The German Chapel

One summer, when I was in college, I worked in Frankfurt, Germany. Before heading back to college, a friend and I took a motorcycle trip to the German border to do some climbing in mountains that are the border between Germany and Austria. It rained almost the entire time we traveled, and we spent most days being cold and wet for hours on end on the motorcycle. At one point we stopped in a small village, bought something to eat, and then looked for someplace dry to hang out for a few hours and dry out before finding a place to camp. We wound up going into a tiny German Baroque chapel, large enough to seat maybe fifty people, plus a choir loft and a pipe organ and, of course, an altar. My friend sat down in the back row and promptly fell asleep. I walked around the chapel, looking at all the baroque ornamentation, the statues of the saints, the Virgin Mary, when a teenage girl came in and climbed the stairs to the choir loft and began her organ practice. The organ was an old, wheezy, baroque organ, and she played Bach. I sat in the front row and enjoyed her playing. After she was finished, and had left, I walked around the chapel again, waiting for my friend to wake up (he’d slept straight through the organ practice.) At one point I found myself standing in front of the staff that would have been used in the processional: it has perhaps seven feet tall, with a gold cross on top, and was resting in a holder attached to the alter railing. I was transfixed by the thing—I just kept looking at it. Suddenly the chapel started to fill up with a bright gold-white light. The surroundings faded away until all I could see was the cross at the top of the staff. Then that too faded away into the light, and I lost all sense of being in the chapel, standing in front of anything. There was just me in an infinite sea of gold-white light. I think at one point I faded away into the light myself—I say that only because I had a sense of being gone and coming back, after which the cross gradually came back into view, then the rest of the chapel slowly appeared as the light faded, and I was eventually back in the chapel, in front of the staff once again.

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