Stained GlassEssays, Featured — By Stephen Watson on July 23, 2012 at 6:59 am
There is a sort of real, deep spirituality you feel by walking into an old church. A genuinely old church, with stained glass, pews, statues, old crosses and, of course, an organ. A felt sort of holiness is in the place. A sense of God that is different from other places. The amazing part is that you do not have to try to feel it. No one else needs to be there. It’s just there.
I’m sitting in an old church right now, as you might have guessed. There is all sorts of stained glass in this place. Ancient stories that are common to people who frequent the church. Stories like Mary being told she was pregnant by the angel, St. Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata, and many other saints and stories I don’t recognize.
But there is one window that has caught my attention, one that for some reason resonates with me today. It’s a picture of the Prodigal Son kneeling by his Father, begging for forgiveness. It’s in the far back corner of the church, a fact which I find strangely fitting.
As I sit in this old church I wonder how many others, such as myself, have sat in this very spot looking at that window thinking similar thoughts to the ones I’m thinking. Sitting there I question, “Is this real? Is there really forgiveness like that? I’ve been begging for a while and I do not feel forgiven. Why can’t I have grace like that also?”
In looking at the window, I notice an aspect of it that I had not previously noticed. Whenever I’ve seen pictures of this scene or read the story I’ve always focused on the son. He’s the one I relate to. He’s the one who has gone away, who has been arrogant, selfish and rude. He’s the one who has blown it and then realized that he blew it. Those are all things I can relate to.
But the son is only one part of the scene I now realize. There is also the person who the son is kneeling before. There is the father.
I look into the father’s eyes and see something that I recognize but cannot quite name. I feel like I know it but I don’t understand it. And I am not sure if I have seen it before. In fact I know that I have not seen it before. Not because it hasn’t been there but because I haven’t looked up. The son in this glass and I have that in common, neither one of us have looked up.
I haven’t stopped begging long enough to see if I’ve been forgiven. I’ve never looked up to see what my Father is saying or what His face looks like. I’ve become overly comfortable in feeling unworthy. So comfortable that I forget to see if I was forgiven.
At that moment I recognize the look on the Father’s face. It’s a look of forgiveness but more than just ordinary forgiveness. It’s a look of love, a love that has already forgiven what I’m begging for, a love that wants His son to look up so that He can embrace him. How many others have looked at this window and realized that they need to look up? I wonder what they’ll see if they look up. Forgiveness? Grace? Acceptance? Wholeness? Love?
Finally, I stopped wondering and I looked up.
I looked up and saw a Father who pulled me in close and said nothing. An embrace that needed no words. His face showed that I was forgiven. His eyes showed that it was all forgotten. His tears showed that it was covered with grace. And His embrace showed that He just wanted me to be here. To stay with Him.
How many others looked at that window and realized that their Father just wanted them to be there?
Finally, I stopped wondering and was just there.
With a multitude beside me.