I dip my fingers in the blessed water, and make the sign of the cross while moving hurriedly into the church. I kneel. I make another sign of the cross and take a solemn seat in the stiff-backed pew, and begin to pray. I ask for wisdom, discernment and protection. I open my eyes, only to see more eyes…looking at me…watching me. I have become the attraction.
The cathedral culture is something noteworthy in itself. Outside a person can see a man painted silver, standing still and silently on a box, hoping a tourist finds him worthy of patronage. Later, a person could see a Dixieland band, or dancers, or any number of other performers.
But people I don’t regularly notice (or at least identify) are Catholics. When I stop into the cathedral, I join maybe 5 people sitting in pews, looking toward the sanctuary with reverence in their eyes. I see flashes from cameras, red lights from camcorders, and huddled groups..whispering, talking, laughing.
And then there’s me. I kneel. I pray. I do what Catholics do in God’s house. But I can’t help but feel I am ever an outcast in this place of worship. As a kid I was nervous by so many eyes on me when I spoke or sang in front of the congregation, but I knew they were supporting me…we were, after all, all there to give God his praise.
Gothic and unique
But I can’t say that now. I don’t know if all of us in the cathedral are giving praise. I would hope so…but I don’t know.
Cologne’s cathedral took 632 years to build, and its accomplishments are many. Its towers stand rooted in the landscape like the ancient redwoods of California’s north. Its stained glass is plentiful and beautiful. And its treasury holds relics and riches, like the bones and clothing of the Three Kings.
But if one strips away the vaulted ceilings, and gothic architecture; if one looks beyond the relics and golden chests; there is one thing left: a house of God. And the most important piece of a house of God, is in fact God himself.
A golden cross glows faintly.
I say to myself “Amen” and stand. I kneel once more toward the tabernacle, and move quickly toward the exit. I again take holy water, and make the sign of the cross. I pass the groups of homeless beggars outside the cathedral’s exits holding wilting paper cups filled with Kleingeld–small money–and I have to think…why am I the attraction? There is much more we should be seeing.