Greetings—if you are getting this, the first Cathedral Arts Blog post is complete. I don’t know what it will grow to be, but I know it will contain writings, video and other creative projects born of, or connected to, Cathedral Arts, a program born of The Cathedral of All Saints, whose mission is “to help people fall in love with God.”
After people fall in love (as I did, “awe” is a word others use but “lovesick” describes the feeling I left Evensong with the other night) and after the beautiful liturgy, music, art and architecture have done their work, what next? Cathedral Arts programming offers ideas to take with us on our way. I hope that the Cathedral Arts Blog is good company in how it speaks to you on your journey. Whoever you are and wherever you are on your path, welcome to the Blog.
This blog has been given a subtitle: Notes From Within. This is because, as I and others at the Cathedral ask God’s help and make creative stabs at articulating who we are, a theme has been emerging. It has to do with our story of being Albany’s hidden cathedral…..
Cathedrals can take hundreds of years to finish. Sometimes cities grow up around them and they are never finished. If you look at the original architect’s plan, you will see that The Cathedral of All Saints is only 40% finished. Due to a conflict between its first bishop and the visionary of the New York State Education Building, the state building was built around the Cathedral in such a way to hide it from view from the State Capitol Building and the city surrounding it.
It was not hard to hide The Cathedral of All Saints because, for a cathedral, it is short in stature—its towers were never built. But, like all cathedrals, it has a large interior meant for a crowd. Of all buildings meant for crowds, cathedrals are the most charismatic and muscular artists. Something like what Picasso did with the work of African artists in the beginning of the last century, a cathedral gleans beauty from lesser-known or anonymous artists— their stained-glass windows, carvings, music and art—and projects it through its own oeuvre. A cathedral’s oeuvre is the lens of Christian scripture and tradition.
As all of this art forms its body, a cathedral gets credit for all it contains. We hope that all of the art and labor contained in this body of The Cathedral of All Saints is, and always will be, offered up for the good of the people to the glory of God. When we think about doing this in terms of money or time, it’s a heavy lift. When we think about it in terms of love, the exercise is exhilarating, even after all these years.
Here is what we have been doing lately with our unfinished body on the outside. Recently, we “finished” the foundations of our towers into a garden and an outdoor stage which we welcome people to use. This cathedral is moving forward because its people have chosen to grow toward God in a permanent state of unfinishedness. Meanwhile, as we welcome others to a moment of peace outside, we are inviting them to discover treasures hidden within.
Growth and unfinishedness are challenging for old cathedrals as they are for us individuals. Many young people, and some older people, find holes in their foundational beliefs when they examine them and look deeper within. Beliefs left unexamined have a way of toppling us. I want my teenagers to know that people can change and grow, perhaps forever (despite what might appear to them to be my increasing obsolescence). There are many stages of spiritual growth, and one isn’t better than another. What is best is that we are where God delights in us and that we are where God calls us to be.
Sometimes, being unfinished is a very dark place to be. Some years ago, as I healed from illness, I developed an almost physical attachment to God who I sensed suffering with me, that is, for Jesus Christ. Now, having completed a two-year program in spiritual direction, I can usually live peaceably with my beliefs even while I question them. I mostly puzzle over what it is that brings a sense of God’s nearness and an increase of faith, hope and love. Going where God called me was, and still is, a journey and a process—as it is for everyone, though we might each describe the way very differently.
In my dark night, I grew through writing with others, as I had done through painting in brighter times when I was young. Among all things that the arts are for us, they do have a way of helping us over the bumpy patches of becoming ourselves. Sharing art with others, both in the darkness and in the light of our lives, makes us into companions together.
Whatever your level of spiritual or artistic experience, we have some wonderful opportunities for personal growth and group study coming up in Cathedral Arts programs. Foremost in my mind right now is an eight-session, eight-month workshop with T.S. Eliot’s poems beginning in October. This will be a journey from darkness to light with the poet and some other good companions: Eugene K. Garber and Evan Craig Reardon. I will be there too. Will you? I hope so.
Wishing you blessings on the way,
Assistant to the Dean for mission and Cathedral Arts.