I went on a long walk yesterday trying to clear my head after a restless night. Living in the city, with other people has been a totally new experience for me. I have nearly always had the opportunity to shut out the rest of life and create my own personal space. That has proved very difficult, and I really hope that I can discover how that is going to work for me while I am here. At any rate, I was walking this morning to clear my head before church, I went to a couple cafes looking for a pleasant spot to spend some time writing or reading and was unsuccessful in finding any.
I was slowly circling toward the Duomo, and toying with the idea of attending a Mass that morning. I finally decided to after walking around the cathedral a couple times. I knew I should go just to observe at least once while I was here. I wanted to observe for several reasons, mostly analytical, but partly spiritual. I wanted to take the opportunity to spend a decent chunk of time in the space, and observe how it functioned. I also wanted to examine the relationship of the Architecture to the function, as a space designed for worship.
I watched the ceremony unfold, like being within a play, with the audience/congregation playing their part in standing and sitting, or echoing their rehearsed responses right on cue. The rest of the play unfolded, with a myriad of priests and dignified elders performing a complex, but precisely rehearsed dance. As a structured ceremony it was performed perfectly, right down to the security guards organizing lines for communion, but as a service of worship it was totally empty. It was a dance, stripped of the music and the affection. A mechanical act performed an infinite number of times in the very same location.
As for myself, I hoped that I would be able to experience the space from my own spiritual perspective. I intended to come prepared to be in awe of this space dedicated to the worship of God, but I have become painfully aware that in contrast, it is a space dedicated to the worship of ceremony, and the church as an institution. One could say that it is the last place to find God. While the architecture itself certainly strikes the viewer with awe, it gives glory only to mankind, and the church. It was a beautiful space, but I cannot shake this feeling of sadness, I thought that I would be able to be in awe of this space dedicated to God, but instead it felt empty, like the whitewashed tombs of the pharisees. Instead of a personal experience of communion with God, I felt empty. My heart aches for those who will never experience intimate communion with God, because the church stands between them and God. I praise God for my personal relationship with Him.
The establishment of ceremony can never hope to fill the void when God’s presence is left out. Man’s greatest efforts to exalt him with their works may seem sufficient for a time, but they can never come close to giving him the glory that he deserves. Looking up at the Dome, I feel so far away from him and I long to be in the mountains looking at a distant horizon, where I can almost feel him next to me, asking me if I like his handiwork. In all their efforts to build themselves a place to be closer to God, men only widen the chasm separating them from his presence. I am beginning to realize that the space (the cathedral) functions precisely as it was intended; that is, to be an overwhelming experience of awe for the peasants, or congregation, so that they would feel unworthy of communication directly with God, and are then forced to go through the institution of the church, and the priesthood, always in fear of the vast power and glory of god, but never aware of his intimate presence and his gentle love.
It is the moments of intimate communion with God that I cherish, those moments when cannot help but utter praises to his name for all the amazing things he has accomplished. In the moment when I am hiking alone in the mountains and I stumble upon a vista overlooking the beauty of his creation. I stand in awe of his presence and I know beyond all doubt that his name is above all over names and greatly to be praised.