“Originality consists in returning to the origin.”
– Antoni Gaudí
I hadn’t heard of Antoni Gaudí before spring of 2004 when I first visited Barcelona, but you can’t miss him once you’re there. Of the many works this master architect designed, his pièce de résistance is surely the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia located in the heart of Barcelona, punctuating the city’s skyline with its incomplete towers and huge cranes continuously at work. Construction started on the Sagrada Familia in 1882, and is slated to be finished in 2026, 144 years later. When asked if it worried Gaudí that construction was taking so long, it is said that he responded, “My client is not in a hurry.” Who was this infinitely patient client? God. His client was God.
As I’ve reflected on my more recent visit to the cathedral in January, at least two things keep coming back to me. The first: the building is Gaudí’s own unique offering to the Kingdom of God. It calls to mind the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet in Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13). “She did what she could”, Jesus said. A devout Catholic, Gaudí’s heart and soul poured into every last detail of this psalm carved from stone for over 40 years, and he knew it wouldn’t be completed before he died so he spent years constructing detailed models and plans to guide the building’s realization through to completion, knowing he wouldn’t ever see it finished (sound familiar, Moses?). He eschewed greater notoriety, large commissions, and even his own personal appearance in favor of his work on it. He drew his inspiration and his joy from nature and scripture, channeling it back to God as a pure offering of his own soul. I’ve seen hundreds of places of worship all over the world, and none have struck me quite like La Sagrada Familia. It’s singular, authentic and holy. Gaudí had a vision, and knew it was given to him to realize as a gift back to the Creator, and the origin of the vision. He did what he could.
The second takeaway is that God’s truth is written into everything. A geometrician more than an architect, Gaudí loved the patterns and gorgeous ratios he discovered occurring around him in nature and how they functioned so beautifully to guide and enhance the wild flow of life through it. Every hyperboloid is replete with meaning. He thought of trees as buildings themselves, saying they know just where to sprout their branches and balance themselves out, so that’s how he designed the vaults in the nave. It’s not so random, this nature around us. When I walk through the building, and I see the truth of God’s beautiful geometry built into nature, then transposed by “God’s Architect” into stone towers and stained glass windows, the harmony of God’s truth is astounding. It all fits together, like it was always meant to. Like all Ikea modules are supposed to. The originality and universality of God’s truth breathes new air into my lungs which often choke on recycled thought, imitation philosophy, and incongruous, easy answers.
Perhaps where God is calling you to offer yourself isn’t an artistic vision that will span three centuries, cost hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, and require the efforts of thousands of people. Perhaps it is a call to simply love someone that only you (maybe not even the one you are loving) will ever know about. But that is just as important in God’s eyes as a huge monument made of stone. When I think of this building, I will think of it as a reminder to offer all that I am, everything God wrote into me, back into service to Him, because he made me how I am on purpose. And I pray I will remember to keep my eyes open to all around me, looking for God and his truth in everything I see. God’s vision for our lives is what we need to ask for, and it is our journey, our offering, and our joy to walk humbly with Him in its revelation.