Paul Gomez enjoys the color and light in stained glass and that “someone has dedicated a portion of their time to help others understand and admire the story of God’s love for us.”
I remember the first stained glass window I ever saw. I was four years old just starting Kindergarten at a Lutheran school in downtown Las Vegas, NV.
The work was a 30 feet high window displaying the resurrection story with vibrant colors and shapes. This window was special because it became my preliminary understanding of who Jesus Christ was and what he did for me.
Before I could read music or interpret scripture, I learned about God’s love through this art of visual storytelling – much like the people of the church during the Middle Ages. I spent hours staring at that window during chapel on Wednesday mornings and singing in choir after school. The sight of Jesus waltzing out of the tomb and glorifying creation became a pillar of my faith and spiritual journey.
You’ve probably seen extravagant stained glass masterpieces at some point in your life. Much like preaching the word or performing a piece of music, stained glass is a celebrated art that requires years of practice to master. It’s a sort of spiritual discipline when you look at it like that because someone has dedicated a portion of their time to help others understand and admire the story of God’s love for us.
This artistry serves as the perfect medium to mimic the presence of the Holy Spirit by combining our understanding of the natural world and the mystery of our faith into a tangible object through the perfect union of three elements: light, color and story.
Light drew people to churches in the Middle Ages to gather in fellowship and in worship. Before electricity, the central cathedral of a town was the epicenter where learning and sharing would take place. Churches evolved from holding prayer in cold dark cellars to celebrating the glories of God in bright, mighty fortresses.
Color opens our eyes and minds to an immersive medium in which the drawn stories of the Bible come to life. Before printers, coloring a piece of paper was not a financially viable option for most churches, so seeing color in man-made media was and still is visually appealing to society.
Storytelling was captured in this art form by illustrating snippets from biblical stories without ever having to learn how to read. Like myself, many people came to recognize these images as their basic understanding of the humanity of Jesus and the people of God we hear about in sermons.
It’s the combination of these three ordinary components that set the stage for an intimate encounter with God. But there’s more to this marvel than just looks. What inspires me about stained glass is the feel, literally.
There’s some kind of sensation you get if you run your fingers across the jewel-like quality of the windows. Impurities in the metals, bubbles in the cooled glass, and variations in the thickness of the cut panes contribute to the singularity of each pane. As a child, this taught me that though many pieces may not share the same feel, shape or color they somehow fit into a jig-saw masterpiece.
As Christians today we can learn from the craftspeople who constructed these magnum opi to God. They knew that a symbol of holiness through diversity was waiting to be assembled through difficult work and deliberation.
There are plenty of modern spaces of worship in urban and rural areas that don’t have fancy stained glass – don’t get me wrong, God lives there too. But for me, hearing an ancient pipe organ lead centuries-old hymns below historic monuments just places me at the foot of God and reminds me how meek I am.
The next time you get a chance to worship in a sacred space furnished with stained glass, do so. Take the time to appreciate the labor of love driven by people who have a gift in materializing their faith.
~ Paul Gomez is the Manager, Hispanic/Latino Seeker Communications at United Methodist Communications. He hails from Las Vegas, NV and currently lives in Nashville, TN. Rethink Church shares stories of how United Methodists establish community and share hope.