We live in a world that is awash in color, movement, and sound. I drive down the interstate and I am surrounded by advertisements competing with each other for my attention. In the world at large, but especially here in the United States, we are in a place of disquietude.
If you break down the word disquietude you come to its root word, quiet, which means still or noiseless. The dis- prefix means “not,” giving it the opposite meaning, and the ending -tude makes it a state of being. Disquietude: a state of being unquiet.
As organists, we spend a lot of time alone, especially in churches. Quite often, it is a peaceful, quiet place to be. When I am alone in the cathedral during the light of day, I have the opportunity to sit and appreciate the beauty of the stained-glass windows which surround and inspire us at every service. Maybe you have your favorite window in our cathedral?
In my quiet moments, I reflect upon how different the world was when these stained-glass windows were originally given. Our earliest windows easily predate Amazon Prime, Netflix, and in some cases the color television. In that toned-down, quieter world, our earliest windows must have been experienced as dazzling displays of unique and eye-catching color by those who enjoyed them. Today, our senses are so overloaded that many of us don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of our church windows as our predecessors certainly did.
For us, the windows beckon in a different, yet equally powerful way. In a world that is filled with busy activity and movement, the windows’ stillness is alluring and helpful. Each represents a story from scripture, captured in vivid light and then suspended in time. The stillness and vivid detail of each of these windows offer an opportunity to engage the story in our own lives and at our own pace.
Illuminated manuscripts equally capture my imagination. I always had a love of books and in illuminated manuscripts are these incredible texts, hand-written in gorgeous calligraphy with elaborate design elements along each page. In medieval times, when little in the way of art and culture was being encouraged or produced, convents and monasteries became the preservers of culture. Here the nuns and monks would labor endlessly to copy sacred texts and embellish them with art and decorated letters that helped to illuminate their meaning.
These illuminations are not meant to be mere illustrations, but deeply spiritual meditations on the text itself in a language of color and symbol. The images embedded alongside the words help the reader to enter into the meaning of the sacred texts in new ways and ignite the imagination. The “illumination” refers to the use of gold or silver to create a luminosity and radiance in the images, reflective of its holy purpose. The art invites the reader to an interior pilgrimage where the words and symbols meet a person’s own internal experience and longing for God.
Sacred art, windows, illuminated manuscripts, and music make my heart swell. For me they serve as invitations to connect with the holy, the quiet, God. They invite us on two separate, interwoven journeys: one historical and grounded in time, the other timeless and spiritual. May you find time for moments of awe, wonder, and quiet this week and in the weeks ahead.
– Canon Maxine Thévenot
P.S. I am happy to report that the organ pipes have returned to their homes, and you will be hearing more of them in the weeks to come.