I do not take for granted the view from my office window of Washington National Cathedral. It is a place that has held a central position in my adult life – my young children played in the Bishop’s Garden even before I began working next door at St. Alban’s Parish. Their years as choristers gave them front row seats to some of the most powerful experiences they will ever have – sitting behind cellist Yo-Yo Ma at Katherine Grahams’ funeral, hearing the Dalai Lama speak, watching five Presidents and all of Congress file in for the service after September 11…not to mention hours and hours of rehearsing and singing the most glorious music ever composed. The Cathedral I look at every day was the site for my husband’s Consecration as Bishop of Maryland – a day we actually consider more joyful than our wedding! – and a place that has cocooned me as I practiced and recorded late into the night. I have shared in every visitor’s marvel at its beauty and intricacy, and continue to appreciate the builders’ faithfulness to the dream of creating something magnificent by hand for the glory of God.
On this first anniversary of the earthquake which threatened to bring down its towers and caused many millions of dollars in damage I am reflecting on the place cathedrals have in our lives as Christians – their contribution to our heritage and their importance in our future. I have long wondered what current projects are undertaken by the leaders and wealthy of today which are begun with the knowledge that this is a gift to future generations and not something that will be completed in the visionaries’ lifetimes. That alone might be the most powerful message a cathedral can send, a reminder to do our work in ways that benefit future generations, and not for immediate gain and glory.
But there are surely other messages a cathedral communicates. One often hears cathedrals described derisively as simply museums, without relevance to current needs. As any museum hopes, however, these are not places where treasures are merely stored and history put on view. They are places for the living to connect with the past in ways that help us move forward in our lives, giving heightened appreciation for the beauty and suffering that this world holds for us all, helping us feel that our prayers and hopes are intermingled with all previous and successive generations.
Soli Deo gloria.