An Uplifting Trip to Cologne Cathedral
We were in Cologne, Germany, last week, teaching a Loving Relationships Training. After our work was done the one thing I wanted to see was the Cologne Cathedral. I have been there twice before. Once in 1987 and once in 2013. What drew me to it? Probably not the religion, but more in terms of the tremendous creative energy and fortitude that would enable us as humans to construct such a thing. The intricacies of the Medieval Gothic Cathedral almost boggle the mind when you ponder the actuality of the physical actions needed to put the thing together—all out of stone, painstakingly carved by hand, every piece, by the thousands and thousands.
I came upon this great structure, up from the underground parking lot, into the cold atmosphere of a bright and sunny mid January day, amidst the spaciousness of an adjacent and primarily empty plaza. My Love, Sondra Ray, and our friends from Cologne (or Köln, as they say in Germany)— Dina, Dirk and Ursina—were with me on this pilgrimage. The twin spires are the tallest of any Gothic Cathedral in the Northern Gothic period. The construction was begun in 1248 and went on for 225 years, when it came to a halt in 1473. For nearly 400 years it sat unfinished, the completion of the original design was not carried out. Not until the fervor of nineteenth century Romanticism, and love for the nostalgia for the Medieval grandeur, was the final end in sight for the Cathedral’s grand completion. Another 40 years of intense work, from 1840-1880, produced a final masterpiece according to the original plans.
A Vertical Tower of Light and Glorious Stone
The Gothic experience is one of verticality. It is also one of light, intense and colorful light. It is above all, an experience of the glory of stone. Praise be to God from whom all blessings flow, yet they flow in the magnificent facility of stone masons and artists who worked in unison for centuries to produce such a remarkable structure. Together they toiled, with great focus, honoring the highest and best aspirations of mankind. Going into the Cologne Cathedral, one enters a dark cold place, and is lifted up to the heights of light, color, verticality and stone. Stone is everywhere, in all forms and shapes. Stained glass windows are vignettes of glory. Color floods your heart. The vertical lines of the soaring columns take your eye up to the heavens, to burst forth in the intricacies of expansively ribbed vaults of holy and glorious space.
But alas. I am an artist. And the religious experience for me is in the artifacts left by the craftsmen and designers of the day. Yet, what is really Holy in the end? It is a relationship, says Jesus in A Course in Miracles. The Holy Spirit does not even require the grandeur of a structure like this at all. It is in a heart to heart relationship between I and Thou, as Martin Buber put it. It is a Presence of Divine Connection in a space beyond thought, in which I can “meet you” in silence and stillness, as my Teacher, Tara Singh, would put it.
The Adoration Of the Magi
Let us not forget, nor be mesmerized by the grandeur of the place, which I assure you, is mind blowing. How could human beings have constructed this? Yet, what is it for? This is always the final real question applied to any man-made structure or edifice. Within the glory of the Cologne Cathedral is housed the bones of the three kings who came to adore the Christ Child. The “King of Kings” was adored by the worldly Kings of old, for the purpose of making note of the regality of his message: “Love ye one another, as I have loved you.” They came to honor absolute Love, and to pay homage to the human being manifested in His God-Given Holiness to express this absolute Love.
In 1164, Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa took the relics of the Magi from the church of Saint Eustorgio in Milan and gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel. The Three Kings have since attracted a constant stream of pilgrims to Cologne. (Wikipedia—”Shrine of the Three Kings”)
Thousand come to be in the Presence of this Holy Relationship—but let’s not be fooled by the awesomeness of tooled gold reliquaries, soaring stone pinnacles, and brilliant jewels of colored glass and the shining spectrum of filtered light flooding into our hearts. We come to connect with the Christ in a place like this. And the only question of its effectiveness is—”Have we?” Have we come, like the three Magi, to adore? Are we living in the vibration of the Holy Relationship that the Christ represents in us?
One wonders how the Archbishop of Cologne treated the lowly laborers who toiled with blood and guts to hoist the tons of stone and mortar used to shape this architectural Nirvana? Would he have washed their feet? I would do well to remember them in my pilgrimage, while contemplating this glory in my inner ambulation.
The Hand of God at Work Here
One could stay stuck in the notion we have missed the point. These are “shrines” to the ego’s misplaced notions of religion as an “organization,” such as the Catholic Church and the Medieval power structures that oversaw their construction. Or we could see it differently—as a monument to the co-operation of not only the people who constructed it, but to the very holy action over time of 632 years to complete it. This action required incredible stamina, fortitude, and determination to see it through to the end. We seem to have built these glorious structures in the attempts to know God better, and to connect with God the Father, God the Mother in Mary, and know the Christ their Son—better—Who together bring absolute love to these planes of human existence.
The “Hand of God” is all over the Cologne Cathedral. But also all over us. Will we rise to receive this touch of the spirit in all of our everyday affairs? What good would it be to go to such a place, a structure of Glory to God in the Highest, and not receive the Hand of God upon us in our actual life, in our actual relationships?
Uplifted to Holy Relationships
The Cologne Cathedral reminded me we must soar to greater heights of the Heart. And this “structure” is within us, in our Holy relationships with people. Jesus in A Course in Miracles says, “The Holy Spirit’s temple is not a body, but a relationship.” (ACIM-T-Chapt.20, Section IV, ❡5) The physical structures we build to Glorify God are all well and good. They uplift us to the possibilities of incredible beauty, vision, co-operation and accomplishment. Yet the real “temple” is how we relate to one another in a Loving Way. Are we loving each other as the Christ loves us? Until we treat each other the way we think Christ is treating us with His absolute, unconditional Love, then we are missing the point altogether of the Cologne Cathedral and places like it.
We were with our friends in Cologne. They were the real “Cologne Cathedral” of our hearts at the Tajet Garden Spiritual Healing Center. We made contact with them, Muraliya and Dina, a mother and daughter team who sponsored us and own the Tajet Garden, and Dirk and Ursina, who gave us tremendous support in translation and practical everyday attendance.
Not in a structure will you find the essence of a cathedral. The root of that word means “seat.” A cathedral was a church that contained the “bishop’s seat.” And the purpose of that “seat” was not to “assert authority,” but to bring our Adoration of the Christ into each of our Relationships. This “sacred seat” renders all of them Holy. Who is on the “seat” in your Holy Heart? Is it a cathedral built of stone and magnificent glass windows, or is it a person—forgiven of all your judgments and prejudices—who holds out the possibility of a real sacred connection?
I put you guys on my “seat,” my readers, in the Cologne Cathedral of my heart. Write to me if you are touched by this possibility, and we will have the real “temple of the Holy Spirit” in our Relationship. Write me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
You may like a Giclee of “Jesus of Cologne” I painted in the Cologne LRT. That can be arranged.