I hope you have had a good summer, and found at least some time for rest and relaxation.
The highlight of my summer was our holiday in Barcelona, a city that seems to have everything: art, culture, an excellent public transport system and beautiful beaches. The weather was hot and sunny, but with a gentle breeze and enough shade to make it comfortable, and the evenings were warm enough to eat outside every night. We came home refreshed in body, mind and spirit and several pounds heavier.
One of the highlights was a visit to the Church of La Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family, designed by Antoni Gaudi. I had seen pictures and knew it to be an ornate and eccentric building, covered in quirky pinnacles with strange tops; I’d always assumed that this was the work of an artist imposing fanciful ideas in an impractical way. How wrong I was. Gaudi had designed the whole building as an expression of his Christian faith.
The church has 4 façades, only two of which are yet complete. The Nativity Façade is a celebration of creation, covered in exuberant carved plant forms including a whole cypress tree. Set into this richness are sculpted scenes from the nativity story, linking the Creation to the New Creation in Jesus. The sculptures are lifelike and joyful; the shepherds even have a little dog. Opposite this is the Passion Façade, showing the trial and crucifixion of Christ. Here the structure is stark, echoing bones and stretched sinews; the statues are harsh; the tone is severe in keeping with the subject.
With all this on the outside – and there is more to come, as the other two façades and the towers are completed – I wondered what on earth we would find on the inside. To my astonishment, it was really simple. There are no statues, apart from a crucifix over the altar, and no side chapels. The space is flooded with coloured light from the abstract stained glass, while plain columns lift the eyes upwards. While the outside of the building tells the stories, the inside is a place for dwelling in the glory of God.
Reflecting on this afterwards, it struck me that this building stands as a metaphor for discipleship. The outward expression of our discipleship is the way we live in the world, the way we celebrate creation and honour suffering through our lives and actions. For this to be sustained, we also need the inward expression of discipleship, making space in our activity to dwell in the presence of God, letting God’s light flood into us, lifting our eyes and hearts in wonder, love and praise.
The autumn brings us many opportunities for thanksgiving and for service. May you find the balance that brings you closer to God.
These two façades are there to tell the great story of the Christian faith.