Hey, you made it! I'm sorry I'm a little late. Los geht's! (Let's go!) A quick refresher while we head to a quieter part of town. Here are some of the buildings we saw yesterday - in lower resolution! (Their sharp luminosity is obviously too much for the common human eye to process.)
Right, I'm taking you to my favourite church building, here, in Vienna. It's a little off the well-known tourist track, lying in the oldest part of town, Vindobona (a former Roman military camp).
The church building we are going to is arguably the oldest in Vienna. It dates back to 740, though it too has been altered and modified over the years due to fire, war and local demolitions. Following the destruction of the Roman camp, the central part of Vienna (as we now know it) sprang up around it. It's not too far from the hustle and bustle of central Vienna, in fact, it's only a 9 minute walk from Stefansdom (according to Google maps). Despite its proximity, it's sadly largely overlooked. You'll see why in a moment.
We are now rounding the final corner. There in front of us stands Ruprechtskirche (St. Rupert's Church).
It's not much to look at really. If St. Peter's is Stefansdom's country cousin, this is more the elderly relative everyone loves but, sadly, few visit.
I was first struck by its seeming insignificance. To the left and to right of the building there are bars and restaurants about 4 paces away from the church's front door. It's as though modern life is crowding out its existence, softening its edges in familiar more 'earthy' appetites, taming and training the boundaries of quotidian life to overlook its presence. It's like trying to put a dog coat on a lion. It's a foolish and futile effort. The fierce feline may be familiarised in your own eyes for a little while, but more fool you if you forget what kind of an animal you're dealing with. Anyway, I digress.
Where was I? Oh yes, I was struck by its seeming insignificance. It's a plain, brown, old building.
It doesn't possess the intricate masonry work found on other church buildings, neither their large, domed roofs; symbolic gargoyles; detailed relief work; nor their valiant stories of origin. It's a plain, brown, old building.
That is, until you go inside.
These three windows are the first things to greet you as you walk in. I laughed. It's so unexpectedly beautiful.
I walked down the aisle between the wooden pews, complete with wide, wooden kneelers, and out to the sides. The second thing to strike me about Ruprechtskirche is its significance. I followed the light as it shone through the window and danced on the cold, stonework, utterly transforming it, while also accentuating all of its natural features.
It set the stonework on fire.
Here, insignificance is significant. The insignificant is robed in vivifying light, becoming more itself. And, the small, 100 person capacity space is transfigured.
The third thing to strike me about this place is the sense of settled peace I encountered as I walked in. I breathed out, my shoulders lowered, and I sensed the immediate presence of God.
The Lord was so present, I scooched along one of the pews and I sat there until the building closed. I watched the steady light of the candle in front of me as I meditated upon Jesus and praised Him (I wish I did this more - - I'm not usually one to 'pray and tell'!) As I prayed, the Spirit brought to mind all of those who preceded me and my visit that day. To think, this place has served as a meeting place for Christians for over a millennia. Just think what they encountered in their lives: hardship, losses, plague, fires, devastation, and yet they did not give up meeting. Their eyes were fixed on a better, heavenly City. This small church building is a but finite fixed structure pointing to a better, permanent dwelling. But more than that, the seeming outwardly insignificance of this place reveals the premium God places on the inner being, the hearts of all.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
"I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 17:10).
If Jesus walked into my heart today, I wonder what he'd find. A life consumed and beautified by the life of his light? Or a heart that is "worried and upset about many things" (Luke 10:41)? There's a usually a co-mingling of these two realities within us. We justify worry, fear, anxiety and control by thinking there is no other option. It's just life! We start with the Spirit before slowly sliding into deceptive self-sufficiency. I see this in myself all to easily. And I want rid of it.
As I sat there and reflected on the steady light of this single candle, the Spirit also reminded me of Jesus' parable of the 10 virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). (If you just clicked because you wanted to see a pretty church, apologies!) 10 women, 10 lamps, all waiting for the one bridegroom. When he arrives, the feast begins! Five of these women had the wisdom to bring extra oil, while the others didn't. Five lamps went out. Five kept burning. The five without went off to buy more oil; but, during their absence, the bridegroom arrived. The five wise women are welcomed in to the banquet, after which the door is firmly closed. The others are too late. If you think the time spent hanging around at friend's weddings between the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception is intolerably long, this was longer. They even fell asleep!
Jesus told this parable to share what the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven would be like. When Jesus returns to the earth, will he find watchful, waiting, burning faith?
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" (Matt 25:13).
On this, one commentary says:
Those are the truly wise or foolish that are so in the affairs of their souls. Many have a lamp of profession in their hands, but have not, in their hearts, sound knowledge and settled resolution, which are needed to carry them through the services and trials of the present state. Their hearts are not stored with holy dispositions, by the new-creating Spirit of God.
How wise are we in the affairs of our souls?
Dallas Willard (I know, I can't help it), penned these insightful words:
The formation of the soul - the character it has taken on through life - is seen in the thoughts, feelings, social relations, bodily behaviours and choices that the person has or makes. In most cases, people are not in harmony within themselves, much less so with truth and with God. Their habitual condition is one of conflict, and they act other than how they themselves intend or regard as wise... Some conservative and evangelical churches still sometimes talk about saving the soul, but even this is much less the case than it used to be. And once the soul is saved it is usually treated as needing no further attention.
Does your soul need attention? I know mine does. It requires habitual attention to ensure that my lamp keeps burning in eager and alert expectation of Christ's return.
Like Ruprechtskirche, the temple of God, my body, isn't much to look at. It too is plain and brown (and getting older!), but it is filled with the imperishable light of Christ's life by his Spirit through his word (John 1:4; Romans 8:11;1 Peter 1:23).
In every [wo/]man there are rays of light, stronger or feebler, in greater or lesser darkness. In every [wo/] man there is a power to see the light, and open his [/her] soul to it, and the more [s/]he has it still to crave for more. This going forth of the soul to God, is the seeking for life. The Word is the going forth of God to the soul. He is life. In the feeling after, there is finding. The moral struggle is the moral strength. The eye that seeks for light cannot seek in vain. The life was and is the light of men. (Charles Ellicott.)
Where do you look for power to feed your soul? The Word is the going forth of God to the soul... We are embodied souls, and so the character of our souls is expressed in all areas and dimensions of our lives. We can't neglect to nourish it.
Anyway, I only wanted to share a few pictures! So there we go, for these reasons (and more) Ruprechtskirche is my favourite church building in Vienna. As the timeless sage, Mary Poppins, says, 'a cover is not the book.' But those pages do require special attention. I think I've mixed my metaphors sufficiently for one day!
LG aus Vienna x
Slow down, you crazy child You're so ambitious for a juvenile But then if you're so smart, then tell me Why are you still so afraid?
Billy Joel, Vienna Waits For You.