One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4 (NKJV)
“Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). Revelation 21:9b-25 (NKJV)
I have just returned from an almost three-week trip to London and Italy with my daughter. In the planning for almost nine months, it was a celebration for Hannah, who recently graduated from Belhaven University, Magna Cum Laude, Honor’s College, and in the “Who’s Who Of American Colleges and Universities.” The first week of this trip was spent in London with my sister-in-law, who generously gives to each of her nieces and nephews a one week trip to the place of their choice as a college graduation gift. The second part of the trip was spent with a group from Belhaven University touring through Rome, Orvieto, Civita, and Florence. Hannah and I then continued on to Venice (along with a close friend of hers) for three days. This group, led by the Chair of the Art Department at Belhaven, Dr. Bob Pennebaker (and his lovely, meticulously organized wife, Martha), has been taking groups to Italy for about fourteen years, focusing on the spectacular art and incredible history of Italy. Hannah was blessed to go with this group last year, and wanted to return this year with her mother in tow.
To say that this was a phenomenal trip, would obviously be an understatement. I am still just beginning to process what I saw and heard. I came home with a couple of thoughts and observations. It is a few of those which I hope to share here.
There are many great cathedrals in Europe. I only saw a handful of them: St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), Westminster Abbey (London), St. George’s Chapel (Windsor Castle), Cathedral Church of Christ (Christ Church, Oxford University), The Pantheon (Rome), St. Peter’s Basilica (The Vatican, Rome), Sistine Chapel (The Vatican, Rome), The Duomo in Florence (Santa Maria del Fiore), Cathedral of Orvieto (Duomo in Orvieto), St. Mark’s Basilica (Venice), and The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (Venice). To be standing in the presence of such incredible beauty was a profound privilege. But, it was more than just the visual awareness of artistic excellence or accumulated history. It was the sure knowledge of the sacrifice (both financial and otherwise) required to build these great churches and the multiplied centuries of prayer and worship that have taken place within their walls. I am aware of the controversy surrounding some of these great churches and cathedrals. To assume that each one was built with the purest of motives would be naïve. However, what has remained standing throughout the centuries (and in some cases, millenia) is a testament to the glory and beauty of God.
We live in a world that has been greatly marred by the ugliness and decay of sin. It is every where we look. And yet, to stand in these cathedrals and look at the adornment of ceilings and walls, reminded me that God is far more glorious than could ever be represented through artistic expression; that Heaven is far more beautiful than could ever be imagined or reproduced. But, man continues to try to represent through his art what can not be completely known or accurately depicted. Art is the hope that what is perceived in the spirit (or through the Spirit) can somehow be communicated to others.
As I stood in these cathedrals, not all had an obvious manifested presence of God. Some felt decidedly sterile, as if I was somehow standing in yet another art museum. However, I know that this has not always been true. We have the promise that: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 NKJV) Through out the centuries, many have come to these edifices to sincerely worship God and humbly lay their requests before the Throne of Heaven in prayer. I was aware that, while my daughter and I (and others as well, of course) remained within the confines of each cathedral, He was present yet again.
It has been four weeks today since my father left this earth for his home in Heaven. He now dwells in a place of incredible Beauty and Grace. He stands before God’s throne with my mother and all who have gone before him, rendering praise to One who is utterly deserving of all our praise and worship. While my father did his very best to live a life full of beauty and grace (through music, his life-long love of the church, and as represented in how he furnished his home), it was only a pale shadow of what he is now experiencing.
Just as with many of the artists whose work adorns the great cathedrals, my father knows that all he thought he understood about beauty during his eighty-three years of life, is a mere shadow of what is to come for those who truly belong to the Living Christ. And, while I miss him terribly, how can I grieve for long knowing where he is and that I will see him again? It is the promise of faith and salvation: we will spend eternity with Him and all those who are His.
Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Johnson
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