Several years ago I went to Spanish mass at Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine. At the time, I thought the cathedral was huge and kind of gaudy. Several months later I headed off to Europe for a study-abroad program and I found myself wandering through cathedral after cathedral, and suddenly the one in SLC seemed meager, almost cheap (though it is not). There were so many cathedrals, in so many countries. Some were so ornate that I just stood there, mouth open, stomach clamping down. Some were smaller, more humble. But they were all beautiful. Old and strong and tall. Inside were huge, heavy columns rising up like trunks of ancient trees. Those columns seemed to be simultaneously reaching to God and pushing him away, keeping him so far above and out of reach. I loved the heavy, unforgiving marble and the bleeding, suffering statues of Jesus; the agonized, heart-broken sculptures of the Virgin Mary. I loved the thick, dark pews. The loved the side chapels with their saints and the displays with the garb of past archbishops.
I wish I could go back. I want to run my hands over the cold stone and stand before the paintings of the Madonna. I want to sit and listen to mass read out in Latin. I want to watch men and women rise from their seats and step forward for the Eucharist. I want to wonder about that bread--is it literally turning into the body of Christ? I want to sing those unfamiliar hymns. I want to close my eyes and breathe in all those hundreds of years of tradition, of worship, of piety, of missteps, of seeking.
I never got tired of going to cathedrals: those grey, glacial fortresses of God.