Bob Duggan, an art critic, wrote recently that the beautiful Michelango frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are being damaged; with most of it coming from the dust millions of visitors bring in each year. This is hurting the fragile paintings and something must be done. One of the solutions they are looking at is having visitors walk through decontamination devices before entering the chapel. This should reduce the crowd and the dust that gets on the precious masterpeices.
Duggan has another solution, a virtual tour, which already exists and can be found here: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/index_sistina_en.htm . Perhaps, he says, visitors should be limited to this virtual access of the abbey. In this way the dust of the visitors cease to be an issue. He notes the chapel was created for the Pope to contemplate the last judgement at his leisure. With the virtual tour anyone can do as only the Pope could do so many centuries ago.
I like architecture and I believe the idea that the space we are in shapes us. It is true. We have public spaces like Wal-Mart or the courtroom or a sports stadium. We have private spaces like our home, or our bedroom, or even our car. We don’t act the same in these spaces. Each space calls for a different kind of behavior. We act differently at Wal-Mart than we do at home. We act differently at a football game than we do say in a congressional hearing. Our spaces inform us in how we act, think, and feel.
We have sacred spaces too. We have memorials, cemeteries, monuments, and the church. These places are sacred spaces. We have a certain way we act in these places as well; usually quiet and reverent and worshipful. Our church meets in a former skating rink that the YMCA has converted into a kid’s center. Every week we set up “church,” this sacred space to worship God. We have the band, the seats, the communion tables, and the like. It is all geared to make a sacred space for God, to inform us this is a place on Sunday mornings to lift God above every other name.
Somehow, a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel doesn’t quite match up to actually being there.
And like the virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel taking place of actually being there; we are also seeing a virtual world created for church people to go to as well. Many churches today provide a worship service on the web. I find it interesting that the engineers of these sites do their best to make it seem you are entering this sacred space. You walk through a door and you take a virtual seat as you watch the worship service and message, and presumably participate as well.
But I have to believe that, just like you miss the real thing by not seeing the Sistine Chapel in person, you are missing something “real” by attending church online. You are missing the beauty and the detail that only the human eye can see. Sorry, the human eye is still better than an HD lens, even at age 42! In worship, you miss the true sense of space and time and the swelling of worshipping the awe of God the sacred space is creating. Am I against the cyber worship? No! I listen to sermons online myself. I just can’t believe that being a personal witness in a sacred place has the same effect on a person watching a worship service from a screen miles away.