Light of God

by James Conley


The history of our species is a story of the struggle to understand what it is to be human—what consciousness is, and what it means to have a soul. Although there may be no right answers to the question, some efforts have endured the test of time and provide a pathway toward understanding. 

Walking into a cathedral is to experience the long efforts made to help people get in touch with their humanity. A cathedral simultaneously embraces the body, emotion, and intellect, and almost instantly orients a person to a perspective about one’s place in the universe, regardless of religious belief. To enter a church, mosque, or cathedral is a moving experience and calls to mind the first principle of being human—to perceive the world:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 

Vision dominates human perception and chasing the light is one of the ways we seek rich experiences. We are drawn to the beautiful and majestic, an—by design—religious buildings overwhelm with visual stimulation. Although grand commercial towers, imposing public spaces, and massive performance venues have attempted to imitate the experience, nothing quite compares to the timeless intensity of an exemplar of God’s house because secular spaces cannot compare to the rich beauty of a religious place. “The house of God” is intended to give an inkling of heaven—peace, tranquility, and beauty. Grand secular buildings never compare, in part because they don’t have the dozens of centuries of effort and refinement that a church represents, and in part because their purpose is not to inspire tranquility, but labor.

The Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine de Rennes is a remarkable place of peace. Like so many religious structures, it has been in a state of evolution over an incredibly long time. Located adjacent to the Parc du Thabor, the site dates back to the 14th century and has been an abbey, cathedral, and church. The darkness of the interior serves to make the light streaming through the windows even more intense as it plays across the walls and highlights ancient artwork.

The body, emotion, and intellect—gathered in an individual, they are the home of the soul. Each being a strong component of what it is to be human, it’s rare to have an experience which engages them all. But stopping by an ancient place like this church is an easy way to get in touch with one’s soul.