Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stained Glass Spirituality

Since the very beginnings of the Christian church, artistry has evolved to tell the story and celebrate the faith. Second only to the preached word (but more prominently in history than reading text), it has been one of the central ways the faith has been transmuted from one generation to the next.

This past Sunday night, I thoroughly enjoyed my congregation's "Celebration of the Stained Glass Windows." In the book that we have recently published, there are meditations and scriptures on the various stained glass windows and symbols that bless our worship space.

It has occurred to me that many of the symbols in the rose windows appeared very early in Christian history. For the first 300 years of Christian practice, there was no opportunity for large public worship gatherings because of rampant persecution. In the days of the catacombs, ancient burial grounds where Christians gathered in secret to worship, many of these secret symbols began to appear. The fish (ichthus in Greek) is the most well known of these ancient secret symbols. So Christian artistry thus began.

And we have continued that tradition in many of our sanctuaries. Most Christians in history could not read the Bible (because it was either inaccessible to them, or it was not translated into their spoken language, or because they were not educated at all). Yet all Christians in history have seen the symbols that are most dear to our faith. They tie us together as the body of Christ in ways that cross over cultures and generations.

Reclaiming art as part of central mission of the church will be a key to the future, because people are becoming less text oriented and more image based. We process information through hypertext and video clip and fast images in advertising. As an "auditory artist" (musician), it blesses me to think about how reclaiming the arts will energize and reinvigorate God's church in the future.

Wherever you live and worship, I invite you to spend some quiet time in your worship space. No matter what style of worship your church practices, most likely there are important symbols there, even the furniture itself, that speaks a theology and spirituality.

At Saint Mark, the rose windows reflect the great mystery of Trinity with the most ancient symbols of faith. The nativity window, second in prominence only to the rose windows, reflects the other great mystery of faith, the incarnation and the mingling of the divine and human in the person of Christ. The Old Testament characters in the windows - David, Moses, Isaiah, and Abraham - prefigure Christ and give us a sound theology of his person. The stories of Jesus that surround us root us in the teachings, miracles, and radical hospitality of our Savior. The unique guardian angel watching over precious children as they walk over the bridge reminds us how important it is at Saint Mark to pass the joy of the gospel from one generation to the next.

This is our spirituality. This is our life.