Sacred Dissonance

Sao Bento Church and Monastery
The churches in Rio de Janeiro (as in other cities I’ve visited) are breathtakingly beautiful. But awe-inspiring as they are, they caused a dissonance as I sat and admired the gold trim, imported marble and hardwoods, sculptured statues, stained glass, and oil paintings.

The style and art of a church often depends on the level of prosperity in society at the time the church was being designed and built, as well as the relationship of the church to royalty at the time. Most of the churches we visited in Rio were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, a period of Portuguese royal rule.

Church of N.S. da Candelaria

But as I admired the splendor all around me, even felt calm and peaceful within the walls of the sanctuary, I also couldn’t help but wonder: if a major role of the church is charity, how can such opulence be accepted?

All I know is, I didn’t feel the presence of God any more so in the ornate churches than I do outside, surrounded by nature.

Trees outside Sao Bento Monastery

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4 Responses to Sacred Dissonance

  1. madisonwoods says:

    Good question, Jan, and one I've struggled with before, too. I feel the presence of God more, as a general rule, in Nature. But that's not to say that the opulence of precious metals and jewels doesn't also connect to the soul in some mystical way, too. Maybe there's a time and place for both experiences?


  2. cedaquilt says:

    Jan – this is Celia aka "Cedaquilt"Here is my take on "feeling the presence of God in nature": I subscribe to the "molecules are just rearranged, they never disappear" theory (OK, that is WAY simplified, but you know what I mean)- so I think that the reason we feel at peace and in the presence of God in nature is because at many times in our "lives" – we have BEEN nature. We have been part of the sea, part of the mountains, part of the the desert. As far as established churches go, yes, you have to look at them in an historical perspective. Even if the men at the top were corrupt, communities build them with love and devotion and there IS a human spirit – if not a divine one – to celebrate there. Frankly, I think God is good with all of it, if we keep moving towards enlightenment towards our fellow man.


  3. Jan Morrill says:

    Madison, I thin you're right–a time and place for both.And Celia, (do you quilt??) I love what you said about the communities building the churches with love and devotion!


  4. Greg Camp says:

    As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. Charity cannot be the only consideration of a church. Think about all the works of art that would not exist if communities had not spent their resources on beauty. There would be no Sistine Chapel ceiling, no Notre Dame cathedral, no music from J. S. Bach, and on and on.Or consider the statues on Easter Island. The islanders seemed to have made them, even while knowing that their world was doomed. Would they have survived longer if they had devoted their energies to mundane activities? Perhaps, but would their lives have been as meaningful?Human beings need a force that drives them toward excellence. I wonder if the insipid nature of postmodernist "culture" is caused by the lack of a unifying idea. I get the screaming horrors when I contemplate when will be remembered in generations to come about the previous and current centuries.


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