Tuesday, January 27, 2015


It took a while for Bob to convince me that we should take a trip between my last day of school and Christmas so that he could check another state off his States List, and even after I agreed, I ribbed him a lot for making me spend my holiday season in--of all places--Oklahoma (with a little Arkansas and Texas thrown in for good measure).

However, I have to confess that I loved our trip. Every time we add another state to our list, we realize that those who think they have to travel thousands of miles to find something worth their time are missing out on the richness of domestic travel.

English writer and theologian G. K. Chesterton noted that "The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." I'm pretty sure he was talking about our trip to Oklahoma, which to me was definitely a foreign land.

Each time we crossed a state border on this trip, I had the appropriate song ready and waiting on my Spotify app. For Oklahoma, it just had to be this one (Fast forward to about 50 seconds):

Oklahoma also helped me to discover the truth of another great theologian's words: "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware"  (Martin Buber, Austrian-Israeli Jewish philosopher).

Like every state we've ever visited, Oklahoma was full of surprises, "secret destinations" just waiting for us to discover them. Our very first stop in Oklahoma City was one of those: St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.
If ever there were a brave church, this is it.

St. Paul's, built in a Norman Gothic architectural style, held its first service in 1904. On April 19, 1995, the huge explosion that blew apart the Murrah Federal Building just two blocks away caused extensive damage to the church, including breaking many of its stained glass windows, destroying its organ, fracturing the Celtic cross on top of the building, lifting the roof partly off its moorings, and splaying the walls.

Nevertheless, immediately after the bombing, the church became a triage site, provided food for rescue workers and then clean-up crews, and served as a much-needed spiritual touchstone for downtown Oklahoma City.

It took two years for the basic restoration. and five more for the project to be fully completed at a price of $7.5 million.
During the years of repair, the church was able to raze some adjoining structures to make way for additional offices, and in the end, the cathedral complex was better than it had been before the bombing.

We entered the church courtyard through the "Thanksgiving Gate" and checked in at the office:
. . . before making our way to the cathedral. We entered a dimly lit room with a gabled roof supported by wooden beams.

We were told that although the damage to the cathedral was quite extensive, nothing in the front beyond the wood railing was harmed, including the intricate altar, pulpit, and baptismal font that are carved from Carrera marble
The two irreplaceable Tiffany stained-glass windows behind the altar miraculously escaped damage in the explosion:

The organ, which was at the end of the chapel nearest the explosion, was destroyed. A beautiful new organ has since been installed:

I don't know what the original windows looked like, but some of the broken ones were replaced with these stunning windows depicting the Creation:

 A new window in the west alcove, designed to look like a dreamcatcher, honors Oklahoma's first saint, David Pendleton Oakerhater, a Cheyenne Indian:
The beautiful new stained glass windows include depictions of Christ's birth and resurrection:
Joseph and Mary also get their own windows. I particularly like Joseph carrying some lilies, typically the symbol of purity carried by Mary:

And the apostles stand nearby, each with a symbol that identifies who he is:

Somehow I only got ten of the eleven apostles (assuming Judas Iscariot is not included).
Of all the hidden gems in this church, however, my favorite were the mosaics and marble panels in the columbarium, which is a new vocabulary word for me. A columbarium is a sepulchral vault for holding cremated remains, and is usually a place for meditation and reflection. At St. Paul's, it is an outdoor covered walkway lined with beautiful art, and it seems especially appropriate to have this place of peace in a spot that witnessed such violence.

I would love to have this mural on my patio wall:

The marble murals lining the walk illustrate various virtues:

The courtyard also includes a labyrinth to be used for further meditation:
The patterns on a nearby Celtic cross are very similar to the labyrinth, echoing the feeling of peace that permeates this remarkable, phoenix-like church and its grounds.


  1. Ok, I'm truly impressed! Beautiful stained glass, and you'd have to fight me for that Tree of Life mural if it ever came available for use on patios.

  2. Ok - lahoma - as we entered the state and you started blasting that over your IPhone I couldn't help but laugh. I've never been less excited to visit a place in my life, but it was very worth a visit. I wish we'd had more time. I quite liked Oklahoma City and I loved Norman. Love your quotes a bout travel.

  3. It is amazing to see how this community lived into the resurrection after the destruction. And there were silver linings like the windows near the apse not being damaged and the old organ was salvaged and given to another deserving church home in a new life where it plays today! People pulled together instead of pulling out.

    1. Wonderful observations. A good lesson for all of us facing tragedy.