One fall afternoon, I watched as a mother quickly ushered a bride, brim with anticipation, from a gleaming white, classic convertible. The wind blew her veil in frenzied wisps before her face as she stepped beneath the looming gothic portal and majestic rose window of the great cathedral in Chartres, France. I approached the doors to enter, hearing the traditional wedding music commence in grand celebration on her approach toward the awaiting groom at the end of the long nave. Yet, the vestiges of a sweet symphony of colorful stained glass and stone tracery diverted my senses.
I had traveled by train from Paris for a singular purpose: to witness firsthand the intricate beauty of this 12th- and 13th- century glasswork featured in the windows among the magnificent edifices’ stone architecture. For hundreds of years, people have painstakingly maintained and preserved every aspect of this cathedral. Unable to fathom it all in one glance, I focused on the inventive artistic detail of each elaborately pieced scene and wondered at the vividness of the hand-decorated glass. Each pane glistened to speak its part in the stories of Christendom. The colors danced vibrantly in the falling light of the evening like a kaleidoscope before my eyes.
I desired to capture that moment, not merely with a camera, but with my heart and mind. I wanted to cherish this memory in gratitude.
Gratitude is the most fragile of virtues, easily shattered by callous indifference or lack of thanksgiving. Yet, we should not shield its sensitive and delicate nature but share it freely. Only the impacting light and exposure of other virtues permit the brilliance of gratitude’s luminosity to fully shine like glorious stained glass windows.
Leaving the interior of the cathedral that day, I paraded on the north and south sides among the unique, finger-like marches of buttressing that surrounded the nave and supported the weight of roof and apse. Ingeniously, the architects designed these structural elements as not to obscure, shade, or shadow the light required to expose the grand windows’ full majestic display.
As I came around the backside of the chapel to the south transept, I made a blessed discovery of a “maison du vitrail” (glass workshop) on an adjacent cobblestone street. Their craftsmanship reflected the same caliber, artistry, and technique as taught and inspired by the rousing windows that I had just observed inside the cathedral.
Eagerly, I stepped inside. A fragile wonderland unfolded before me. Each glass masterpiece hung in uncertain destiny.
Where would each of these works end up? Whose lives would they illuminate?
I selected a small glass panel composed of 20 intricate fragments, all hand-painted and fired to fuse with the glass, pieced and leaded. Redolent of the wedding I had just witnessed, the scene depicted a royal couple garbed in regal attire, mounted on horseback. Yet, while the horses pranced in a singular synchronized direction, the prince pointed to the north and the princess pointed to the south in an ironic testimony of Amos’s insight in the Old Testament: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”
With great care, the store merchant carefully packaged the glass between two layers of corrugated foam and placed it securely within a rigid box. I guarded that package thoroughly upon the train back to Paris, and I even hand-carried it upon the airplane for the long flight home to the United States.
However, I had learned from my visit to Chartres’ high gothic cathedral that one never appreciates the beauty of stained glass within the confines of a coddled and cosseted box.
At home, I framed and hung my treasured glass in our east bedroom window. Each day, as the sun sets, the colors’ brilliance fades. Yet, each day as the new morning light rises, the glass’s virtuosity awakens with a grand glow of intense hue.
This glass piece has become a constant reminder of allowing the sun to continually illuminate gratitude. Each of us may fitly frame thankfulness and appreciation as a source of vibrant luminance in our lives.
- In our current environment, interactions, and choices, which way will we travel? Where will we end up?
- Has “thank you” dwindled from our lips, or has it maintained an escalating necessity in our conversation with others?
- Do we determine to outstretch our excessive buttressing to shadow another or rather do we support each other and make a way for their light to shine more fully?
- Are we too busy looking for satisfaction in disagreement and pointing in different directions to walk together? Or, are we willing to kindly listen and discover peaceful connections with others’ perspectives and beliefs?
- Do we extort our disparities and keep others’ differences carefully confined and boxed away for protecting preservation in our hearts and minds? Or, do we permit light in our vulnerable relationships to capture the brightness and beauty of sharing similarities?
Only through the exposure and light of humility, patience, civility, kindness, mutual respect, faith, hope, and love may gratitude fully glow. If we will polish partiality and apathy from our eyes and begin to study the elaborate, complex, and detailed patterns of life’s windows, the light will illuminate the various scenes and scenarios of people interacting in their relationships. Their unique, inspiring stories unfold in a multitude of immense stained-glass panels in cathedrals as well as in the humble windows in apartments and homes. Yet, every story illuminates and magnifies relationships between human beings.
A dear friend came into our lives. Hers is an example of a gracious richness in gratitude. Where it is good to find acknowledgment and thankfulness for that which we generously receive, she chooses additionally to treasure and to illuminate appreciative value in the giver. From her example, I have learned that genuine gratitude roots and grows in recognizing our relationships in addition to recognizing our cherished goods. In expressing thankfulness for what each of us receives, let us remember to celebrate who comes to inspire and lift our lives with their illuminating gifts.
The timeless but delicate virtue of gratitude remains perpetually vivid and resplendent, never growing dim to those who choose to display it. Gratitude’s luminosity inspiringly transports joy to all who choose to look upon its illumination and live thankfully in admiration and respect.
How has gratitude illuminated your life and revealed value to your relationships?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section on this post.
May ours always be a season of celebrating gratitude.
R. Shannon Mock
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