But I didn't know that when I first started going. I found it absolutely unimpressive in almost every way. But I wasn't seeing it, not truly, and I was looking for God as people always have been: in the grand, the important, and the powerful. This is what happened:
I live in Wheaton but work downtown just a few blocks from a Catholic church. They offer a daily mass and last year I decided to try to attend a couple times a week on my lunch break if I could.
This church, Assumption Catholic Church for those interested, is somewhat small and really unimpressive from the outside. It's in desperate need of repair too with noisy heaters that kick on during mass and what I think must be Chicago's worst insulation as you often feel the need to keep coat, scarf, and gloves on for the duration of your visit.
Upon first entering the church, you'll find it fairly gaudy. There are a lot of different stylistic elements at play, most of them dissonant and obviously accumulated over time and therefore mismatched. It's as if over the years this church kept acquiring knick-knacks from other places, throwing them all in the sanctuary, and thinking that a "more is better" approach was the supreme philosophy of decoration. There are the dozen statues lining both sides of the church, most of different sizes so that each saint is disproportionately large or small, which of course irritates me to no end. I love order! I love uniformity! And the statues were the first thing that put me off when I walked in the door.
So just exactly how do you meet God here? The same way you meet God anywhere else: through the people, through prayer, through art, through your own experiences, through the Eucharist. It took me about a month to start appreciating this place. I started to savor the intimacy and isolation the small congregation afforded and the warmth of my wool scarf defending my neck against the cold. The statues...I didn't notice as much. And I gained a great admiration for the lector who came daily to do the readings and especially for the priest who walked, bowed, leaned, or stood as needed - all of which you could plainly see caused him physical pain. He was performing his duties and his calling and still does. And as far as I know, he's never shown any signs of complaint or failed to do what any other priest would.
I think it was Therese of Lisieux who intentionally sat next to the other nuns who were the cruelest to her. No one was anything but nice to me here but the idea of that sort of 'quiet embrace of the difficult and the unpleasant' was a lot of help for me. I got over my Sam-ness by intentionally sitting near the people who didn't shower and by staring intently at the gaudy baby Jesus with a crown so big that its proportionate weight, it can be assumed, would crush the head of any other infant.
And the art! Despite the cacophony of styles, the art in this church is gorgeous and numerous. Beautiful stained glass windows, portraits of the Apostles, paintings of events throughout Christian history, and a beautiful 10' stone mosaic of the Last Supper behind the altar. I'm sure the priest thinks I'm a little weird myself because during mass I'll just stare directly overhead at the ceiling. Its hand-painted, classically-styled scenes are really captivating - and that's coming from someone who often "doesn't get art".