We have a gift shop at the back of the Cathedral and part of the job is to welcome visitors and invite them in to look at the beautiful windows and marvel at the high vaulted ceilings and the carvings. Some folk are keen to talk and ask questions about the Cathedral and the Christian faith. Others simply come in for a quiet moment or two, contemplating, praying, or simply just sitting in silence.
Will God mind?
Often these people have never been inside such a building before and they need reassurance that they can enter this special place. ‘Will God mind? I don’t believe in him really,’ said one young person. ‘Of course he won’t mind. You are most welcome,’ we reply.
One day the glass doors swished open and a young child about 3 or 4 years old tripped in with her father. The child had sparkling shoes, the ones that respond with flashing lights when the feet stamp on the floor. She was watching her feet, and giggling as the coloured lights sparkled. Her father took her hand and standing just inside the door, said softly: ‘Hey! Look up. Look up!’
Something in his tone made her lose interest in her fancy shoes and she lifted her gaze to the high vaulted ceiling, to the wooden rafters soaring above the nave. She gasped in wonderment.
Big cathedrals are designed like that, to lift the eyes heavenwards. The wooden rafters are like the ribs of a wooden ship that shelters those who live beneath. Like Noah’s Ark, or the upturned boats used as dwellings on some of the islands off Britain.
How often do we look up?
We spend plenty of time staring at screens. Tablets, phones, cameras. Walking along the street, standing in a queue, sitting in a café. I once saw a visitor in the front seat of a coach, looking at the road ahead through her smartphone rather than the real thing. (She wasn’t filming for someone else; it was so she didn’t have to look directly at the road, she told me. Huh?)
So often we walk with our heads down, looking at a screen or watching our feet, oblivious to the world around us and in danger of tripping or missing seeing someone we know. It’s as if we prefer to see the world filtered, ‘through a glass darkly’, rather than face to face, to stretch the allusion a bit!
What would happen if we looked up and around us? What would we see? Our gaze would certainly go beyond our own little bubble.
In Psalm 121 David tells us to lift our eyes to the mountains.
From there comes our help. Some scholars say that David meant the hills were the holy places, so we should lift our eyes to God’s presence. Praise him, depend on him. God is the one who helps us. He will not let us lose our footing. But if we keep looking down, staring at our feet or our screens we are bound to stumble and trip at some stage.
The small child’s father had the right idea. Stop looking at your sparkling shoes and look up! LOOK UP!
You will be amazed.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html