What’s in a Building?

No matter how great or humble, every building has a purpose. I have been thinking a lot about houses of worship.  Considering the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral and the fires at three churches in Louisiana, there couldn’t be a sharper contrast.  I am happy that I had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame.  While I do not practice Roman Catholicism, I found the architectural wonder, the art, and historic significance to be profound, breathtaking really. Notre Dame practically defines Paris. It is (or was) a marvel. But I decided to donate to the rebuilding of the three churches that were torched by a racist. A sheriff’s son, no less, set fire to them because African-Americans worshiped there. The buildings themselves seem to be fairly typical of rural churches, nothing in their architecture or art collections to write home about – but their importance lies in their meaning to their parishioners and communities. 

Here I am pointing to the center of Paris in front of Notre Dame.

Which leads to the question: where do you find your spirituality? Where is God? If there is a God, do you have to find him (or her, or it) in a building? 

Buildings are simply wood, stone, mortar – and just like life –  it’s what you put into them is that matters. For a wedding, whether you choose a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, or to be surrounded by nature, you still only get out of it what you put into it. Of course, the rituals carried out, and beauty of a house of worship helps inspire awe, and that is the intent. You can certainly find a connection to God or your Higher Power in a building, but a building is not required.

Notre Dame seen from the river.

In her poem, Cathedral, Donna Faulds writes:

I will worship

where the broad

arc of sky bends

to hear the bird song.

I will pray where

the sun’s warm rays

rest on grazing sheep.

On my knees, I will gaze

in wonder at the oaks and

beeches, hearing you in the

Music of their rustling leaves.

Not one stone sanctuary

can capture the essence

or the glory that you give

so freely to the fields.

No cathedral shaped

by human hands can

hope to hold the full

measure of your mirth.

About 25% of Americans, do not practice any religion at all.(A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults, for example, found that 23 percent of all Americans have forsaken religion altogether. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials are ‘nones’ and corroborated the 23 percent figure)But whatever your views on the unknowable question of a Creator or God, many people find that it is naturethat connects them to feelings of peace, wellbeing and even reverence. Spirituality can be found in the quiet of the woods, a bird’s song, by the water, or anywhere out of doors.Like many others, Henry David Thoreau reflected upon his spiritual discoverythrough simple living in natural surroundings in his seminal book Walden.

A private moment outdoors at Harmony Gardens.

This is why so many couples choose to be married outdoors. For many people, it feels just right.  But to be completely fair, it may also be because they want to have their ceremony and reception in the same location! That makes the wedding day flow in a much more pleasing way. I’m sure many of us can recall attending a wedding in a house of worship and then having a lot of down time until the reception. It’s awkward.

One time I was officiating a wedding outdoors and a bird flew very close to couple which, for them, felt miraculous. Another  time a butterfly landed on the shoulder of a bride. A sign? It’s what you see, feel, or infuse into it that matters. The mysteries of life can be experienced wherever you are, and the magic of any given moment can surprise you.

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