Looking back I’m sure our artist-in-residence is the one to blame—I mean thank—for getting the idea that members of our congregation could construct a stained glass window for the chapel. That’s the long skinny window to the left of the door.
When she asked me if I thought we could do it, I said, “Sure! How hard could it be?” I’m pretty sure the Donner party said something similar.
Since we knew nothing about designing a window, we hired a professional artist. She came up with a gorgeous design that includes: spawning salmon, Mt. Rainier, a mighty river and the Holy Spirit as a descending dove. (I wanted to include a steaming cup of coffee but nobody went for that idea.)
Then since we knew nothing about actually cutting glass or constructing a window, we hired a professional stained glass Craftsman (who is also an artist) to instruct us. This is where Art meets Craft. You really can’t have one without the other.
So even though we were all very excited to start cutting glass, we had to wait while the Artist and the Craftsman worked out the placement of the leadlines. This is a Very Big Deal. The window design had to be structurally sound or we were doomed. Glass is much heavier than you would think. I found this out after trying to pick up sheets of glass as if they were pieces of binder paper.
Our instructor told us a tragic/hilarious story about a window she made for her mother-in-law. The beautiful window was in a perfect spot that got lots of sun. But that also meant it got lots of heat. Because the design was not structurally sound, when the lead got hot, it softened and the window folded in half. A wonderful but weak piece of art.
Isn’t that just like life? Our lives can look beautiful and perfect but if they are not constructed in a way that gives us strength, when the heat is on we melt down.
It’s like the story in Matthew 7:24-27 where the foolish builders put up their house on the sand.
“Sand? Sounds like a great idea—easy to build on, no permits and it looks terrific!”
But the rain came down, the floods arrived, the winds blew and that house fell—and great was its fall.
So Jesus says, “Build your lives on me and my teachings. The rain, floods and winds will still come, but you will endure.”
The window needed both beauty and strength. It’s just like how in the life of a Christian we have Faith and we have Works. We need them both. We can’t sit around all day talking and singing about how much we love Jesus while children starve and violence prevails right outside our doors. We need to do something about it. We need to act on our beliefs.
Yes, scripture writers contradict one another about this. But in the world of stained glass all agree: Art without good craftsmanship is not good art.
A stained glass window will endure only if the integrity of the design is strong because it’s not the lead that gives a window its strength—lead is soft. But why even use lead if it’s so soft?
Because what is so terrible about lead is exactly what makes it so wonderful: it’s flexible. That is why we are able to bend it around the wing of a dove or the tail of a salmon. Its flexibility allows it to expand and contract with the cycles of heat and cold. And that is how we need to be too—flexible; able to expand and contract with the cycles in our lives. We just need to be sure that our lives have a solid foundation.
So as we cut glass and snip lead, I ponder these questions: What/who helps me bear the weight of my life? How is my life constructed in a way that will withstand pressure and force? What gives my life stability?
These are not bad questions for all of us to ponder. I mean—how hard could it be?
Rev. Debra Jarvis is one of University Congregational’s covenant partners, and our writer-in-residence. During Catherine Foote’s sabbatical, Debra will alternate blogging duties on The Comma with Peter Ilgenfritz.