Category: Knowing God
Now let's go to the emotional side.
The interior of the basilica is, if anything, more astounding than the exterior. Groined arches make an incredible interior space, and the play of light through the windows produces a feeling of something that I can only label ‘glory.’ It’s rare for a building space to make a distinct emotional impact on me, but some places have. For instance, the restrained plainness of the interior of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson produces stillness in me. The Benedictine Sanctuary of Perpetual adoration, also in Tucson, produces the desire to pray. I once heard the theory that a church should produce a vision of heaven in the worshipper, and until today no place has even approximated that for me. But this place... it produces a feeling of beauty that makes one think of the promises of heaven, a place where beauty and peace and glory are melded together in a way that make eternity desirable to the heart. (That last bit is significant. Would you really want eternity as your sixteen-year old self? That would be, most likely, a frantic existence. But an eternity of beauty and peace and glory is a different thing entirely.)
There is a shop attached to the church, for entry to which, amusingly enough, one has to line up. There are droves of people in the basilica, but the size of the place and the viewer’s respectful attitudes mean that noise is not an issue. Still, with the many people and the sideline commercialism and the steep entrance price, I found myself wondering whether God could be found here.
I entered the main worship area. There was no place to kneel, so I sat, folded my hands and closed my eyes. The sense of the presence of God was immediate. As sometimes happens, my heart bypassed the discipline of adoration and went straight to confession, the sins of the preceding year crossing my heart and mind. I am as yet unsure how to get past them, but I'm asking, and that is the type of prayer that God is wont to hear.
Today we had a tour to Bolgary, site of the ancient capital of the Volga Bolgars. Neat archaeological sites. I like the trip more, though, just for the exposure to the Russian countryside. Picture The Shire, but on a massive scale.
Our tour guide, Natalya, was Russian Orthodox. She's a good tour guide. On the other hand, her private conversation with me about Tajiks who come to Tatarstan was dismaying. Pretty darn racist, from my point of view. From the humanist point of view, of course, such an attitude is distressing. By world view I am a liberal Christian, and from the Christian point of view that attitude is even more distressing. Part of the Christian path is learning to treat everyone as your neighbor, generally; to reshape your own heart in the presence of God so that you wish well for all and even at times make decisions that sacrifice yourself for your neighbor's benefit. To see someone who claims to be a Christian and has so far to go on that path... well, in short, it makes me sad. No one who seriously tries to walk with God ever achieves perfection this side of the grave, of course. We all fail in ways that distress both ourselves and others. Encounters like this, I think, should make us more determined to seek perfection in ourselves and to be beneficial to others who are still having difficulty on that path.