The first Tuesday of the first week that we were in Austria, Christian and I decided to take the day to go into the city of Vienna and explore a little bit. Once we stepped off of the train, we began our gawking as we spun around with our eyes plastered upwards toward the beautiful buildings, the sculptures, the movement.
Vienna is breathtaking. Everywhere you turn there are beautiful streets, incredible architecture, statues, fountains, parks and cafes.
Rewind to about three years ago. A friend of ours from our ship days, who is from Germany, was studying medicine in Vienna. In one conversation, he told us about this beautiful cathedral called Stephansdom. He said that it is so beautiful that we might very well cry if ever we saw it.
Naturally, we knew this was something we needed to find.
It wasn’t hard. The steeples are raised so high that they are visible from most places in the city. We arrived at the building and sure enough, we could hardly believe its grandeur. The intricacy of the carved stone steeples, the patterns created with the colorful shingles which adorn the roof, the gargoyles, and the great wooden doors…. All of it was absolutely breathtaking.
I have always wondered what it is about these buildings that, although I am not Catholic, demand so much reverence? Why is it that when people walk in to these places, they suddenly whisper or lower their voices? Why do strangers leave bills of 5, 10, 20 euros in the donation box when regular, evangelical church attenders are generally stingy?
As we walked around, not just Stephansdom, but as we have walked around other churches as well, we haven’t been able to help but notice that Jesus, the point of it all, is given the portrait, not of the mighty Son of God, but rather of a malnourished, weak, and powerless “second.” (By “second” I mean second to the divine, maternal, and chosen Madonna.)
The Jesus that Christian and I know—the One that walks with us, teaches us, holds us and heals us—that’s not Him.
Last Thursday I went back to Stephansdom with a new friend that I’ve made. We met up in Vienna for coffee to get to know each other, and what started out as a moderately rough morning due to directions, holiday closings, and my running late, became a completely redeemed time of learning, listening, vulnerability and worship.
After coffee, we found ourselves back at this grand cathedral talking about spiritual warfare… both of us agreeing that there is such a thick cloud of spiritual oppression in this country. It’s not the same one that I have noticed in the US—this spirit of consumerism, material and distraction with access to a real (at least, a closer version to the real) understanding of Jesus on every other corner—but rather just ignorance; a complete misunderstanding of who Jesus, God, actually is.
It’s like this barrier, a “dome,” has been put here. This is Satan’s domain. And the interesting thing is, I grew up misinterpreting grandeur for spiritual health, much like some of those who might live in or visit this continent, this country.
It wasn’t until this conversation with this friend that I saw a parallel, here.
We look at these churches and marvel, much like we marvel at the landscapes, the architectures, the food, the people, the cultures. Much like the steeples of these intricate structures, all of these things were created to direct our gaze upward. Heavenward.
But instead, we settle for the mere admiration of the subject itself and stop there. Worship is lost. And this is just the outside.
What about the inside? What about the heart? Much like these magnificent cathedrals, we enter in to the minds and hearts of the people that fill this place and find a misled reverence, if reverence is even what it is. We find that Jesus is a second. Powerless. One who suffered on a cross and never left it. One who you should feel sorry for, if you feel anything at all.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
If you want an intense and beautiful follow up to that, do yourself a huge favor and read John chapter 17.
The Jesus I know… He is full of life. In fact, He is Life. Abundant Life. Joy. Powerfull. Eternal. The greatest warrior and defender of man.
This is the Jesus we want them to know. This is the Jesus in whom the Church needs to believe. This is the Jesus that I want to be like.
And may our eyes and hearts never be distracted by the external beauty of the lateral.