Pieces of History

Today we walked around in the 2nd or 3rd tallest church in Europe – the Minster in Ulm.  As with many churches and cathedrals in Europe, it’s amazing.  In our age of utilitarianism, where everything is measured for return on investment, it’s hard to comprehend the mindset that set out to create an architecture of glory.  Glory, to be sure, of the men and women who financed it and designed it and lived and died to build it, but also the glory of God.  You walk inside and your eyes are drawn inexorably upwards into the heavens, to contemplation of the vastness of God who dwarfs even such magnificent spaces.

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What was more amazing to me though, were the bits and pieces.  Those without names and dates, or with names and dates too disfigured by the passing of time and the elements to read.  Simple paintings and carvings that have graced the church for centuries, and yet bear no information and details.  Nothing noted about the creator or the era.  Information that undoubtedly has been lost, compared to the meticulous notations of the wealthy individuals and families who paid for the construction of this massive building (rumored to have been designed to hold up to 22,000 people – the population of Ulm 700 years ago or so – in the event of an attack or other emergency).

Unfinished scrawlings and drawings like this one (where only the face of the person on the far right is completed – perhaps representing the artist himself).

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Or I wonder about the churl who had this carved face added to the front of their choir seat.  Perhaps not a fan of the priest/pastor’s sermon?

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Bits and pieces of history that far outstrip our entire country’s history lie unattended in the corners of the church or on parts of the wall not adorned by commissioned art.

It’s a fascinating reminder that as much as we all like to think that we are the main characters of our lives, and that our lives are the main point of God’s story, this is hardly the case.  Most of us will disappear under the waters of death without leaving much of a ripple at all.  Very few of us will leave ripples that outlive the lives of those who knew us directly.  The famous and the infamous live on, inscriptions about their successes and failures emblazoned into history texts and Wikipedia for future generations to ignore.  Our lives are not noted to much extent, yet they contribute to the overall glory of God in his plan and his story – a story not about our grandeur but his grace.  We may not top the spires of the towers, we may not be great statuary lining the sides of the nave, we may not be lavishly ornamented coats of arms and other curiosities.  But our lives are contained there just as well.  Without fanfare for the time being.

Yet when we resurface – with the faithful peasants and artists and burghers who built and beautified that church – what fascinating conversations we’ll be able to have with one another.  What surprises when we find out that somebody else was musing on our life’s work, unaware of who we were or when we lived or what we liked to eat for breakfast.  What joy to be able to join hands in praise of God, in glorification of God whose story so far exceeds our feeble attempts at comic strip writing that we don’t even realize that even our own scrawls are in ways we can’t understand his scrawls, in us and through us, and actually us, period.

Truly, to God be the glory, great things He hath done and will do!

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