We made our way to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC with little expectation, other than seeing a really pretty place while exploring the city on our quick family getaway. As we approached, I found myself awed by this old and holy place nestled within a city that is all about newness, power, money, and prestige. That divide was startling to my eye, and it drew me in with an open heart.
Once through the entrance, I found the interior of the church to be impressive and inspiring. Though under renovation, every corner of St. Patrick’s speaks of the humble dedication and workmanship of the generations that came before. It’s beautiful and ornate and complicated, and its mission is clear: to point eyes to God in a world that sometimes forgets Him. Right now, St. Patrick’s needs a lot of work. Scaffolding lines the walls in an ongoing restoration effort, which will take years to complete. It is messy and inconvenient, necessitates an investment of time and resources, and will disrupt schedules and events. This massive restoration is unpleasant but necessary.
I can relate.
My life, the product of generations that came before, is also beautiful and complicated. I know its purpose, like that of St. Patrick’s, is to raise eyes to God, but I can feel that this is a time in which there is work to be done in my interior, and I feel that it will take time and come at a cost. Attempts at delay have failed, because it seems the scaffolding is already being built, and I will have to slow down and allow the work to be done. However much I might like to, I won’t be allowed to plan the work, hire the laborers, or choose the finishes. After all, I am no craftsman, but I am a project. (My family will attest to that!) This time in my life seems to be about submission to God, and this has never been my strong suit.
Maybe this funk I’m experiencing is about my kids getting older and needing me less or about them needing me in less cuddly ways. Maybe it’s about my career path, which has not yet really crystallized. Maybe it’s about how I still miss my mother every damn day and can’t seem to quite recover from that loss. Maybe it’s about friends who aren’t really friends, or about my own pride and control issues that need rooting out. Maybe it’s my viewpoint or my sensibilities, which are far too fragile and have broken one too many times.
God knows what, but something is definitely wrong. There are chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling and the paint is fading, and let’s face it: repairs need to be made.
Walking around St. Patrick’s, I found this corner in one of many alcoves, which was being used for storage and was an active construction zone. As in my own life, visitors are warned that “Men are Working Above”. Actually, I am counting on that to be true in my case…Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Mary, and Friends who art in Heaven are hard at work for my benefit, helping me to see, understand, and act. They have the plans and they know how it will all work out. They are the experts, and it’s my job to trust them through the dust and disruption, through the chaos that is in me.
And there are prayers. Each one of those lit candles represents one heartfelt prayer. In my own life, there are hatfulls…I can honestly say that these days, I am praying without ceasing. I’m trying on every style of prayer I can find, and sometimes I feel it as the real connection it is to God who loves me, and Who really just wants me to slow down, give over control, listen, and really know how much I’m loved. Like I said, I’m in process.
As in my own life, there is hidden beauty in this little alcove. Believe it or not, that is a real, huge, gorgeous bouquet of roses just beyond the candles, and I know that whatever statue is under that plastic tarp would probably be amazing to behold. These hidden elements point me to the real beauty that is in my life everyday that is worth straining to see. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see that stuff which is just under my nose: the health of my family, answered-and-forgotten prayers, the beautiful sound of music and laughter in my little house, the bright purple flowers on my patio that make me smile every day, my good husband who stands guard over this hazard zone and is waiting with me to see what it will be in the end.
At the back of this alcove stands a baptismal font, and that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? The New Life that is promised to you and me is in view, and it’s ours to receive. As I am broken down and rebuilt, as I pray and experience the prayers of others, as I begin to see beauty in unexpected places, I will make my way to that New Life that God is waiting to give me, and I already know it will be beautiful. Until then, there is light and shadow, there are angels, and there is work to be done.
As I left St. Patrick’s that day, I noticed a sign that noted that they will remain open throughout their renovation, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. I imagine that’s no easy task, but I’m glad of it. Like that old cathedral, I commit to remaining open as well, to receive what my loving God has for me, and to be a help to others when I can.
Open and under renovation. St. Patrick’s and me.