Posted by: Shanna Germain | 07/13/2009

Pg. 104: What’s Been Given


Candles lit at the Cologne Cathedral.


I’ve never been a religious person. I feel about religion the way I feel about many things — believe what you like, worship in the ways that bring you joy or contentment or peace, and let everyone else do the same.

I think there are any number of reasons for my lack of religion: upbringing, a scientific mind, an independent and critical nature, a severe dislike for anything that asks me to follow without question. And I won’t even get into the various wars, killings, humanity-quelling laws, soul-crushing guilt, and the lack of educational programs that have occurred in the name of religious belief systems. (And, yes, I know I’m talking mostly about major and traditional religions here, and I’m aware there are many alternative belief-systems out there, many of which are not harmful to humanity or the earth or individuals.).

On the other hand, I cannot (and don’t want to) ignore the good things that religion has brought to the world. Especially in terms of the arts. Music, of course: Not just traditional gospels, but some of the most beautiful classical music was commissioned for the church. Much of Mozart’s work, for example, was paid for by the church. And then there are the paintings and drawings and other artworks. Leonardo is a perfect example; in fact, the money he earned by working for the church allowed him the time and energy to further explore the arts (although, it also, in some ways hampered him, since the church frowned upon the dissection of human cadavers, a practice that guided much of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings).



The stained glass windows as shot from inside the Cathedral.


Then there are the structures of the churches themselves. The stained glass artists, the builders, the sculptors, the furniture-makers, the tailors… all of the craftsmen who were somehow employed, commissioned or otherwise supported by religion.

And writing, too, of course. Back when printing was painstakingly hand-done and expensive, religious organizations were often the only ones to have written records, scrolls, books… anything with the printed word. Religion is full of stories, fables, hymns. The Bible boasts some of what, I believe, is the best poetry in the world. The Book of Psalms is probably the most well-known, but just look at how many current and historical poets have been influenced by the Song of Songs…

I’m thinking about this a lot as I traverse Cologne. It is a city of churches — grand, ornate, fixtures that tower over the landscape as well as small, snug, stonework structures that fit into a forgotten corner — and the influence of the religions on the arts, the culture, the architecture and the mind-set of the city is everywhere. I don’t know enough about the current-day state of religion here in Germany and/or Cologne to comment on it, but it seems to me there’s something wonderful about the mix of art and science, humanity and steel, belief and memory.

Even now, as I write this, church bells have begun ringing all over the city, marking the hour, connecting time and space, bringing the past into the future, and filling the air with the glorious reminder that light and dark are always, inexorably, symbiotically connected.

Far and fast, s.



The view of the Cathedral from the Rhine, on one of the few sunny days so far.


“Until the sun spreads, and the shadows flee, go around; liken yourself, my beloved, to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds, on distant mountains.” ~From the Song of Songs




  1. Well said. Despite the multitude of horrible things to ever come from organized religion….. there’s a million and one wonderful and beautiful things that have been created because of it.

    But sometimes the good doesn’t outweigh the bad, and that is saddening.

  2. I have a love/hate relationship with organized religion. While I agree that they did support and perform some amazing things – I still cannot forget that whole “well if they don’t believe they must be heathens, lets torch the place in the name of the lord” type crap or some of the other things.

    The Cathedral is beautiuful, no matter what goes on inside, it’s still just a building.

    Hey Shanna my dear, did you find any plain veggies yet?!?!!

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