Rwanda Lessons Learned #1: Sacred Space

I realize that it is important for me to “decompress” from our trip to Rwanda in some respects.  God has taught me so many lessons during our trip to Brussels and Rwanda, and I need to get after writing some of them down so that they don’t slip through my fingers.  If I want to live every day for the kingdom of God, then I need to maintain the focus He gave me on this trip.

I am, in many respects, a typically arrogant American evangelical.  I am not much for tradition, and prefer modern expressions of the faith to older ones.  That is probably the outworking of my generation as well as my exposure to church as I “grew up” in Christ.  My first big lesson this year made me re-think the priorities of “new” and “modern,” as a tour of the most beautiful cathedral you can imagine put me in my place.

The cathedral in Brugge sits adjacent to a street of shops; we almost tripped over it while trying to get away from a rain storm.  The outside architecture was pretty impressive:

But the inside was absolutely stunning.

Just the stained glass was worth a visit; the seats are beautiful too!

There is so much more that I could share about the cathedral itself, but you get the point.  It was a sacred space that totally took my breath away.  It was beyond beautiful.  Craftsmen and builders had worked for DECADES to build it in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.  This space had details and architecture that are unparalleled today.  In the main sanctuary alone, the ceilings were over 100 feet tall and made of poured concrete.  There were architectural flourishes and details at every turn that served no practical purpose, but made the building more beautiful and gave people more sense of the divine.

The entire space is built to bring people to their knees before a holy God.  This is what sacred space is supposed to look like, and what we sorely lack in the modern evangelical church.  We have multipurpose facilities and in some cases beautiful buildings, but we have absolutely nothing to compare with what this cathedral represented.  These people poured their heart and soul into building a cathedral that was beautiful beyond belief, and all for the glory of God.

This place reminded me of the first psalm of the sons of Asaph, which David commissioned and who praised God in 1 Chronicles 16:23-31:

23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
24 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and joy are in His place.
28 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
29 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him;
Worship the Lord in holy array.
30 Tremble before Him, all the earth;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”

I need to return to the remembrance of the sacred.  When I come to worship, I need to remember that God is the One to be praised, and I need to approach the worship of the Holy One with reverence and honor.  He deserves nothing less!  This trip through the cathedral of Brugge reminded me that God is worthy of extravagant praise and acts of worship, and that we need to remember His greatness in our building and depiction of Him.

The other lesson I learned in Brugge is a sad one.  This amazing, beautiful cathedral is no longer a church.  It is now a museum.  It welcomes visitors and people come to pray there, but there are no worship services.  It was built as a grand cathedral to glorify God, but now it exists only as a monument to what used to be.  How utterly and tremendously sad.  How horrible to think of the lifetimes of work that went into this building to give people a place to worship, and now it is a place for tourists to gawk.

How many Christians lives, in the same manner, are monuments to what once was?  How many of us have reduced our walk with Christ to a beautiful reminder of what used to be a vibrant and amazing respect for God.  How many have little left than a beautifully adorned life that has nowhere left for worship and remembrance of the sacred?  Leaving the cathedral, the past-tense of it all made me tremendously sad.  At the same time, it renewed my determination not to have my life be like that cathedral in the new sense.  I want to be a reminder of the greatness and majesty of God, but not in the past tense.  I want my faith to be living and vibrant!!

Before we ever got to Rwanda, God had already taught me a huge lesson about His character as well as about my need for Him on a daily basis.  It was only the start of MANY more lessons to come.

3 thoughts on “Rwanda Lessons Learned #1: Sacred Space

  1. I agree with you on the Sacred Spaces thing. Before I was a Christian, I used to think, “How could poverty stricken people waste the money and time to build those old cathedrals that sometimes took more than a hundred years to complete. THey should have used the money to feed people.” Now, I realize that passion for God and realization of His grandeur translates itself into art as well as helping for the needy.

  2. I had that same experience a few years ago when I went to Europe, specifically Rome. The vatican obviously is amazing, but what amazed me were the other churches and cathedrals my wife and I wandered into. The art and architecture was amazing and definitely gave me a sense of awe that can be lacking in American box churches.

    Since visiting I have encountered American churches that use environmental projection that in some ways does the same thing by projecting powerful images onto the existing architecture of the building. While far from the power of European cathedrals, it is a powerful change from the tan walls of the typical American church.

    Check out some examples here:

  3. Pastor John, thanks to you and Laura for sharing your trip with us. I think you may not be as far from “old traditional” worship as you may think. I believe I will join you in working on Bob to incorporate some 'cathedral' into WGBC. I will pray you do not lose your Rwanda excitement.


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