Barcelona Buildings and Blessings

We just returned from two wonderful weeks in Spain.  The first week was spent and doing lots of reading on the island of Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast.  The second week was an active and occasionally intense re-exploration of Barcelona, one of our all-time favorite cities.  One of the things we love most about Barcelona is its architecture.  The city is a glorious panoply of fascinating, quirky, classic, and often-astonishing structures representing over 2000 years of human creativity, devotion, and artistry.  We saw Roman streets and the foundations of shops and homes along them from the time of Christ.  We visited medieval structures and remnants of the Renaissance.  The city is also filled with 19th Century homes and wide boulevards that echo Paris from the same period.  And it has one of the richest assortments of eccentric and even playful structures built over the course of the past century, from the modernistic fantasies of Antoni Gaudi and his colleagues in the early 1900s to the soaring post-modern skyscrapers comprising the newest business district of the city today.  It seems to me that architecture, perhaps like music, represents even more than artistic expression and creativity.  At its heart is a deep sense of human aspiration, ambition, and hope.  It proclaims, at its best, not only who we are but what we believe we can become.

This was our third visit to Barcelona over the last dozen years, and we’ve been able to see the city as an evolving, developing organism that continues to change, not only because of the new, but equally due to the recovery, renovation, and continuing construction of buildings from the ancient and more recent past.  While these processes involve homes, shops, office buildings, and hotels, the most significant, even in the increasingly secular Spanish culture, continue to be churches.  The two most famous of these are the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia and the modernist masterwork, Sagrada Familia (Holy Family).  Both of these are examples of artistic perseverance and an understanding of the timelessness of God.  The Cathedral, adjoining some even earlier church structures, was begun in 1298; it was finished in 1913.  Over the course of those 615 years countless and largely unknown artisans and workers contributed their efforts in the certain realization that they would never see the final results.  Although Sagrada Familia has been associated primarily with Antoni Gaudi, construction started in 1882, a year before he joined it, and the vast majority of the work has been accomplished since his death in 1926.  Although the wondrous ceramic and stone towers are now finished and the amazing chancel and nave have been consecrated for worship, the full completion is not expected until 2026—seven generations after it was first begun.

Our American culture is not used to rhythms such as this.  We want to see things begun, continued, and accomplished in what we consider a timely fashion (which pretty much means “now!”).  As a result, we often lose the real meaning of on-going creativity in which we can marvel at what the ages have produced while, at the same time, contributing our own efforts and sharing in the anticipation of what future participants may bring.

Although I’ve written today mostly about travel and architecture, I’m really talking about something that goes beyond them.  In the words of Emerson (echoed more recently by Aerosmith), “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  It is in the course of living our daily lives, carrying out our purpose for each moment as it comes, that we see the God and the grace that shape and transform our on-going reality.  It’s not about rushing to the finish line, but discerning, appreciating, and contributing to the greater whole as we experience it from our perspective on the way.  In more Biblical language, it’s about Moses leading God’s people into—but never seeing—the Promised Land; it’s about not being anxious for the future; it’s about stopping to consider the lilies of the field.  This is how we find life’s true meaning as we live it; it is about how hope can truly become real.

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