Monday, February 03, 2014

Simple and Sacramental

Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe famously observed that "God is in the details." The IBM building in Chicago, considered one of his late masterpieces, always leaves me wondering about the nature of the god revealed in its details.
At a glance, the black steel and glass box gives up no details. Rather, I should say, to my glance it gave up no details because I didn't know what I was looking at or what I was looking for.
If details are architecture on its smallest, most intimate scale, then you have to know something about architecture before it reveals its details, much less before it reveals its god.
To me, the IBM building is just a big black box, but to fans of modernist buildings it is an exquisite balance of form, function and material, or so I've heard tell.
I got to thinking about this today as I was placing dedication stickers on the inside front covers of dozens of hymnals. This is one of those tasks that I probably shouldn't pick up, but that in a week when I do not have to write a sermon, I find some odd joy in doing. It's mindless, hands-on work that I can measure and complete with a satisfying ending.
It is not, however, the kind of task in which I expect to encounter God.
I don't know anything about the spiritual life of Mies van der Rohe, and what little I've read about his "biography" is almost entirely work related. So I don't know if he would have been surprised or confirmed or something else altogether by encountering God in the details of a simple task.
But a hymnal is like an architectural detail. It is the faith of the church on a small, intimate scale. From the songs and psalms of the faith, to the litanies of its rituals, the hymnal reveals the God of the church. So perhaps I should not have been at all surprised that my simple work was also sacramental.
In placing inscribed nameplates in the fronts of dozens of hymnals, I found myself running my hands across the names of people I know and love -- members of the community of faith at Clarendon. More than that, I was running my hands also across the names of people they know and love and either honor or remember in dedicated books of hymns of praise and longing, of lament and gratitude, of glory to God.
I know God only in and through relationships, and touching the names of those with whom I enjoy some of the most important relationships of my life was touching something holy.