Faithful Literacy

Reims Cathedral Inside

I have a bumper sticker on my car, “Reality: it’s not what you think” for which I get some acknowledging nods.  I’m never sure exactly what is being acknowledged, but I “think” that it is mixture of people; some believing I am an arrogant jerk or else sojourners who know that reality is more than just what happens in our heads.  Reality is necessarily bigger.  It also comprises our hearts and our imaginations and, as Shakespeare reminds us, “more things than are dreamt of in our philosophy”.
Ironically, the dogmatic philosophies accomplish beautiful feats for our ears and eyes and hearts and minds as well.  Symphonies of the heart, state, ears and eyes play out in the cathedrals, testaments to the powers of visual literacy and faith.
Faith is what built cathedrals – generational buildings begun by one’s grandfather and to be completed by one’s sons.  While most of us intend to finish what we have started, some of us get a chance to complete our cathedrals, others of us leave work to be carried on by those who love us – work that can be no more than an energetic spirit and kind heart.  This is at least closer to reality than anything we can think.
Constructing cathedrals has inspired men for centuries, giving us as much a common cause as a place to read -when reading was only in pictures for most people.  Now we make pictures of the cathedrals – carrying forward awe, placing metaphorical bricks in projects we may not have the simple luxury of time to complete.  I, for one, cannot see the cathedral I am building – if I am building one at all.  But I take encouragement from “knowing” that there is more to the world than what I think or believe or foresee.
Beethoven could not even hear the compositions he was making – but he made them anyway.
As much as I have to drive my car, I’m sorry that’s too long for a bumper sticker.

This image was taken inside the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Reims in the heart of Champagne, the coronation cathedral for French kings for the last 1000 years.  It is the site where Clovis was baptized in 496, and where legend would tell us had long been a center of druidic practice.  Grasping an opportunity to look up, it is inspiring to know the Rose Window is 40 feet across, and the soaring architecture allowed windows to tell the stories of the Scriptures to those who could not read.  While officially the Coronation Cathedral for the French, under these arches have prayed a range of people from Hugh Capet, to the widow Clicquot and Jean-Remy Moet to Napoleon and at least 30 generations of the faithful – the first of which would not have seen it completed.

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