A few years ago, Eric and I were graciously invited to travel with some dear friends on the trip of a lifetime to Paris. I’ll never forget the day that we visited the renown Notre Dame Cathedral. To visit one of the world’s greatest treasures in person, after seeing it in pictures and movies, was an incredibly surreal experience. The quintessential heart of the city, Notre Dame, towers majestically from the Ile de la Cite, the small island rising right out of the waters of the middle of the stunning Seine River. Like most things in Europe, the history of how something came to be in centuries past, is equally as alluring as the beauty it offers today, and the story of Notre Dame is an amazing one! I could not wrap my head around some of the incredible details that make up the history of the beloved church.
Historians tell us that all across Europe, and particularly in France, within three centuries, from 1050 to 1350, the building process of countless Cathedrals began, as offerings and monuments to the glory of God. More stone was cut in three centuries in France than in any period in history, including the building of the Pyramids in Egypt. The epic process of creating, designing, gathering materials and workers to construct these grand Cathedrals was daunting. Cathedral building was driven by religious figures or institutions, but it was truly a community effort, employing laborers, quarrymen, plasterers, mortar-makers, stone-cutters, masons, blacksmiths, carpenters, glass makers, craftsmen, and artisans.
During our trip to France, I couldn’t believe how often we stood gazing at the beauty and wonder of these magnificent cathedrals and heard that many of these stunning works of architecture had taken centuries to build. The construction of the breathtaking Notre-Dame Cathedral took almost 200 years. I remember as we heard those words, thinking that’s a concept that I have no reference for, living in modern-day America,
To put that in perspective, imagine that a man, perhaps a French stone cutter, began working on the building of the vast Notre Dame Cathedral in the year 1160. This stone-cutter would get up, and go to work every day, diligently and masterfully carving stone, making bricks for the foundation. The building of the Cathedral would take so long, that even if he worked each and every single day of his entire life, helping to build the great Cathedral at Notre Dame, he’d never live to see it finished.
And neither would his son… or his grandson…. or his great-grandson, or his great-great-grandson.
In fact, it’s possible that it took six or seven generations of French stone-cutters to see the great Cathedral unveiled as a finished work.
Can you even imagine? What must it be like to give your entire life to work that you will never see finished? What must it be like to work with your hands to build something that, not only your own generation but several more generations to come, will never see brought to fruition? What silent prayers offered from the lips of those that spent each day… every day… their entire lives, with no reward of a job well done, no visible progress to bring motivation for yet another day…no “show and tell” moment to ever affirm this life-long work?
This fall, I gathered a group of dear friends to go through “Go and Tell No One.” At our first Bible Study, we began to talk about what it would look like, over the next six weeks, to let the words of Jesus, draw us to remember and rest in the secret and the sacred with Him. I shared how my prayers behind writing the Bible Study and gathering to learn these words of Jesus together, were to let the Lord draw our hearts towards learning how to live in a way that we begin to truly treasure the secret, hidden, unseen moments with Jesus, more than anything else. At that first gathering, my friend Elizabeth shared that it reminded her of a book she’d been given once. The author wrote that in ancient Europe, many of the intricate, and vast Cathedrals had secret areas built into them, hidden on the inside, in the back, and often underneath the outer structures, that no one would ever see…
Her words brought back memories of seeing some of those incredible Cathedrals in person, and the Lord began shaping some beautiful prayers in the quietness of my heart. I’ve spent the last few months researching and learning about the building of the Great Cathedrals, knowing the Lord was continuing to draw my heart to some deep and profound, life-changing truths.
The every-day laborers and artisans of the Great Cathedrals anonymously gave their lives to the secret, hidden beauty they created, simply as a gift… simply an offering, given in great humility and love, to God.
They worked, not for the satisfaction of a job well done…not for their names to be recognized or attached to the greatness of what they were building. It was a slow, steady lifetime of work, that would never be applauded or recognized. They’d probably never see their work finished and on display for all to see, but along the way, they found ways to offer beauty and hidden treasure, even if no one would ever see or know. Their hands crafted beauty, often kept secret, for the glory of God and God alone.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Many of the hidden areas that held secret, intricate carvings and masterfully honed stonework, artistically laid in the foundations of these great Cathedrals were not even discovered until they were restored, only in recent years.
