I would like to blog about politics, but it feels a little futile. Millions of people are raging against our president, new refugee policies, and the latest atrocity that is the proposed healthcare bill. I enjoy blogging about theology, but that usually requires a level of scholarship and research that I haven’t quite felt up to in the past few months. I could blog about art, but I haven’t been making very much for myself lately.
Instead, I’ve decided to blog about pictures I’ve taken, to write down the stories behind a few photos that are wasting away on my hard drive and hopefully share some memories in a way that helps you feel a shadow of what I do when I recall them.
This is Stephansdom, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. I visited it once on a trip in high school, our group loud and boisterous and full of awe, wearing bright orange backpacks that would hopefully tether us all together. Later, I visited the cathedral in college during a summer study abroad program.
Stephansdom was the first cathedral I had ever visited and, like so many other cathedrals and mosques, when you walk in you cannot help but be overcome by the sensation that you are not entering a man-made building. Rather, it feels as though you are walking into the belly of a mountain.
Structures like this are cavernous, strong, monolithic. As you enter, you are overwhelmed by the knowledge that the stone under your feet and above your head was set before you were born and will remain long after you’re dead. In the dimness, light streams through stained glass windows and the sounds of cars fade. Your conversations are swallowed in the vast space and, slowly, thoughts you feel the need to speak fade to whispers.
A reverence wells up in you, awe falls softly over your shoulders as you look first at the chandeliers, then the sculpted columns, next the altars glowing with candle light, and lastly at the faces of other visitors, all suddenly showing the same smallness and introspection that has consumed you.
You walk a circuit or two, you take pictures until you feel satisfied that others will have some idea of what you have seen, then you pause and stand or sit to breathe in air that feels ancient, sacred, otherworldly.
Then, all too soon, your group is moving on. The sunlight outside will shock your eyes and that foreign yet familiar sensation that overpowered you inside will leave you frowning at the people carrying shopping bags or selling pretzels until you realize once more that you too are one of them. You are mortal, you are fleeting, you are temporary. But in the walls of the cathedral, you felt for a moment what it is to be ageless.