News – September 23, 2022
Dear Members & Friends,
Despite climate evidence to the contrary, yesterday was the first day of Autumn. Ingathering is behind us, the new church year has begun, and summer excursions are in the photo albums.
I just returned from a wonderful trip – one that had been postponed for two years because of COVID. It was supposed to be a once-a-decade cruise to celebrate a birthday that ended in a ‘0’ but a pandemic delayed that specific observance.
As Conrad and I enjoyed the sights in our ‘Side with Love’ and ‘Rainbow Chalice’ ball caps, there was much to remind me of our church back in Houston. As Rev. Colin talked about his first week back, the theme for our worship services this year is “Roots and Branches.” On an ancient Roman street, a fig tree and an olive tree had been planted, with a grapevine wrapping about them. Roots secured and sustained in ancient soil and branches reaching toward the sky into today’s world.
In each new city, we would invariably find ourselves on an “O.A.B.C.” – Old And Beautiful Church - tour. Having studied Art History as an art major, and having gone to seminary, I actually seek out these types of tours. I find the skill of master artists awe-inspiring and the intermingled cultural and Biblical references fascinating.
Having previously appreciated such buildings and statues on an aesthetic and intellectual level, often in photographs, I was taken aback by the visceral reaction I had on this trip. I was fascinated by the exterior of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, currently the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church. Architect Antoni Gaudi combined Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms to begin a compelling showpiece in 1883. The work continues in Barcelona.
But it was once I was inside that my heart took over for my head. The Catalonian sun streamed through stained glass windows. Multi-colored bursts of light dappled the slender columns rising heavenward. I was transfixed. This is the effect I had learned the architects of so many Gothic cathedrals were going for, but for the first time felt. To be transported from the mundane into a space that lifted one up into the spiritual.
But even more than that, the most impactful thing I saw on our O.A.B.C. tours was Michelangelo’s Pietá, in St. Peter’s Basilica. I found myself walking back multiple times to look again at Mary holding the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion. The emotion resonating from an impeccably carved piece of Carrara marble was palpable, even through the bulletproof acrylic now protecting the masterpiece from vandals.
I suppose because of newsworthy events of the last several years, the statue represented more to me than the original two characters that Michelangelo was depicting in 1499. And I believe this is why it hit me harder than anticipated. As I looked, I saw mothers holding the bodies of their young, African-American sons murdered in our country. A true masterpiece transcends one original interpretation to powerfully speak to those who come to experience it. That’s what happened to me.
I’m excited to be back from my trip, excited to be back among you, and looking forward to a wonderful church year.
Rev. D. Scott Cooper
Assistant Minister of Congregational Life
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston