A Cathedral of Words



There is a pile of books next to my bed that bears a frightening resemblance to the leaning tower of Pisa. I have worried my way through more than one daydream that I will die one night under a pile of fabulous, and as-yet-unread, books.

I read voraciously and quickly, and yet the pile just seems to grow. I have books on spiritual formation, memoirs, commentaries, and a few titles digging into some hot-button theological topics. But nestled between all those good-for-you non-fiction covers, are my true loves: novels pressed into my hands by fellow story-junkies. I have been sighing over Marilynne Robinson, weeping my way through John Green, and struggling to turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened to the Count of Monte Cristo. And that’s just in the past few weeks.

Why did I recoil, then, when a writing mentor told me I should write fiction?

My first reaction was, “I don’t know how to write fiction.” But something in my protest didn’t quite ring true. The twist in my gut wasn’t just about a fear of not knowing how, it was a fear of not knowing why. Why would it be worth it to write stories? What good could that do? Why would one spend time writing stories rather than investing in writing which really mattered?

No sooner had my visceral objections snaked up into my consciousness than their hypocrisy glowered at me. Since when was propositional truth more true than narrative truth? Is God not the great Storyteller? Did Jesus not speak in parables? Were the great stories of the faithful Ancients not written to teach us?(Romans 15:4) Chastened, I stared into my lap.

Pardon me, ma’am, your worldview is showing.

Moments before my ride to the airport was scheduled to leave the writer’s retreat, I realized I hadn’t had a chance to peek into the Cathedral at the retreat center I had called home for the weekend. Dropping my bags onto the alabaster steps, I ran back inside. The atmosphere shifted as I entered the narthex. I slowed to a walk. My soul commanded my lungs to breathe slower, deeper. I paused before a martyred saint with uplifted eyes and distinctly etched fingernails. I was stilled.

Stepping into the cathedral’s shade, my eyes adjusted and swept up as the architecture demanded they do. For just a moment, I imagined the cathedral made out of tiny, tiny words: marble columns crafted of green-pink italics, wrought iron gates in a bolder font, etchings and statues shaped from minute glyphs under an artist’s painstaking hand. I imagined the sculptors themselves, bent in the worshipful dedication of a lifetime’s work. Each curlicue, each station, each beam etched in detail, in love, in reverence. Every square inch both an expression of their worship, and their call to me to join them. Vaults like colossal tusks stretched towards the ceiling, ivory fingers pointing towards the Most High and calling forth praise. Up, up, up, they called. Towards the light, they gestured, where stained glass saints told tales of faithfulness.

The cathedral of words spoke to the objections that had choked me earlier that day. Far more than being a functional place to worship, the cathedral was an expression of worship.

Perhaps, a voice whispered, there is as much value in fiction as there is in crafted architecture. Perhaps worship goes beyond usefulness. Perhaps God, the Creator himself, has made it such that beauty speaks, too.

Perhaps my love of story reflects something about being made in the image of the God who told stories. Perhaps my love of words reflects something of the one who is the Word. Perhaps all things beautiful point to the Beautiful One.

There is a reason we post pictures of sunsets, and cry over beautiful music. The breathtaking intricacy of babies’ toes, the intimacy of unfurling rosebuds, the majesty of flames—these things resonate in our souls like sonorous cello strings. They all resonate in the Creator too.

All truth is God’s truth, a wise friend once told me, and when we see beauty, it is God’s Beauty too. Even in the beauty of stories. And sometimes, especially there.