Friday, June 5, 2009

Lange Nacht der Kirchen

It's my last night in Vienna, a night which happily coincides withe Lange Nacht der Kirchen - the Long Night of the Churches - which means that around 190 churches in Vienna alone are open until 1am tonight, offering ecumenical services, concerts of all kinds, and more. Before using up the last of the internet time I purchased earlier this week, I spent a few hours in Stephansdom, Vienna's great gothic cathedral, listening to a beautiful liturgical service followed by a full orchestra and choir performing a Haydn mass.

The church was packed, both with those searching for a spiritual experience and those simply wandering in to see what was happening. The wonder of sitting in a 500 year old church, surrounded by people of all walks of life, listening to the music reverberate through the cathedral, knowing that this was just one of many such gatherings throughout the city, was awe-inspiring. Europe is famed for its amazing, yet empty, churches, and this was a reminder that the church is not a building, but rather people. I don't know how many of the people out tonight come with any regularity to a church of any kind, but I hoped that everyone would walk away from tonight's experience with a feeling of peace and unity.

When I stepped outside Stephansdom, the streets were bustling. It's Friday night, and both young and old are out for dinner, drinks, or just a nighttime stroll. Across from the internet cafe, I could hear a rock band performing along the Danube Canal below. It's a different experience, but if I close my eyes I still find myself back in the cathedral while a man and woman sing a simple prayer to the accompaniment of a single guitar.

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