This time around we explore the link between metaphysics and architecture, with a little bit of help from a friend named Hans. (If that doesn’t sound like a jolly good time, I don’t know what does!)
Should church architecture reflect the nature of God, or should it be purely functional? Should the design of a sanctuary be influenced by cost and efficiency, or something more transcendent?
We have several good friends who are asking these very questions after the October tornado destroyed their church, leaving them with the blessing/curse of starting from scratch in designing their sanctuary.
Whether you are planning a redesign of your church building, or you are just moderately intrigued by these questions, keep scrolling: I think you will enjoy the article I briefly introduce and link to below.
Cal Newport—who you should be regularly reading—wrote a piece in The NY Times last year that is worth reading, or reading again.
In short, he suggests that the iPhone/smartphone should be used as a phone, iPod, and navigation device only. The fact that many of us have spent over a decade using these devices more than we should means that we don’t notice the way our phones have used us:
Under what I call the “constant companion model,” we now see our smartphones as always-on portals to information. Instead of improving activities that we found important before this technology existed, this model changes what we pay attention to in the first place — often in ways designed to benefit the stock price of attention-economy conglomerates, not our satisfaction and well-being.
We’ve become so used to the constant companion model over the past decade that it’s easy to forget its novelty.
“Instead of improving activities that we found important before this technology existed, this model changes what we pay attention to in the first place…”
Read more—hopefully not on your phone?—below.
The new year and my new rekindled relationship with Cal Newport means that I am back to using my phone in the most bare-bones way I know how.
In the midst of a busy fall I found myself adding email back to my phone most days. I am trying to avoid that again. (See #10 on my how to stop loving your phone post from two years ago.) I put together that list before I dropped all social media; I would still recommend removing social apps from your phone if you aren’t ready to quit cold turkey.
A recent First Things article by Nashotah House professor Hans Boersma is too good not to pass along, and yet perhaps too complex to pass along without an introductory note or two.
Before you read, it may be helpful to understand the gist of what Boersma is arguing for:
Architecture—at least church architecture—ought to reflect on earth what is most true in heaven.
Boersma brings us to this conclusion by way of Saint Maximus the Confessor.
Saint Maximus saw the building of the church as a figure (typos) and icon (eikōn) of the cosmos. …
Maximus was a metaphysical realist. He believed that the lower tier of reality (sensible things, body, Old Testament, church nave) is patterned on the higher tier of reality (intelligible things, soul, New Testament, church sanctuary).
How does this play out in the design of a church?
If God is big, and we are small, the shape and size of our church ought to reflect that reality. (Most often through the use of steeples and tall, vast ceilings.)
If the central act of our faith, and therefore of our worship, is the sacrifice of Jesus, then the shape and size of our church ought to reflect that reality. (Most often by placing the altar—not the pulpit, band, or screen—at the visual center of the “stage”.)
Doing these things is often expensive, and impractical. But it is very much in line with the approach to “liturgical architecture” we see in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Note the extravagant design of the Tabernacle and Temple, about which Hermann Witsius once commented, “God created the whole world in six days, but he used forty days to instruct Moses about the tabernacle. Little over one chapter was needed to describe the structure of the world, but six chapters were used for the tabernacle.”
With all of this in mind, I recommend spending some time reading Hans Boersma’s article. (Especially if your Christian tradition finds itself on the more reformed end of the ecclesial spectrum.)
In March I will be giving a talk at St. David’s in Denton on The Spirituality of C.S. Lewis, and in April I will be talking again on Lewis, this time giving an introductory lecture on The Abolition of Man as part of the CDA Dallas Lecture Series.
All that to say, I will have Lewis on the mind throughout this Spring, and will likely be pre-digesting some of those talks ahead of time here in the Newsletter. (I hope you don’t mind more Lewis in your life…)
As I read through the BCP Lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer, I am keeping paper notes in a beautiful calendar/journal I ordered for the second year in a row.
Every few weeks I plan to look back over those notes to drop a few random thoughts from the lectionary here, for you all to enjoy.
After Christmastide and the early days of Epiphany—when the readings are generally seasonal and come from different books each day—the Lectionary has now settled into a steady rhythm of Genesis, Hebrews, and the Gospel of John, in addition to the daily Psalms.
Here are AFRTFTL from these past couple of weeks: