On the Common 067
Temples and triumphs.
Hello and happy Thursday,
We’ve been enjoying some time as a family this week, as our kids are on spring break. What a joy to have our college student back with us, for the first time since January. I enjoyed watching the sibling reunion. They caught up quickly and moved on to squabble about the same old stuff.
The Part Where There’s an Essay: The Titan and the Temples
In our travels around NYC this week, we made a stop at St Patrick’s Cathedral. I have a new goal of working in one stop in a magnificent church building on every vacation. This was easy to attain in our travels in the UK, but America may prove a bit more challenging. However, this week we knew it would be easy— St Patrick’s is the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the United States, and it sits right in the middle of everything in midtown Manhattan.
When I mentioned that we would visit St Patrick’s, one son replied that he thought we had already gone there — in Dublin. He was correct; we did go to the one in Dublin. His brother was quick to reply that “it’s a chain.” I chuckled. Imagine the Roman Catholic church, branching out its franchise to NYC after its great success in Dublin.
Of course we were awed by the space — the church occupies an entire city block and rises over 300 feet into the sky. There are nineteen bells, each named for a saint; there is stained glass everywhere; there’s a beautiful series of the Stations of the Cross around the lower third of the interior. We admired how the pews had differing carved patterns around the perimeter. The church houses 2400 people when it is full.
Afterward, we talked about a few things. One son admired the care and attention to detail. Another mentioned that he wanted to see Jesus more often among all the statues of saints. David wrestled through some of the feelings he experienced as he left the Roman Catholic church almost thirty years ago. I expressed my frustration that modern-day Christians now build churches that look like movie theatres. In the end, we were all happy that we went.
Our time at St Patrick’s reminded me of this article, exploring church architecture trends over the years. While we Protestants want to be quick to point out that the church is the people, as rightly understood from the NT letters, our attention (or lack of attention) to the beauty of our gathering places could tell a story, as well.
On the other hand, we have the marketplace’s pursuit of beauty and transcendence. Here’s the Apple Store in Paris:
This is from Atlas Obscura’s little exploration of whether Apple Stores are the new temples. Their answer, in brief, was “yes.” The article describes the experience:
To enter that sacred space, first we have to walk up a few stone steps. They’re wide and deep, enough that you have to slow down just a bit to walk up them. Steep and narrow steps create the same effect in that they make your body feel as if something important is happening. Above, a massive skylight, stretching the length of the room, lets in the light. To the right and left are the tables with phones and watches arranged around the periphery—a clue that this is not supposed to be an individual experience. Even when you are holding the phone in your hand, you are gathered around a table with others. There are no aisles here to sequester yourself in: thanks to the open floor plan, you experience the phone together with everyone in the store.
St Patrick’s Cathedral sits directly across 5th Avenue from Rockefeller Center. In the face of the tall spires reaching toward the heavens is Atlas, with the weight of the heavens on his back. His foot slips as he strains under his burden. Atlas was a Titan who revolted against Zeus, and his punishment was bearing the weight of the heavens on his back. According to legend, he is why the sky doesn’t fall.
Later in the day, we toured Rockefeller Center. A big highlight of the tour of that complex is the architecture — mostly Art Deco, with a myriad of classical touches and mythological symbolism. Atlas is just one example. It was clear from the tour that at the time of its unveiling, Rockefeller Center was seen as a new dawn of human accomplishment. Steel stretched into the sky higher than ever, new artwork was commissioned, and the titans of industry at the time believed in the seemingly limitless possibilities of man’s achievements.
These two figures facing one another make for a striking juxtaposition. The cathedral, drawing the eye upwards toward heaven, is a reminder of the transcendent — of God and man. The other, straining toward the possibility of human accomplishment, exalting man’s triumphs apart from God.
Mankind was created to worship; we will find something to exalt. It may be our own accomplishments. It may be the status that comes with the latest silky-smooth piece of technology. Yet at any time we may wander across the street and enter the cathedral, casting our eyes heavenward, up the spires and unto the skies beyond.
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For the Anglophiles
The New York Times had a nice piece here about CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien—beautiful photos of Oxford (but that’s not difficult).
Reads & Listens of the Week
What an odd topic, but here you go: old meat. The Sporkful travels to Iceland to visit their Last Big Mac, and to Virginia, home of Smithfield Ham’s very old ham — 120 years old, to be exact.
I’ve been enjoying John Onwuchekwa’s substack, entitled Four in the Morning. Here’s a recent one from him: Most People Die on the Climb Down.
An interesting question here: Why Isn’t the Civil Rights Movement Considered a Revival Movement? If we consider that a revival is “an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which restores the people of God to normal spiritual life after a period of corporate declension.”
I’ve been sad to hear of the possible shuttering of King’s College in NYC; Alan Noble makes a plea here for investment in Christian higher ed.
Lastly, this one is for soccer fans: Men in Blazers interviewed Peter Drury, the voice of NBC’s Premier League coverage. I have grown to love his coverage. He recounts the story of his call when Sergio Aguero won the league for Manchester City in the 94th minute.
That is one good thing about this world...there are always sure to be more springs. - L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea