From Heavenly Harmony

A friend of mine called me into his office (where the really cool speakers are) to show me this video. Take a gander at it and just try to keep your jaw from dropping.

I love music, but my math skills are sub-par at best. And while I understand the basics of harmony, chord structure, and pitch, I don’t think I will ever fully understand the science behind harmonics. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Because I can’t see all of the scientific principles at work and don’t know the terminology, I am free to enjoy it freely from a more spiritual perspective. I don’t know about you, but when I look at those perfect patterns emerge from nothing more than tones, I see the handiwork of God. The One who drew order out of chaos and created beauty from the void is such a craftsman that even the things we cannot see are perfectly formed and balanced. I like the idea of all these beautiful patterns, like the mandalas prized by practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism, floating around us every day, knitting our world together in a way we could never comprehend.

But unlike those beautiful works created through hours of painstaking labor, the designs made with salt happen almost instantaneously. And rather than decay or descend into chaos as the dial is turned higher, the patterns become more ornate and stunning. I’ve watched the video at least ten times, and I still gasp at some of the patterns that emerge.

John Dryden wrote one of my favorite poems called “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” in which he praises music, the force God used to call the world into being. The opening stanza reads:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high:
“Arise, ye more than dead!”
Then cold and hot and moist and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

Music—harmony, sound, tones, pitches—is how order emerged from “the heap of jarring atoms.” Dryden imagines it is what God used to build the “universal frame” of our world, and he might not be too far off base. Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” He called forth light, water, earth, sky, stars, birds, beasts, and man. I can’t help but imagine them coming together like the patterns in the video—order out of nothingness, called into being by the very voice of God.

The Almighty is present in everything. We just have to be ready and willing to see Him, even in the places we least expect. This was one of those places for me, and now that I’ve witnessed it, I know my God a little better. In some small way, I see Him, and I’m left clapping my hands like a child, overwhelmed by the revelation.

What do you think of this video? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Oh, and if you’d like to hear it with just the tones and vibrations rather than the lovely soundtrack, you can watch the video below. Beware, it’s super loud toward the end!

A Sublime Coalescence of Sound

My husband and I, because of our shared love of music, decided to splurge this year and purchase a package of six concert tickets from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra so we could enjoy some of our favorite pieces and perhaps discover a few new ones. Our first concert was a perfect starter as it featured selections from The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 9. As a trombone player who relishes powerful melodic lines and bass parts that are heavier than potato and knockwurst suppers, Wayne naturally adores Wagner (and Mahler…and pretty much anyone else who is of Germanic descent and writes music featuring brass instruments).  As a French horn player, I can enjoy chamber music as easily as opera, and I am often treated to a stunning performance by someone on my instrument at every performance I attend. However, I must say that I prefer the powerful and dramatic works of the romantic composers, and I especially love the ninth for its history and the political turmoil that played into its creation. (Check out this book I read if you’d like to learn more about it yourself!) We began the afternoon with a lovely supper at Cafe Intermezzo that involved a huge slice of peanut butter chocolate cake and espresso and ended with sweet harmony. It was a true delight!

Edgar Allan Poe

After a dinner of Jambalaya and Shrimp Etouffee at Front Page News, we headed to the Woodruff Arts Center for our second concert, which featured Nyx, a new composition by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Le Poème de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstacy, Symphony No. 4) by Alexander Scriabin. Both pieces are, as one would expect, marvelous. However, the reason I chose this particular concert was the third selection for the evening—The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov. I have always wanted to learn more about him as a composer, and I thought it was a bonus for a word nerd like myself to be introduced to him via a piece that came about because of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe of the same name. Having taught it before, I knew all about Poe’s use of onomatopoeia and other poetic devices to create the sounds of different types of bells and explore their symbolic meanings. It’s a poem that almost begs to be sung from the page, and I was excited to see how it would sound in the hands of a master like Rachmaninov.

Sergei Rachmaninov

Like the poem, the choral symphony, is composed of four parts, each of which feature the sound of a distinct type of bell–silver sleigh bells, golden wedding bells, loud alarm bells, and mournful iron bells. Notice they move from light and jovial to dark and morose, a true chronicle of the cradle to the grave. While Poe’s poem is the inspiration of this piece and though some of the same concepts are presented in it, the words in the libretto are wholly the composer’s. (If you would like to listen to each movement while reading the remainder of the blog, please feel free! I have also included the English translation of the words for you to explore.)

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Movement I—Allegro non ma troppo (The Silver Sleigh Bells)

This movement opens with a jaunty, crisp feel full of bells and other percussion, flute trills, and muted trumpet. (It honestly sounded like the inside of a snow globe might when you shake it.) The horns and other brass round out the introduction and then give way to the tenor soloist who enters faintly, his voice growing in volume, to tell us “The sleighs rush along in a line.” And then, oh mercy, an absolute brick wall of sound erupts when the entire choir joins him to tell the story of the silver sleigh bells! The chord they form is massive, rich as chocolate ganache, and I swear it blew my hair back even all the way in the balcony where are seats were. The movement then alternates between the gossamer opening to the more mellow section in which the soloist sings of the delight that follows in death when the “days of delusion” are over and we travel into the bliss of oblivion. Finally, he ends on a climactic note of triumph.

In the concluding bars, the orchestra gives the audience a taste of the sweet tranquility of that place by using long, fluid lines in the string section and light touches of flute and oboe to accent it like the delightful twinkling of the stars. The entire piece ends with a sort of rocking movement that’s hard to describe, but it gently lulled me back down from the peak, almost as if someone was rocking me to sleep. Filled with gorgeous similes, clever onomatopoetic words like “twinkling” and “flickering,” repetition, and personification, this movement is, at the risk of sounding cliche, magical.

Movement II—Lento (The Mellow Wedding Bells)

I love pieces of music that feature the viola, the most maligned of all stringed instruments. This one opens with them and eventually gives way to muted trumpets, cello, and then the string section as a whole recapturing the rocking feeling that the first movement ended with. It’s strangely mellow and pensive for a piece about a wedding, but I actually found it more moving because of this. After all, a wedding is not just a ceremony; it is the physical union of two people who are joined together in flesh and heart. It is a spiritual commitment as well as a physical one that we are never meant to break until death, so why not speak of it in terms of eternity? The words tell of the moon and “fairytale delights” the couple will soon enjoy as well as the “serenity of sweet dreams” they’ll share in the “harmony” of marriage. The soprano soloist in this is a perfect choice; her voice soars over the choir in an attempt to capture the thoughts of a bride who is listening to those bells waiting for her groom to arrive. In short, this movement captures the feeling of rapture that comes with true and all-encompassing love.

Movement III—Presto (The Loud Alarum Bells)

Movement three is the only one that doesn’t feature a solo—not that it needs one! If it is possible to capture cacophony in music, to replicate the feeling of chaos in sound, this is it. The piece opens much like movement one with flittering brass and strings, but the French horn enters with beautiful bell tones that the trumpets soon echo, and it builds from there. The alarm bells desperately warn people about the approaching fire that they cannot stop. Rachmaninov describes them in such human terms that he actually invokes the pathetic fallacy—they groan, beg for help, weep for mercy, and feel grief. Likewise, the fire expresses its desire to climb to the very reaches of the sky before it is extinguished. I love the placement of this movement after the sweet movement that symbolizes youth and the golden movement of marriage. After all, when does tragedy often strike? When we are least expecting it. It honestly made me think of Job 5:6-7, which reads:

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.

The contrast between the previous movement, which is actually rather intimate in nature, and the communal experience of chaos in this piece is striking. You feel as if you, too, are part of the scene–that your life, your home, and your very way of life are being threatened.

The ending measures are the most amazing of the entire portion. The chorus sings about waves of sound, the bells ringing and telling of the misfortune that is coming for them all. The waves are a fantastic choice symbolically speaking. After all, misfortune and good fortune do come in waves; they are both part of the natural ebb and flow of life. Also, the tide is a powerful force, one that cannot be controlled or contained. It is a fitting ending for a piece such as this.

Movement IV—Lento lugubre (The Mournful Iron Bells)

Oh, movement four! Be still my heart! I listened to this one with my hand wrapped around Wayne’s arm because I found it so moving. This is the funeral portion full of iron bells that tell of the death of one in the community. It opens with an oboe solo atop a palate of languid strings. (On a side note, I adore the oboe because, like the cello, it’s such an expressive, sensual instrument. It’s a perfect choice for this section.) The gentle sway of this piece when the bass soloist enters is reminiscent of a funeral march, a gentle walking on weary feet. It felt as if you were standing by watching the procession but are carried away with it, as if compelled to see where it ends—the grave.

Take a moment and re-read the most stunning lines of text in the entire piece:

In the belfry’s rusty cells, for the righteous and the unrighteous, it menacingly repeats a single thing: that there will be a stone on your heart, that your eyes will close in sleep.

I actually gasped when I read that section and heard it sung. The “stone” is speaks of is, of course, the tombstone, the one laid atop the grave. However, the image when paired with the booming voice of the soloist made it feel utterly ponderous. I could actually feel the weight of it pressing on my chest, as if I was experiencing a sort of death by proxy through the music.

It is Death personified ringing the mournful bell, swinging wildly and rejoicing over another brought into his grip. Those who hear run “from their pastimes” and weep knowing that such a bell will invariably ring for them in the fullness of time. However, Rachmaninov does not leave the entire piece with a negative mood because “at length” the bells proclaim “the peace of the grave.” The closing measures build into a peaceful postlude in the strings, harp, and clarinet and end on a glorious major chord that fades out into silence. (By the way, when you hear this live, there are moments where the orchestra and choir cut off, leaving the tones to fade and blend into the silence, and those moments are surreal. There is sound remaining though no one is producing it. Go hear it for yourself!)

Through this symphony, the listener can experience a wide range of emotions from rapt wonder and joy to panic and, eventually, peace. Rachmaninov masterfully leads listeners through them movement by movement, allowing them to experience something akin to the catharsis the ancient Greek dramatists sought. It combines the thoughts of Poe and one of his most musical poems with the methods of expression available to a musician, and becomes a sublime coalescence of sound.

What Kind of Tree Would You Be?

I guess, if this analogy holds up, I'm the raven.

I am an unapologetic nerd who loves following a trail of factual breadcrumbs until I reach a fresh baked loaf of knowledge, doubly so when it takes me through the Bible and secondary texts. Footnotes, sidenotes, notes that climb on rocks, Greek words, Hebrew words, even words…well, you get the idea.

I’ve been trying to read through the Old Testament as of late, which is informative in the extreme. However, keeping up with the prophets, the wars and occupations, and the kings in Judah and Israel can be more than a little daunting. (Especially when two of them have the same name but ruled different kingdoms at different times!) Therefore, every few days or so, I take a break and go on a sort of scriptural scavenger hunt. I start in the Bible or in a devotional work and start digging until I strike oil, metaphorically speaking. Monday of this week, I prayed over my Bible before I began, asking God to reveal something to me that He would have me learn. For some reason, I felt led to pull my copy of Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon off my shelf. (If you don’t have a copy of this amazing devotional, I highly suggest you get one ASAP. You can also read it for free on the Internet here.)

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

For October 24, he references Psalm 104:16, “The trees of the Lord are full of sap,” and discusses the correlation between sap, the mysterious life force of a tree, and the Holy Spirit, the source of a believer’s spiritual sustenance. In this devotional, Spurgeon writes, “Our root is Christ Jesus, and our life is hid in Him; this is the secret of the Lord.” The “sap” is what produces the Fruit of the Spirit as it is the outward manifestation of God’s grace in our lives.

