How do you gather up 4,000 years of spiritual questing and make it tangible in time and space? How do you model the biblical concept of Shalom–harmonious, creative community? How do you build an edifice with a soul? How do you create a house of prayer for all people?
You might just worship, pray, proclaim and build for 100, 200 or 300 years to create a great Gothic cathedral and the community that sustains it. That is what is happening here at Washington National Cathedral–nearly 100 years of discovery with more to come.
Today we mark Cathedral Day not as a memorial to the past but as a sign of hope for the future.
Recently Eric Raymond, a hacker by inclination and, I believe, a philosopher by calling, published an essay entitled, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” His essay is included in a book of the same title. You won’t find it in the religion, sociology or history sections of your bookstore. Look in the computer aisle.
Raymond’s thesis is that creativity should not be proprietary. We are on the threshold of not one but several technological frontiers. Artificial intelligence and genome mapping are but two examples. Available information doubles every eighteen months. With such progress comes attendant social issues, many without prior precedent.
Applying spiritual insight to Raymond’s thoughts, what the Bible calls shalom or creative community will elude us if intellectual creativity is solely for profit. Such action will eventually stifle progress and accentuate social division. Furthermore, technological progress cast free from spiritual revelation has the potential for disaster.
Continuing with Raymond’s insight, creativity should not be controlled by the corporate boardroom or by R & D departments where the goal is to product new products to be sold for maximum gain. Rather, true creativity resides in the chaotic, freewheeling intellectual bazaar abuzz with entrepreneurship and energy.
There the fourteen-year-old hacker who makes a discovery and tells the world for free via the world wide web may be of greater benefit to society than the well paid scientist who sits on information until she can get a patent and publish in a learned journal.
For Raymond the Cathedral represents the old order–hierarchical and for the benefit of the few while the bazaar is the new order where anyone can access data and give input.
I can appreciate innovative thinking on the new frontier but disagree with the dichotomy between cathedral and bazaar. The cathedral’s role is to remind society that God has called us to be both channels of on-going creation and moral agents. As one Eucharistic prayer puts it, “From the primal elements you brought forth the human race and blessed us with memory reason and skill. You made us Rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.”
A Cathedral ministry in a time of rapid discovery is to help formulate consistent, equitable ethical principles that will inform our moral decisions while being especially mindful of the needs of the most disenfranchised.
Consider the story of Jacob in the Hebrew Scriptures. He was intelligent, ambitious and crafty–a combination that led to a sibling rivalry that escalated to the verge of violence forcing Jacob to flee into the wilderness.
In the understanding of his time, apart from family and clan Jacob became a non-person. Alone and despondent he fell into the sleep of exhaustion and dreamed a dream of new revelation. Through the dream God spoke and said, I AM the God of your father Isaac and of your grandfather Abraham. Through those words came new understanding that God is constant through the generations and that God travels with us especially when we are lost and alone.
I do not know why God chose Jacob as the agent of revelation rather than the most righteous person in the land. Maybe it was because we have more in common with Jacob than we care to admit. And Jacob’s revelation was as much for us as for him. At any rate, upon waking, Jacob named that rocky place in the wilderness Beth-El, which means the house of God. Of course, future generations built a shrine at Beth-El as a reminder that if the likes of Jacob could find favor with God so might we.
Fast forward from Jacob two millennia to the Middle Ages in Europe–AD 1100 or so. The first Gothic cathedral did not spring forth in all its glory because some bishop or abbot ordered it up. Each structure represents some version of a Beth-El experience. In those days the Spirit of God began to move men and women to new visions of faith that could not be constrained by the dreary institutions of the times. New musical, art, and liturgical forms emerged. Monastic communities were established as centers of worship, charity and science.
A new building form slowly evolved. People of faith began to build toward the heavens. It was a way of saying, look up from the mire of hard times. The intent was to create to the glory of God.
With height came the desire to let in the light of the heavens. But high thin stone walls with lots of glass could not support heavy lead roofs. By trial and error in the bazaar of new technology builders learned to construct pointed arches to transfer weigh off of walls and onto tall columns.
Technology expressed faith and faith affirmed technology. Mason, carpenter, artisan, musician, bishop and monk each made a contribution to the whole. The cathedral was not set apart from the intellectual bazaar. It was at the center of it. In fact, the cathedral made the bazaar possible.
Today we worship in another expression of Beth-El–a community of faith and creativity. The Gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple is significant for this occasion because from time to time I receive letters citing Jesus’ action as cause for closing our Cathedral shops and disposing of the carousel that children and adults like me love. Such thinking misses the point of creativity and seeks to separate the Cathedral from the bazaar to the determent of both.
Jesus’ ire was directed toward those who stopped dreaming dreams and sharing visions. The Temple in his time had become a proprietary institution with a fee schedule. It was more concerned with keeping people out than inviting them in. Rigid traditionalism worked to deaden inquisitive faith. Jesus sought to make the Temple a House of Prayer–a house of prayer for all people, even those who had not yet discovered personal faith.
Today we continue to be guided by Jesus’ admonition. Our invitation to our nearly 900,000 visitors, pilgrims and worshipers is to help make this place a house of prayer for all people.
Bring your doubts, your faith, your gifts and your talents. Join the bazaar of seeking people affirming God’s presence in every aspect of life. Do your part to respect the dignity of every person. Take your place in that community of new creation where we act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.