Broken Windows, New People, and Winchester Cathedral

Things fall apart. Windows break. Wars continue. People change sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Moments of destruction can be moments of transformation and vice versa.

gwen white, teaching pastor, circle of hopeOur teaching pastor, Dr. Gwen White, traveled around our four congregations asking the question, “What do I do when I can’t find Jesus?” You may be asking this question right now, either because the ways you have used to connect with Jesus aren’t working anymore or because you have never felt connected to Jesus and you want to be. The fact that our world is constantly in flux is good news for those of us who feel stuck, lost, or disconnected. Something has got to give. The situation can change. You can change.

In her message called “Finding Jesus” (you can listen to it here) she told the story of Winchester Cathedral. The building got started in the 600s and reached monumental status by the Middle Ages. It was one of the biggest and widest in the era when building cathedrals was just getting started. It had a beautiful stained glass window that got smashed by Cromwell’s forces during England’s Civil War in the 1600s. After the war, the people picked up all the pieces of glass and put the window back together. But not exactly like it was. The people pieced it back together without trying to recreate the original images, creating a fantastic mosaic effect long before collage was high art. I think they created a more beautiful window.

winchester cathedral close up, stained glassI say “more beautiful” because the mishmash of the jumbled mosaic above seems so evocative and true. The angels and saints and Latin banners are all broken and remade together. It seems so true to our experience of the world, doesn’t it? Intact images of glorious people could be more apt to cow us and correct us than help us find a God who loves us and find us when we’re lost. The current beauty of Winchester Cathedral’s window tells us a story about how our heavenly images can be destroyed and remade to beautiful effect. Our images of God and how we connect spiritually can also benefit from the occasional smashing. They usually get smashed anyway, whether we welcome the inevitable or not.

Gwen’s talk was asking how we find Jesus when our usual ways to connect to Him don’t seem to be working. What do I do when prayer seems pointless, reading the Bible seems to do more harm than good, and worship goes flat? What do I do when my understanding of who I am or how the world works doesn’t seem to make sense anymore? Her advice: you’ll have to change. It might not be so dramatic as a war torn cathedral, but it might be. She gave us Paul’s example from 2 Corinthians 4:8, “be perplexed but not driven to despair.” Pause: before you sweep up the shards of your smashed images and understandings, be perplexed. How can this situation change? How can I change? The people of Winchester may have immortalized their own perplexity in the confusing images they created. I’m not sure if that was their intent but I sure do appreciate the result because it helps me to imagine how I might change and be changed. We are not finished, and even when we are broken we can look pretty great when the Light shines through us.

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