Last night, I celebrated the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified at my apartment and gave Eucharist to a brother in Gnosis. What struck me during the service, in light of recent happenings, were the words spoken during the introductory rites where we declare ourselves united as one sacred communion where, together with the Most High, we raise a temple of living stones from the myriad with which we have been blessed, bothe light and dark.
It may seem odd for many to consider the blessings of the negative things in our lives. Often, we don’t want to acknowledge them and more often we deny them even when they’re standing right under our noses. Yet, the more we push them away, the more sinister they become — yet they can be transformed.
In 2001 I was living in Dresden, Germany; the site of one of the most devastating events of the 20th Century. While I was there, I would frequently pass construction being done on the Frauenkirche which was utterly destroyed during the Allied Firebombings, which you can read about in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”.
The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, was built between 1726 and 1743 — beginning in the year that Sir Isaac Newton published his thesis on gravity and ending with the year in which Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was born. The period of the Enlightenment represented the largely free and unchecked progress of humanity however, this progress and spirit of emancipation would similarly carry many darks events: the Battle of Nations, the Napoleanic Wars, the French Revolution and the start of the Industrial Age.
The Church stood as a symbol of beauty and pride for the people of Dresden who, like us, marveled at the beauty of their amazing city and didn’t address the darker elements of their society. Of these darker elements would be the slow and gradual rise of nationalistic pride and antisemitism; culminating in the events which would mark the rise of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
In 1945, two centuries after the beginning of construction of this great edifice, the Allied Forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city over the course of two days during which the entire city and a quarter of a million people were killed. After the end of the war, Dresden became the center of the East German Republic and all religious edifices that were destroyed lay fallow, including the Frauenkirche.
In 1989, after the reunification of Germany, a 14-member group of enthusiasts headed by Ludwig Güttler, a noted Dresden musician, formed a Citizens’ Initiative that would lead to rebuilding this symbol of the people of Dresden. This initiative would not only lead to the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, but also the Great Synagogue of Dresden which was likewise destroyed. The foundation stone of the Frauenkirche was laid in 1994, the crypt was completed in 1996 and the inner cupola in 2000.
Sadly, I never got to see the completion and opening of the cathedral but what struck me as I walked past it regularly was how the architects incorporated the original stones – now blackened from years of acid rain as well as the original incendiary bombings in 1945 – on top of new, beautiful pink limestone.
Years later, reflecting on this, I’m led to wonder how we can come to terms with our own dark stones in the midst of our light. It’s not easy and I don’t have any answers, but when reflecting on this building, which incorporates a history of reason gone awry and turned violent alongside communal efforts out of love, I think we owe it to ourselves to consider the delicate balance and impact all our actions and words have not only for how they will impact others and ourselves now, but how they will survive us and influence others in the future.