And even though we have a wealth of information about the process and types of skilled artisans who masterfully crafted their work into each aspect of building the Great Cathedrals, in many of the books, the artists, craftsmen and laborers are simply named as "unknown."
We can learn from the astounding wisdom and beauty of the Cathedral laborers, and their secret offerings, generations ago.
I can’t help thinking…
the gift and calling of Motherhood can look a lot like building a great Cathedral.
Days and days of labor-intensive work…stone cutting, brick-building, anonymous work…a lifetime of laying the foundation for a masterpiece we’ll never see fully finished. This day-after-day name-less work can feel like a lot like the offering of an unknown artisan, giving a lifetime to building something beautiful, in the secret.
Whether it is yet another load in the never-ending pile of laundry, one more book to read aloud in the pile of bedtime stories, one more hard, tearful conversation, one more prayer offered in silence, one more deep breath, as the journey continues another day, and another season begins.
What if today, we borrowed the wisdom of generations past, and positioned our hearts and our minds, to purposefully giving our lives to building secret Cathedrals…
What if we set our hands to work, and we learned to be content, even in knowing that we’ll never see our work fully finished? And what if our hearts began to shift, and we were able to work, and work diligently, and take great delight in the treasure that comes with building a Cathedral… in secret?
Yes, much of our day to day work will be about building the things that are visible, and functional…some, even beautiful.
But what if the things that become most beautiful in our own eyes are the hidden, secret areas that no one else will see, but the One who sees it all…?
Lord, remind us that just like a stone-cutter picking up his tools, giving his life to a work that he might never see finished, and that no one might ever even see, that we too, can pick up our tools today, and set our hands to build You something beautiful.
Each whispered prayer, each teachable moment, each tear wiped away…all the times, we gather them up in our arms, or let them go through prayerful tears, are days well-spent as an offering to You.
If it takes a lifetime of ordinary days filled with never-ending, unseen work to build a Great Cathedral, then maybe the same can be true for us.
Maybe the work of following Christ, of learning His character, of shaping and building His great love and humility into the foundations of our own lives, our own homes, our own families, and of the little lives we’ve been entrusted to shepherd, looks a lot like the life-long, secret work of building a Great Cathedral…
Lord, today would You teach our hands how to build something beautiful, in the secret withyou, and for You, and would You teach our hearts to call it beautiful…?
Teach our eyes, that even if we never get to look upon the finished masterpiece, we can still learn to see the beauty in the gift of building it withyou, and that we can trust You, with what You’ve entrusted to us…
Set a fire within us to move right past those voices we sometimes hear, and right past the work we can see with our eyes, to the hidden, and far side of the Cathedral to build something for Your eyes only….
Lord, we want to build You a cathedral today.
In fact, we want to give our lives to it.
But we are often shallow in our efforts, and sometimes we forget, and our eyes begin to search for progress, and our ears begin to listen for affirmation. When we find ourselves there in the quiet today, Lord will You remind us that You are right there with us…
In those secret, sacred places that no eye will ever see…maybe our own eyes will never see….may we remember, that’s often when we most clearly hear you say, “I’m withyou…”
Lord, would you give us hearts that long to build Cathedrals?
Not the famous ones, where people stand in line to take pictures….not the ones we recognize from the photographs. Not the ones we can even see at all…
Lord, open our eyes to see how You make all things, even invisible things, beautiful…
Would You draw our hearts and hands to a work that will take our whole lives, and we’ll still never really see it finished. Would You give us strength for the work and joy for the journey, and a holy contentment as Your eyes only, will see the offering?
Lord, as we remember and rest in the secret and sacred withyou,
may we give You a secret offering,
and build You the most beautiful Cathedral that no one’s ever seen….
In honor of all the amazing, beautiful women giving their lives to building Great Cathedrals in the Secret and the Sacred, with Jesus. Happy Mother’s Day.
For more information on studying the words of Jesus, that invite us to remember and rest in the secret and the sacred, check out the six-week Bible Study, "Go and Tell No One."