We went to mass this past Sunday. Not church, where we have been going for the past two years or so, but mass at an honest to goodness Catholic church. We spent the weekend with my stepdaughters in Austin and the hotel we booked (Hotel Allandale -- highly recommend) was right across the street from a gigantic, beautiful cathedral. I knew instantly where I wanted to be Sunday morning.
You see I love cathedrals. I love stained glass and high ceilings, altars, alcoves and naves. I don't mind the odd gargoyle or two. There is something about walking into this kind of sanctuary that invokes awe and I need awe. I don't need to think for a moment that God and I stand on equal footing. That He is either as small as me or I am as big as He. That kind of thinking is dangerous and possibly lethal in effect. Awe is impossible without humility and I need to be humble at all costs.
I just read an article in which the author describes a Hindu temple he visited in Bali. Its deity is ensconced behind ten walls and how far one can travel into the temple is dependent on one's devotion. For example, non-Hindus cannot pass further than the first few rooms. Only those who have pledged their lives in complete devotion to this particular god are permitted into the inner sanctum.
I think it is perfectly obvious if you've been reading this blog that I am not a Hindu. I believe there is nothing in that tenth room except a statue. But the oblates of that temple believe it houses a god and they do not treat that belief casually. They aren't sitting in the inner sanctum popping their gum and whispering to their neighbor. They are worshipping with reverence and awe because that is what should be inspired when one is in the presence of the divine.
There is a real God and He is no less deserving of awe than that Hindu statue. He is the God of the Old Testament, upon whose face no one was permitted to look for fear of death. He appeared in clouds and burning bushes because mere human beings are not worthy to see Him. When Moses was granted the rare privilege of being present as God passed by, he came away from the encounter glowing with a radiance so bright that it frightened those at the camp.
I feel like a lot of Christians feel uncomfortable with this kind of a God. They think Christ's coming somehow made God friendlier or more accessible to us lowly mortals. I don't believe that. I believe Christ was God made man, both fully God and fully man. I believe that the Holy Spirit lives within us. Through that Spirit I believe we are able to more clearly know the will of God, to hear His voice. But I believe the nature of God the Father has never changed. He was, is and will always be bigger, better and more awesome than I can even begin to imagine. I think if He revealed Himself fully, showed me His face, that I would drop dead from lethal awesomeness.
I need to be reminded of that sometimes. I don't need to be comforted; I need to be humbled. I don't need to be comfortable; I need to experience the divine. And standing in St. Louis Catholic church Sunday morning, smelling the incense and looking at the grandeur of the cathedral, I felt so small, so insignificant, and so blessed. That the God of the universe even allows me to stand in His presence is an honor beyond imagining. I should be prostrate on the floor before Him, yet He lifts up my head.
I don't know where your awe-inspiring place is. I know many of you aren't Catholic and wouldn't want to be. But whatever reminds you, be it a church or a beautiful beach, that God is really, really big, I encourage you to go there. Often. Because we need awe and splendor in our lives. It pulls us up out of this mediocre life and lifts us up toward the divine even while we are bowing our heads. I want to approach God with worship and adoration, not casually and certainly not with a spirit of entitlement. He loves us enough to offer us entry into the inner sanctum, into His tenth room, everywhere and every day. And though I won't see His face when I enter in, I will experience Him, I will be in the presence of the divine and that is a privilege not to be taken for granted.