With Faces Turned Upward

Life can be hard. It is easy to be crushed by the pressures of home, work, marriage, and finances while simultaneously trying to hold together all of the intricacies of life and schooling our children. Even during the summer months, projects and plans may fall through and the responsibilities of life may become overwhelming. We experience pain, sickness, and distress navigating roles, relationships, and responsibilities to make life work.

Schooling our children at home adds an extra layer of stress. In a co-op or a hybrid school you are surrounded by families that seemingly have everything pulled together, even though this perception is far from the truth. Many times homeschooling results in a feeling of isolation. Typically, schooling our children at home results in a one-income household and a greater concern of financial stability. The extra added work of educating our kids and the regular dose of household chores provoke feelings of being perpetually behind and caught in an uncontrollable whirlwind. How do we respond to such struggles? What should we do when faced with the duress that often accompanies our lives?

Several years ago I had the privilege of studying Dante in Florence, Italy. The first evening upon arriving in Florence, I walked the city’s narrow streets. At dusk I approached the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral capped by Brunelleschi’s famous dome. As I emerged from the Florentine alleys, the imposing structure of towering height and immeasurable beauty confronted my sensibilities. A 14th/15th century gothic cathedral made almost entirely from marble and standing nearly 400 feet tall engulfed my vision. The hand carved statues and decorative facades overwhelmed my sense of place as another student was compelled to remark in a subtle and quiet voice, “It’s alien.”

The cathedral is indeed alien! The cathedral is a physical expression of the presence of God’s eternal kingdom and reminds every Christian that their citizenship belongs to another realm. The structure is designed to capture our imaginations, arrest our attention, and provoke awe and wonder in all those who see it and enter into its shadow. Its enormous size, ornate facades, and stunning craftsmanship impose its will upon the pilgrim, forcing our gaze upward.

The construction of this magnificent building occurred during a time of political unrest and economic uncertainty, even during the mid 14th century when the plague crippled Italy, indeed all of Europe, resulting in the deaths of nearly 60 percent of the population of Tuscany and as many as 40,000 Florentine citizens.[1] Yet, the work continued and the artists, architects, and engineers persevered.

During life’s difficulties, hardships, and its most trying times we sometimes find it hard to keep moving. Life can be paralyzing. This is a common experience given that we all participate in a world cursed by sin and physical corruption. Even the Apostle Paul lamented the he was “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, he goes on to explain that this was so we would “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (vs. 9). The medieval cathedral enabled the people to see through their circumstances and to recognize that they belong to a different world and were beholden to the kingdom of Christ.

The expression of God’s kingdom embodied by the cathedral aided those dealing with fractured politics, a flailing economic system, social estrangement, and a plague that killed 40,000 Florentines. It presented a physical display of the realities of God’s continued faithfulness and presence. Like the irresistible sound of the Sirens enchanting sailors, the medieval cathedral summoned men and women to gaze upward, refocusing and redirecting all momentary anxieties to a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

We need these reminders and we need encouragement! The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, physically reminds us of our need to be sustained by something other than an idea. It is the Gospel preached to our other senses. As the bread and the wine feed and nourish our bodies, so are we ultimately sustained by the work of God in Christ. God has given us the blessing of the Eucharist to sustain us in times of darkness and excite us in time of peace. Ultimately, the Supper has been given to embody the Gospel in physical form.

C.S. Lewis has said, “The more heavenly minded we are the more, the greater earthly good we might do.” We need to be reminded and summoned to gaze upward. We are not serving the kingdom of this world. Our task is to fulfill Christ’s prayer that God’s kingdom come and that God’s will be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven. We strive, struggle, and serve for purposes consistent with God’s creation mandate (Genesis 1:27-31). We raise children, work, and toil to ensure that God’s glory is celebrated by all of creation. Plato once said that the “pursuit of transcendental ideals is the sure path toward a satisfying life.” Only when we gaze upward to God’s heavenly kingdom will we overcome our trials and find hope. Only when we gaze upward to the purposes and promises of God can we find encouragement and satisfaction. Let us gaze upwards!

_______________

Michael Phillips, Headmaster


[1] Laurie Adams, Italian Renaissance Art (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2001), 51.

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