Always a proponent of keeping things in context, I turned to Psalm 104 and read it in its entirety. It is a song of praise, one of many that can be found in this book. As a lover of literature, it appealed to me because of the gorgeous imagery and the many creative uses of figurative language it contained. For example, God is “clothed with honor and majesty” and “covers [Himself] with light as with a garment” (vv. 1-2). He is described as stretching “the heavens like a curtain” and walking “on the wings of the wind” (vv. 2,4). In essence, the entire psalm discusses the ways in which God designed everything, put all things in their places, and how He keeps everything from the seasons to the life cycle in check.

I didn't take the picture, but you get the idea.

That alone is cause for deep contemplation! Living in Georgia, I actually experience a change in the seasons. I am able to observe the transformation of the leaves, feel the bitter cold of winter (which I do not care for at all), and relish the rebirth that spring brings. Walking into work yesterday, I was struck by the thought that the sunrise I saw only came up and painted the sky a glorious shade of apricot because God instructed it to do so. The chill in the air was there because my heavenly Father set the change from summer to autumn in motion. Even the white vapor that was my breath moved in and out of my lungs because the Lord saw fit! How easily we take these things for granted, but when we take the time to focus on them, we begin to see just how mighty and generous our God truly is.

Not content with a spoonful of knowledge about the Lord, I dug a little more deeply.

My Bible has cross references for many of the verses printed in the margins, and I saw that verse twelve of this psalm could be correlated to Matthew 8:20. It reads:

Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’

That verse, in turn, led me to Luke 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 4:11.

Luke 2:7 reads:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

1 Corinthians 4:11 reads:

To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless.

All of this ties directly to Psalm 104 where I started my search. In it, the psalmist speaks of the multitude of ways in which God provides for His creations. Birds nest in the trees He has provided, the beasts roam the high hills, and even the cliffs are refuge for those designed to dwell there. However, Jesus Christ, God in man, was not afforded the same blessing as the beings who owed their very existence to Him. Instead, He who would become the Bread of Life was born in a stable and placed in a bin where grain was served to those beasts.

Likewise, Paul was often homeless and without “creature comforts” in the service of Christ. (This is poignant considering the fact that before he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul was a tent maker, a creator of beautiful dwellings.)

This truth revealed something to me, something I had heard a thousand times but never really grasped until this study. This world is not our home; we are  “in” it but not “of” it. Jesus Christ was, for lack of a better term, a “transient.” Everyone who follows Him—from Peter, Andrew, James, and John, those first four who chose to lay down their nets and become fishers of men, to believers today—must give themselves up and follow Him because He is our home.

I returned back to Psalm 104 and re-read it with my new appreciation for God’s creation as well as His mercy and grace, and I noticed that the second half of verse sixteen, which had been omitted from Spurgeon’s meditation was also worthy of inquiry. It reads:

The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted.

A Cedar Tree

I have run across references to “Cedars of Lebanon” many times in the Old Testament. They are mentioned during the building of temples, palaces, and the masts of ships. They are praised for their strength and beauty. (You can read about the many times they are mentioned in Scripture here.)

These amazing creations of God can grow more than one hundred feet tall and have a circumference of fifty feet. Cedar wood is fragrant, and it is both rot-resistant and knot-free. That’s why it was useful in construction and Solomon chose it as the framework of the temple he built as a dwelling place for the Lord.

Psalm 92:12 reads, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Think of it symbolically. As we grow spiritually and become more Christlike, we are like the cedar. Our lives become “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). Also, we are no longer susceptible to eternal decay or rot, for we are granted eternal life through Jesus. Likewise, what was once “knotted” in us because of sin is made perfect through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

As Charles Spurgeon said, Christ is our taproot, the source of our strength. Because of Him, no longer is the church simply a place built of hewn logs. Those who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of the Living God, we are those timbers. We are the church, the “cedars of Lebanon” Christ uses to build His kingdom, and because of that, He has a home in us and we in Him!

