“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind,” wrote C.S. Lewis, long before 2020.
At a time of reflection, the world is desperately seeking hope for its crushed spirits, and longing for light to find new ways of living in 2021. Despite a disastrous year, it’s time to gather inspiration and go forward. We can remember the blessings — those incredible sunsets, sunrises and the mysteries of skies; the testimonies of so many health care angels; neighbors who stepped up to deliver home-cooked meals to their communities as they looked out for each other. Each of us can ask, what now is my purpose and my source of awe and inspiration?
At home and afar, I’ve been spiritually and creatively inspired by snapshots of past traveling: the rugged majesty in Utah’s national parks, stunning northern lights in Alaska, and rhythmic symphonies of the California coast.
But way up there, at the top of the list, is being in cathedrals with stained glass windows —wondering how they came to be, what inspired the Egyptians to make glass art for jewelry by melting white sand, sodium and lime, then adding rocks to produce magnificent colors: copper for red, iron for green and yellow, cobalt for blue, and manganese for violet. And the discovery, early in the Christian era, that lead oxide would achieve transparency in the glass pieces. Most importantly, that human hands around the world continue to arrange these exquisite mosaics of beauty.
Since the 12th century, stained glass has beautifully communicated the biblical story of both the Old Testament and New Testament to the poor, illiterate worshipper as well as the educated believer. In sacred silence, stained glass offers the love and hope of Jesus Christ to all.
Decades ago, on a day with gloomy skies, I was one of 13 million annual visitors to the dramatic Gothic architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The aged, stone exterior is a stark contrast to the brilliant stained glass inside. You can leave darkness at the door and know that you’re welcomed into the light.
As I sat quietly amid flickering candlelight, the colors and shapes seemed to reflect the diverse qualities of humanity, its cultures, struggles, talents, losses. It’s easy to see parallels to the Master who made us and can lovingly restore us to a new life. There’s a sense of eternity and comfort, knowing you’re just one who has received God’s grace, but that there’s more than enough grace for millions more. And, that we all matter. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross observed: “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if their light is from within.”
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris’ history reveals some interesting highlights and miracles of its endurance:
- It survived the 1790s French Revolution when anti-Christian crowds raged to destroy it for its Catholic power. Priests and clergy were put on trial, and public worship became illegal; 500 year-old statues were beheaded. After the Reign of Terror, France’s violent separation of church and state was official and, in the 19th century, the cathedral was restored to its former glory.
- As cultures battled over the cathedral, Victor Hugo, in 1831, passionately portrayed the building as a character in the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame and won hearts to save it.
- In 2019, fire burned the world’s most famous cathedral for a reported 15 hours, and it nearly collapsed. Faithful ones gathered and sang hymns, and a heroic priest daringly rescued the Holy Crown. Eventually, scientists determined that the cathedral’s 113 stained glass windows survived the horrific damage.
- Amazingly, the smallest residents, 200,000 European bees installed in 2013, were thought to have perished in the fire but survived. When they sensed danger, they remained by their hives, gorging on honey and working to protect their queen.
Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” With renewed hope from our Creator, may we be inspired to seek better things ahead. Welcome 2021!
Phawnda Moore is author of Lettering from A to Z. She lives in Northern California, where she coordinates international mail art exchanges. Find her on Facebook at Calligraphy & Design by Phawnda or Instagram at phawnda.moore.