. On Sunday, our first full day here, we headed out to first learn the subway system and then go straight to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I really wanted to see that because I love cathedrals, and also because one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle, was Writer-in-Residence here and mentions it in several of her books. We got there around 11, just in time for one of the morning services. So after looking around the outside a bit, we went in and listened to the service, which (as usual) made me ponder some stuff about faith in God and the way we express it.
I mentioned that I love cathedrals- every time I have the chance, I love to go into them and walk quietly around. There's something about the soaring pillars and arched ceilings, the royal colors of stained glass- blues, reds, yellows, the echoes and the quiet, that deeply resonates with me. It's so different than the churches I've grown up with, which are utilitarian buildings with minimal decoration. A cathedral's beauty seems to echo something of the majesty and glory of God- the solemn glory, the honor and reverence. The service on Sunday contained more of that reverence- there were many responsive readings, the recitation of the Nicene Creed and Agnus Dei, the cantor singing out in a beautiful monotone- formal words like:
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere
To give thanks to You, Father Almighty,
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The rub, however, came with the sermon. As expected, it was a modern theological mismash that included some main point about how Jesus' sinlessness was in the sense that He chose to stay in contact with God, and that we don't sin when we choose to stay in contact with God. (I also realized that, sadly, a cathedral's accoustics are great for music but bad for a speaker- the echoes made it hard to understand him). This is High Episcopal, the denomination that is currently accepting gay priests, women priests, doesn't hold to the veracity of the Bible, etc. So my conflicted feelings came basically from this- here is beauty with bad theology; my church has true theology and accessibility without the reverence and beauty. I know how, for almost two thousand years, the beauty and reverence of high churches have turned to ritual and disconnected-ness from God; but when a person knows God, the high church service focuses on His majesty and glory- something that's harder to remember when church is an ordinary building with ordinary words. I guess the heart of the matter is that I wish there was a way to combine the two- a beautiful building, full of majesty and reverence, coupled with the joy and freedom and theology of my evangelical church's service.
I know that's not going to happen any time soon, I just wanted to acknowledge why I feel so torn about the matter whenever I see a cathedral...

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