This blog post was guest-written by Conrad Sharps.
The Cathedral of Siena, Italy.
Once I led a group of pilgrims on a tour of Italy. In Siena we stood in amazement for several minutes, trying to absorb the sheer majesty of the Cathedral of Siena (Italian: Duomo di Siena). It takes that long to allow your eyes to go up and down the seemingly acres of beautiful white and black marble laid in a breathtaking pattern.
Given time to explore, I walked the length and width of the cathedral, enjoying the art, the majesty, and the opportunity for personal meditation. Wanting to conclude our visit by stopping by the Cathedral bookstore, I started racing back diagonally across the nave. But I never made it. Something caught my eye near the western end of the Cathedral.
Several feet above the floor stood a very bright lamp, and underneath it was a man on his knees. I made my way toward him to resolve my curiosity. He was a stone mason working on the marble floor.
I thought it interesting, in this most significant and majestic house of worship built more than 800 years ago, that a stone mason still knelt with simple chisel and hammer to refurbish the marble floor. Centuries have come and gone, and yet his labors resembled those who first built the church.
I stood and watched him for several minutes, mesmerized by his patience and commitment to detail. But what really struck me was his posture. He went from kneeling on two knees, to kneeling on his knees and elbows several times: matching color, measuring, cutting and cementing small pieces of stone into place. Not only did his posture resemble that of prayer, his resolution and commitment seemed to me to be a prayer enacted.
This is how the house of God is built. It is built and sustained on our knees in prayer: piece-by-piece, soul-by-soul, chiseled and integrated with discernment and love into what no human hand can accomplish without the help of God. As disciples, we are to invest our lives, our efforts, our resources, and our leadership in the creation of a church that reveals God’s kingdom.
Our work in its truest spiritual form should be that of prayer enacted. As the Psalmist writes: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker…” (Psalm 95:6)
Like the faithful before us, let us humble ourselves before God, seeking first his face, and then withholding nothing from our labors. Centuries may have come and gone, but this is still how the Church of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom it represents is built.
The Rev. Dr. Conrad Sharps
is Senior Pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama; a member of our Board of Trustees; and an alum (MDiv ’85) of Louisville Seminary.