I was talking about the gifts of God the other night with a friend and it reminded me of a great Art Every Wednesday post: stained glass windows.
The gist of the conversation was that God has lavished his grace on the world – literally you cannot open your eyes without encountering his gems. The sky, the trees, the seasons, the lives of others, cities, art – all of it trumpets the grace of God. The gifts can be viewed as essentially competing with God for our devotion to God, or they can be seen as a means by which our enjoyment of him is expanded. This is the lesson I draw from stained glass windows.
Stained glass divides white light into the whole spectrum of colors. Cathedrals have been using it for a thousand years to instruct believers and draw their eyes and hearts toward transcendent beauty. They played a vital role in churches before the printing press and widespread literacy because windows were an easy way to reproduce Biblical stories for an illiterate population.
I’ve included some incredible examples of stained glass (organized chronologically) below. To sit under these windows would be a lesson in worship. Think of the windows – they are only made beautiful by the light behind them, at night they become opaque, but full light of the sun they dazzle. The window itself does not create beauty, but it creates an extra work of beauty; it teaches the viewer to see the beauty that light contains. The viewer is drawn to that beauty and also drawn beyond it to the beauty of light itself. The glory of light is increased, not decreased, by passing through the stained glass. So also with the glory of God. It passes through the world and explodes into a million various colors – a million ways which we experience it. The gifts do not compete with God any more than stained glass does so with light. They reveal the beauty that was always there in an infinity of ways which, otherwise, would have passed simply as white light.
The Jesse Tree. Chartres Cathedral. 1145
Rose Window. Basilique Saint-Denis. 12-13 century
Saint Chapelle. 13-14 century.
Calke Abbey Church. 19th century.
Meiningen Church. 20th century.
Catedral do Sao Sebastian. 20th century.