Ex Cathedra: The Outside Is Bigger

When I was a backpacking guide in Colorado, I remember one beautifully surprising trip. Our first day included a difficult 6 miles for the group up to base camp. After hundreds of calories of quesadillas and dehydrated refried beans, the group headed to bed to rest their bodies. I crawled into my hammock and passed out immediately dreaming of what the next day might include.

We all woke up with the sunshine, ate breakfast, and set out to explore the San Juan Wilderness that enveloped us. The only issue was: my co-guide and I had no idea where we were going.

We had the map.

We had the fancy ABC watches.

We had the emergency beacon in case we royally screwed up.

And we had a group of overly-excited 12-18 year-olds looking to us for guidance.

We set out to summit the highest peak in our proximity.

After hours of hiking, however….nothing. No scenic vista. No 360-degree panorama. Don’t get me wrong, it’s Colorado and everything in Colorado is absolutely breathtaking. But, when you are expecting a summit or a view and can’t find it and your group is tired and they all want to see something spectacular and there’s nothing. That’s frustrating!

Out of the corner of my, however, I saw it. The ground started to drop off. I sprinted over only to realize that the ‘summit’ we thought we were headed to was actually a massive precipice. The ground seemingly opened up swallowing all of our gazes whole. The mountain transfigured into a cliff with a glacial lake hundreds of feet below.

We could not contain our excitement as a primitive emotion bubbled up from within each of us. We let out our loudest shouts of joy at the wonder that had somewhat miraculously appeared before us.

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Humans have an odd propensity to find large, cavernous spaces mesmerizing…and rightfully so! Whenever we walk into an arena for a sporting event or a concert, we are taken aback by how big the space is. We walk into million dollar mansions and find ourselves perplexed by the enormity of the height of the vaulted ceilings. Back when cathedrals were commonplace, architects even took advantage of this tendency by creating larger and larger structures to evoke a sense of awe within worshippers.

When you stepped inside a cathedral, you knew right away

just because of how immense the space was

that where you stood

in some way

was sacred.

But, should we really feel this way? Should we undergo a sense of shock whenever we enter a place of great size? Ought we be awed by the structures we have created? Is it right to call these places ‘sacred?’

I write this post not as a criticism of those that find large, cavernous spaces awe-some or mesmerizing, but simply to remind us all of our place in this universe.

We already live in a cathedral.

The universe is a cathedral and our planet might best be considered a small piece of artwork on one of its walls. We are small, but also beautiful. The place we live in is, in some way, sacred.

We have become calloused to the enormity of the cathedral we already live in. We are no longer taken aback by the beauty around us. Does it not seem a little counter-intuitive that when we walk inside a “big” space that we are actually entering a smaller place than from where we came?

May we not forget the enormity of the cathedral we already inhabit. May we find beauty in the outside, in the trees, in the forest, in the stars, in the river, in the stones, in the sounds of the birds, in the dirt.

The outside will always be bigger than the inside no matter how ‘big’ we make the inside.

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