Friday, February 3, 2012

Building Cathedrals

    I suppose I am, in a way, a devotee of Maurice de Sully (for those who don't know, de Sully was the architect of Notre Dame Cathedral), but my reference is a little different.  "Build Cathedrals" means more than the building itself--which is a good thing because I am not an architect or a construction worker. 

    A couple of years ago I was at a teaching conference where this story was told:
    When a great cathedral was being built, workers from all around the countryside came to help in the construction, and the little children of the area could be seen watching the amazing structure rise from the formerly bare ground.  One little boy, watching three stonemasons, asked the first man what he was doing. 
    Seeing that the boy was curious, the man answered, "I'm laying bricks.  You take the bricks and lay them on the foundation; then you take the trowel and add the mortar that holds them together to all the sides that touch other bricks.  That's how you lay bricks."
    The boy moved on to the next mason, and asked him what he was doing.  The man said, "I'm building a wall.  You take the bricks and lay them on the foundation; then you take the trowel and add the mortar that holds them together to all the sides that touch other bricks.  That's how you build a wall."  The little boy nodded and moved on.
    He watched the third man, doing the exact same job as the other two--buttering bricks with mortar, laying them on top of the rows of bricks already there in the same way the others were doing.  He watched for a while, and then asked the third man what he was doing.  The third man looked at him with shining eyes.  "I'm building a cathedral."
    A second story that shaped my motto is similar to the first.  I read it in a book called Keeping a Princess Heart in a Not-So-Fairytale World the same summer I went to that conference.
    When St. Peter's in London was being built, a skilled woodworker/artisan was hired to create the ceiling joists for the building.  He could have just carved several rough beams out of the logs he was given, but he spent hours and hours on the joists--intricately carving flowers, gargoyles, images, etc. into the beams.  He was asked why he had spent so much time and effort adding all this artistic beauty and "wasting" his skill, especially since the ceiling joists were all to be covered up--no one would ever see them.  After he heard that--the part of no one ever seeing his work--he answered simply, "God will."
    The third man in the first story, although he was completing the same task as the other two men, had a greater vision than the other two.  He saw the end result of his labor, not just the labor itself.
    The artisan, although he was "simply" supposed to carve rough-hewn beams for the joists, had a greater understanding of audience than most.  He understood that he was working for God, not men.
    So I began to look at my job in light of those two epiphanies.  My job is more than just laying bricks (i.e. teaching lessons on grammar, making sure the students understand the story plotline, struggling to comprehend Shakespeare's language, etc.) and building walls (i.e. giving tests and checking mastery); I am building cathedrals (i.e. having a vision of what these kids COULD be).  My Audience notices the intricate details of my work--those things I do all the time and never get praised for, and/or those things I do to make my teaching better that no one will ever see--and is pleased.
    Some days I build cathedrals.  Some days I just lay brick.  But all the time I must remember that my vision and audience must be greater than what I can really do or see.


  1. Thank you for the reminder, Amy.

    1. You're welcome, Payton! Thanks for reading my blog. I have to figure out how often I'm going to post, and what kinds of things I want to write about, but I think it will be fun to put my thoughts out there in the world...