Lost at C

Alright boys and squirrels, this one is going to take some explanation.

I recently visited the High Museum here in Atlanta, and I walked around the corner to find the installation piece titled Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey. At first, the sheer size of it caught me off guard; it filled one of the larger spaces on the second floor of the museum by itself! However, despite its size, it contained very few elements. Unlike his other pieces, which were mixed media and contained everything from fishing line to glitter drenched construction paper and old photos, Windward Coast was stark by comparison. The description posted on the wall informed me that what I was looking at contained nothing more than “piano keys, a plaster bust, glitter, and a shell with sound.”

The description also informed viewers the intention of the piece, what it was meant to convey. (Yes, I am aware that what an author or artist intends to say is meaningless to discuss because we all experience art and come away with different interpretations. I’ll not argue that here as this piece is direct proof of that fact.) The title of Mr. Bailey’s entire collection was titled Memory as Medicine, and it was his attempt to connect with his immediate and distant past as a black man, a soul abruptly uprooted because of the evils of slavery. The plaster bust, glittering and black in the spotlight floats amid a huge “sea” of piano keys that are arranged to replicate moving water and crashing waves.

I had to admit as I looked at it a second, third, and fourth time that the piece was impressive. However, when I sat huddled in the corner to examine it and take notes, I was able to see the keys  at eye level. Some were tipped with plastic, others with something darker (perhaps bone or ivory), and black keys, those glorious half steps, were intermingled with white. It was then that I got to thinking about the pianos themselves–their guts lying on the floor. What kind of pianos had these keys come from? What kind of “lives” had they led?

Which sat in cold parlors or warm family rooms? How many of them proudly bore the family manger scene at Christmas? How many had the pleasure of enjoying two family members playing them together or been a part of a child’s musical education all the way from “Hot Cross Buns” to more challenging pieces? Had someone fallen in love near one or spent an hour in solace using it? How many had been given up willingly, and how many were sold out of desperation or ignorance as to their true value?

The more I thought about it, the more I saw a parallel between the pianos and the slave floating in them. They, too, were displaced, stripped of their meaning, value, and voice! That’s what bothered me the most about the piece–all the stories of pianos and the families who owned them floating in there that could no longer be told. Theirs were stories worthy of attention, too, and they had been cancelled out to create this installation.

I was planning on writing a free verse piece to mimic the chaos of the sea of keys, but the more I thought it over, I came to see that a fixed verse poem was more appropriate. To make something orderly out of something chaotic, to give meaning to something so disjointed, I would have to try something requiring rules.

I didn’t want to rhyme or be stuck by a meter, so I chose the challenge presented by the sestina. Please take a moment to read the link here if you’d like to know more about this form.

Essentially, the poet must choose six words and repeat them at the end of each line. I chose sea/see/C (homonyms, homophones, and homographs are fair game), keys, tone, master, wood/would, and sound. The first stanza is A,B,C,D,E,F. You then repeat that pattern, using the last word in one stanza as the first in the next. For example, if you look at stanza two, you’ll see that tone (my F word) is the end word of that new line. That stanza is ordered F,A,E,B,D,C, and so on and so forth it goes until all six stanza are complete.

The envoy, the three line stanza that closes a sestina, includes all six words in three lines. They do not have to be at the exact end, but you must use the B and E words in line one, the D and C words in line two, and the F and A words in line three. (However, some poets change that up and use the six words in whatever order they prefer).

It’s difficult because of the repeated words that create a sort of internal rhyme structure. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a solid start. I’ve not written a complete sestina on my own before this, so that’s progress!

Please read and comment. Let me know what you think!

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Lost at C

A Sestina Inspired After Viewing Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey

The gallery floor lies buried beneath a sea

of writhing, cacophonous keys.

In the distance, as if discarded by his master,

a slave’s head bobs without a sound

amid the endless waves of splintered wood.

