Sitting here at work bundled in what I affectionately call my 'sleeping bag coat,' I am savoring the memories of my recent vacation. The streets and trains of Europe seem so far away. It feels like the distance is trying to rob me of the things that filled my memory: butter scented bakeries, the sway of metros and sun shining through red wine. Attempting to retreat into these memories helps me focus on something other than my painfully frozen feet. One thing that sticks out vividly in my mind from all my trips to Europe, this last one being no exception, is the cathedrals. I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist Congregation that looked something like the love child of a theater-in-the-round and a flying saucer into which the '70's puked orange upholstery. A wonderful place but not the beacon of magnanimous architecture. So it really shattered my world when I saw my first cathedral at about 13. The space was both somber and delicate, heavy and light. It stole my breath. I walked slowly down the center aisle, soaking it all in.
It's hard to put into words the way I feel in a cathedral. I've accumulate slips of memories over time and somehow all the hallowed halls and stone archways have snowballed to create one vast, monumental structure in my mind. Inside this amalgomous structure you can feel its vast age in your bones and the spirits of generations that have passed through the doors palpably hang in the corners. I always find myself thinking about all the people who spent lifetimes building such a monument, or those who have found a life and refuge there. I can't help but love these stone giants; standing tall and proud, their weathered faces defiant as they hold their ground. Without fail they remain dutifully stalwart though the modern world tries to overtake them like kudzu vines. In a cathedral, everything else melts away as your perspective is completely altered. One the most remarkable parts about the experience is that you are forced to look up. The windows, columns and sculptures that dwell above catch your eye and hold you in rapture. I'm not religious at all and I dare say not even spiritual but I do think there is a lot to be said for looking up. It has the tendency to impart gratefulness and humility all at once. I am also not really into nature, unless it's on the other side of a window. Cathedrals have become my mountains- vast craggy massifs that were built long before I was here and will remain long after I am gone. It's a comforting thought.
My infatuation with these structures is perhaps strange and difficult to elocute properly. But the gentelmen in the band Jump Little Children have no problem picking up where I fail. This group sings a truly soul melting homage to cathedrals. Strange? Yes. But also very beautiful. So give it a listen and perhaps you can feel a little of what I find so special in these magnificent places.