Saturday, 16 July 2011

Tilting your head

One of the nice things about my current job is that I'm out of the office quite often, going to meetings and housing schemes around the country.  Already I've been to Guildford, Warwick, Birmingham, Coventry, Middlesbrough, and Liverpool several times now, and when I have a little time before my train home I like to go for a wander and see the sights.

A while back I visited a sceme which has the awesome Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral directly outside the door.  It is a gorgeous traditional-looking building, roughly based in the gothic style even though it was only started in 1904, and finished in 1978. 

Now I love a cathedral.  Love the dedication it takes to make one, particularly before modern building techniques came in and sped up the process, love the sense of history and tradition, love the architecture and the skill of the craftmanship, and most of all I love the light.  Light is one of the major things that makes a scene for me, and the Anglican Cathedral is brilliant for it.  It was in there about 3pm and got to see this dancing display through the coloured glass windows.

The northern sandstone is a lot darker than the cream-coloured stone you get where I'm from, but the darker backdrop just shows up the light even better and makes for some brilliant effects. 

I also managed to accidentally acquire a tour guide near the Mary Chapel, so I got to hear a bit of the history of the place as well.  It was designed by a man whose father and grandfather had designed churches but who had never made anything on his own before.  But Giles Gilbert Scott was a guy with big ideas (his cathedral is still the longest cathedral in the world) and won a competition to design the massive structure.  It just goes to show what you can do when you combine your dreams, your talents and a decent amount of hard graft - what emerges is truly impressive.

On my most recent visit I walked back to the train station by a slightly different route, so as to visit the Catholic, or Metropolitan Cathedral instead, which is a completely different affair altogether.

It's a very modern building, going completely away from what you's expect a cathedral to look like (more on that in a bit).  Everywhere are fantastic examples of sculpture, coloured glass, tapestry, painting, textiles and collages.  The room is circular rather than a long corridor, with rooms around the outside that are intended to help you focus on different aspects of the life and message of Jesus.  Each is different from the last, with it's own atmosphere and message.  It's also in a room of this magnitude that the panoramic function on my camera really makes sense!

Some of these artworks are genuinely stunning.  Each of them has been clearly thought about and uniquely and skillfully made.  Some of the smaller wall sculptures in particular are very raw and moving.  They really make you stop and look again, and consider what they are about rather than passing them over out of familiarity.  Even if you're not a Christian yourself, I'd highly recommend a visit if you're in the area, just for the level of artwork in there.

This kind of constant creativity is something I definitely approve of, particularly in churches.  Tradition can be a fantastic thing, it imbues our actions with meaning and reminds us of our history and how we have come to be where we are, but our faith should also be relevant to our everyday lives in the present.  Every generation - every individual - will connect with God in a slightly different way to everybody else in the room, so as much as I love the hard work and splendour of the old-style cathedrals, this one seems really appropriate to it's purpose.  This place is up to date, so it makes sense to people, they can see how it relates to their own lives rather than boxing their faith into someone else's package of what it should look like.  In the Bible we see that the first thing God did in the universe was to create, He made us to create new things too, and the Bible is constantly re-applying itself to the new cultures it encounters (one of it's great strengths, in my opinion) so we should always be expecting and looking for new ideas.

Lately I've been reminded that this certainty of change and development is true of faith, and also of life.  Rather than be afraid of change it might be an idea to begin cautiously embracing it.  Yes, new ideas need to be closely monitored as they bring with them their own challenges and insecurities, but they can also bring amazing opportunities for growth, for a change of perspective, and a new understanding of the endless posibilities that you had never considered before.

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