Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Our Lord in the Attic
I'll never forget the day that my wife, Mother, sister and I went on an expedition in Amsterdam to find an off-the-beaten-path tourist attraction known as "Our Lord in the Attic." The only remaining "clandestine church" in Amsterdam, "Our Lord in The Attic" is a typical canal house designated by its narrow rooms and multi-floor design. The attic, however, displays an ornate and lovely cathedral. The Catholics, banned from worship in Amsterdam after the Reformation, met secretly in attic cathedrals. Witnessing this truly unexpected marvel of architecture and beauty was one of the highlights of our trip to Amsterdam.
It was the walk through Amsterdam's infamous red light district, off of which "Our Lord in the Attic" sits, that made this trip singularly unique. I mean it's not often that you have the chance to walk down a street flanked with hash houses and brothels with the three most sainted women in your life. Filling the uncomfortable role of having to distract your Mother from noticing hardcore sex shops is not what typical sonship requires. Polite hash refusals are not what you expect to hear from your wife. Witnessing these naive women marvel as they stood before a brothel that boasted window shopping for prostitutes was something I would've never imagined. It was the most surreal moment of my life.
Like a divorcee trying to avoid her ex, I embarassingly shuffled my "girls" through all the debauchery as quickly as I could. We finally made it to the other side, and anxiously entered the museum. Still reeling from the barrage of images, we walked ourselves through each narrow room and up each steep stairway. It was a nice place, but a bit boring and uninspiring. By the time we reached the third floor I was ready to move on to a real exhibit, like the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum. Why were we waisting our time touring this boring little place? And to think all the junk we had to pass just to get there!
Our steepest climb came as we worked our way to the fourth floor, the attic. The stairs seemed to go straight up to the ceiling. At the apex, we entered a room so surprising and magnificent that it almost made me forget all that had come before. The attic revealed a miniature cathedral the likes of which I had never seen. The ornate carvings, marble columns and intricate paintings that filled this room were spectacular. I was immediately moved by the holiness of this place. To think that persecuted people sought refuge in this little slice of heaven was sobering and moving.
We stayed for a while, soaking in the complete otherness of this magical monument. We didn't talk much. Words would have only cluttered such a pristine moment. Finally we whispered our goodbyes and navigated the narrow, stair lined path to the outside world. I felt like I was dreaming.
Back on the street I thought of the two worlds I'd just experienced. One full of carnality and hedonism and the other so serene and holy. I was saddened by the fact that these two worlds existed in such close proximity to each other, but never overlapped. The church, though no longer facing the threat of persecution by reformers, still met in secret, fleeing a wholly different kind of threat. Perhaps the worst place for our Lord to be during times of religious freedom is in the attic.
Many churches could probably change their street address to "attic." Instead of proclaiming "our Lord in the open", or "our Lord in the neighborhood", or "our Lord on the street", most churches keep "our Lord in the sanctuary", or "our Lord in the fellowship hall", or "our Lord in the prayer room". Thankfully God didn't take this approach. Instead, he sent our Lord to our world so that our soul might find freedom. Our Lord can't afford to be in the attic any longer. He was never intended to be there in the first place.