His suffering sets the tone.


But I’m left longing for the tone

that sounds when striking middle C,

the note among all others that would

help me place my fingers on correct keys.

A familiar place, safe and sound

on the instrument I longed to master.


In how many homes was it the master,

the symbol of domesticity? In tones

of chestnut and mahogany, the sound

made by each was like the sea,

rhythmic as a metronome, as key

to the security of its home as the roof or the wood.


If not for this artistic creation before me, how many would

still remain in the hands of a master

who’d polish its surface and clean each key,

tune it to maintain those harmonious tones,

relish the marriage of hammer and string, and the delicate C

atop the eighty-eight orderly architects of sound?


Would someone open the lid to release the sound

and the family history locked within the wood?

Would a starving soul sit on its bench once again and see

that while time is something we can never master

we can preserve memory in the mind’s sepia tones

and in sacred objects like a piano, those that are key


to understand our parts in life’s symphony? From key

signature to coda, from downbeat to the sound

of the final fermata, our pasts set the tone

for all that was, that is, and that ever would

be. None of us live lives made from a master,

without uniqueness, our own variation in C.


Knowing this is key to what otherwise would

be a sound failure. One cannot master his past

by stripping another of his tone and using it to create the sea.

Through a Glass Darkly

It’s not in its final form yet by any means, but I wanted to get feedback from my baker’s dozen of readers about this piece. I’ve been slated to write an article for the February edition of In Touch Magazine, and this is what I pitched. The theme of the magazine is God’s beauty, and I said something that always struck me as beautiful is stained glass. Something about how the light shines through it and simply lights up a room has always had the ability to take my breath.

I visited a gorgeous episcopal cathedral in the area and took some photos. I also listened to the organist rehearse and sat in a pew taking notes and making observations. What you have below is the third draft of the article to date. I have also included the pictures you might like to see.

Please do not hesitate to leave me feedback here or via email. I am looking for any and all the help I can get!

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Through a Glass Darkly

At ten o’clock in the morning, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows fill the east side of the cathedral with kaleidoscopic brilliance. Everywhere I look, there are shades of scarlet, cobalt, gold, lavender, emerald, and aqua illuminating tiled floors and smoothly polished columns, gracing them with glittering embellishments. Standing in the midst of this radiance, the thought suddenly occurs to me that the sight I’m enjoying is what Jesus meant when He claimed the “stones will cry out” in worship should human lips ever fall silent (Luke 19:40).

I wander through the space, drinking it in and savoring the sights before me. Every windowpane in the expansive room tells a vivid story. In one, Jesus sits at the well speaking to the Samaritan woman, gesturing towards her earthen jar that cannot contain the living water He offers. In the next window, images of Christ as the Great Physician are featured. In one, the Messiah looks upward as three men lower a paralytic in need of healing through the roof, and in another He glances down with love at the woman suffering from hemorrhages whose faith assured her, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well” (Matt 9:21).

Nearby, Jesus works His many miracles. Standing in a boat with the waves curling around its bow, He rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Hush, be still” (Mark 4:39) as His disciples look up, their mouths agape. The same disbelief is evident in those who watch as He overrules death itself, summoning Lazarus from his tomb with the words, “Come forth” (John 11:44). However, the same countenance of power and limitless pity is turned upwards in supplication in the panel depicting His evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup that cannot pass from Him floats above His head, rays light connecting them inextricably together. In a smaller portion of the frame, Judas Iscariot plots with Roman guards, as if the two moments are happening simultaneously. In each of the twenty panels that tell the story of His life and ministry, Christ is beautiful and otherworldly in turquoise robes and crimson sash, a golden nimbus encircling His head as a sign of divinity.

For some reason, however, I’m drawn to the image of the annunciation repeatedly, lingering before it longer than I do others. In this panel, Mary, clad in pale shades of rose and teal, is a picture of tenderness and vulnerability, especially when contrasted with the angel hovering above her, his angular wings aflame. One of his hands rests above her forehead in comfort while the other is raised in blessing, the words “blessed art thou among women” suspended on his lips (Luke 1:28). Mary’s hands also speak volumes, for one is open upwards, as if she is questioning the truth of the message she’s receiving, while the other hovers over her stomach, already having accepted the proclamation and protecting the womb that will shelter the long-awaited Savior.

This is the moment in which both Mary’s future and ours were forever changed by the Father’s ultimate act of love. It is framed by diamonds of royal blue, silver arches, and buds of every primary color—all manner of rococo embellishments—as securely bound as a book. There is no plaque posted nearby to describe the scene to onlookers, yet it speaks to me as clearly as if the narrative were written on the wall. It is a lesson meant to be experienced with the eyes as well as the soul.

This clarity and enlightenment was what Abbot Suger, the twelfth century clergyman, had in mind when he began the renovation of Saint Denis, his abbey church near Paris. Suger was an advocate of anagogicus mos, or “The Upward Leading Method,” and believed that light was a divine force that could compel a person to transcend the material world and better understand the very nature of God. As a result, he incorporated flying buttresses, arches supporting the church’s soaring rooftop, which allowed for taller, thinner walls with increased space for windows. The combination of high ceilings and boundless light filtering through the colored glass drew the eyes of parishioners heavenward and made it possible for everyone regardless of gender or rank to experience the spiritual in a tangible way. Also, the windows served another purpose—to communicate God’s Word to parishioners who were illiterate. That is why some refer to stained glass windows as “The Poor Man’s Bible.”

Even now, in our modern world where structures hundreds of stories tall dominate the skyline and light can be manufactured, stained glass still maintains the power to captivate. Perhaps it’s because these breathtaking works bear the indelible fingerprints of God. The artisans whose skills are themselves gifts from the Father create their works with fire and iron using only sand, soda, limestone, salts, and oxides, none of which are manmade. Therefore, glass attests to the truth of Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

However, no matter how intricate the designs are, how accurate the depictions in these fragile works might be, or how long they were lovingly labored over by craftsmen, without one essential factor, they remain dull and lifeless. Without light, the first creation of the Almighty God, our works are left as half formed as Quasimodo, the famous hunchback of Notre Dame. And only God can provide the light, the divine illumination that can release the colors within the glass.

For the Christian, they are even more compelling because we recognize them as kindred spirits. Unlike darkness and light, the sky and seas, and all moving creatures, each of which was created when God simply said, “Let there be. . . ,” man was “formed” from the dust by the very hands of the Creator (Gen. 2:7). Of all His accomplishments, only we are made in the image of God and according to His likeness (Gen 1:26), and for this reason, we are the most precious of all His handiwork. Because we received the breath of life and were made to commune with our Father, we see God most clearly in that which is lovely. Also, we desire to create beautiful things in order to obtain a deeper understanding of who He is.

Likewise, we understand that, just like the window is strengthened and perfected by heat and pressure, we too are purified through trials in order to be made more Christlike (see Mal. 3:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; Rom 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). And like that gorgeous glass, the light of Christ shines through us, compelling the lost in such a way that they can no longer turn aside from the truth of Christ. As the apostle Paul said of believers:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord. . . .For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. . . .For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4: 5-7, 11).

One thing, however, is certain. As beautiful as stained glass might be, it also reveals just how poor our power to present the full glory of God is and how limited our ability to fully understand Him remains while we reside in the flesh. In truth, our many-hued masterpieces undoubtedly appear to God like a child’s finger painting does to an adoring parent, paltry when compared to the extent of His skill but all the more valuable for their sincerity.

Yet, praise be to God, there will come a day when we no longer need rely on crude tools and materials for understanding because we will be in the presence of the Master Craftsman. For now, “we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. . . .For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now [we] know in part; but then [we] shall know even as [we are] also known” (KJV, 1 Cor. 13: 9-10, 12).