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In Praise of Worshipful Spaces

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“ demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness...” Hans Urs von Balthasar As a Christian and an artist, when I look at the world around me I see the beautiful and intricate handiwork of the Creator. I’m struck by the care God took in designing the world we live in.The psalmist writes, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Everything, from complex ecosystems down to the smallest cell, works together in an elaborate orchestration that points to and praises God. If the Creator made the world with so much attention to balance and beauty, as co-creators and imitators of the divine we too should put thought and love into the work of our hands. Our creations, like those of the Creator, should inspire us and others to praise the Lord of heaven and earth. And our churches in particular should be spaces that reflect our worship of the sacred, drawing worshipers to a God who is worthy to be praised. One of the most worshipful places I have ever been in is the Duomo di Orvieto in Italy, a vast gothic cathedral whose marble facade is masterfully decorated with religious symbols, stories, and orna-

on the utility of the building, we all too often forget to build beauty into the church. Some church buildings look more like businesses, warehouses, or stadiums than places one would gather to worship a God of beauty.When our church structures fail to proclaim the glory of the Lord, aren’t we losing out on an opportunity to praise God? Although the craftsmanship and scale of the cathedral in Orvieto belong to another era, contemporary congregations of any size and budget can still be intentional about making beauty a part of their worship experience.The church consists of diverse cultures, settings, and aesthetic languages, and there is no one model to follow when it comes to creating sacred space. Each congregation must find an appropriate marriage of architecture and art, one that serves the specific needs of its people and their location and mission focus but also speaks to their hearts. The mystery and sacredness of the Creator are found wherever there is artful purpose—a deliberate desire to invite beauty into the worship experience—whether in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings, a simple chapel illuminated by candles, or an urban church enlivened by celebratory murals.We must seek out the artists, craftspeople, architects, gardeners, designers, and skilled workers in our communities and then invite them to praise God with their This purposeful use of architecture faith-informed gifts. Heaven and earth belong to the and art instilled in me a conviction that the spaces we create and inhabit play an Creator—let us seek to rediscover and important role in our worship of God. reclaim the sacred wherever it is lost or Harmony between function and aes- lacking. God does not just want the thetics is often sadly lacking in our culture praises of our mouths; he also wants the and, specifically, in the design of many worship of our spaces. The work of our American (especially Protestant) church- hands can act like new creations that es. In their design, many churches are praise the Creator of the world without oriented toward the human rather than words. ■ the heavenly. The physical church building functions as a place for people to Tegan Brozyna is a Sider Scholar at Palmer gather weekly, administrate, educate, and Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. She holds a celebrate. But in focusing exclusively BA in studio art from Messiah College. mentation. Pushing open the enormous metal doors, I stepped into another world, a place where the physical meets the spiritual.The echoes of my steps reverberated off the richly adorned walls and ceilings, which were lit only by candles and stained glass. It was eerie and yet beautiful, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the God who had inspired such architecture and art. Each object and every inch of space in the church reflected God’s glory. Surrounded by the holiness and mystery of the Creator, I got a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

PRISM 2008


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12/13/07 10:48:17 PM

In Praise of Worshipful Spaces  

Art & Soul January 2008

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