We walked into the Zurich Marriot wearing eager grins and heavy backpacks. The lobby was decorated with crystal chandeliers and black suits moving in a hurry, so we didn’t exactly fit in with our day-old travel clothes and airport after-scent. Matt had a beard, which made him look a little homeless, and Mike had a few face-hairs, which was almost the same thing.
By the time we checked into our room, it was after 10pm and the only restaurant open was the swanky one on the bottom floor. The pretty waitress sat us quickly and brought menus that featured words like “giblets,” “liver,” and other carnivorous parts that sounded expensive but unappetizing. The three of us looked at the prices and ordered the very cheapest things on the menu.
When the bill came it read:
2 mac & cheeses + 1 bowl of broth + 2 bottles of water
= 150 American dollars.
That still-hungry meal totally crushed us in the world’s most expensive city.
We only stayed in Zurich 16 hours more, at which point we went looking for other places in Europe that would feed us without making us feel so poor.
But before we left Zurich, we visited a church called Grossmünster “The Great Church.” It was kind of an accident, really, since we forgot all of our travel books and maps. We followed the sidewalks to the tallest structure in the city and found ourselves in this beautiful, holy place.
The church was gorgeous with clean lines, high arches, and undecorated walls. At the time, we didn’t know the historical significance of the church, but were struck by its simple grandeur. We lingered there, appreciating a place where opulence came for free.
There’s just something about visiting a church with centuries of history. Somehow God feels bigger when you remember how long He’s been around and how many other stories He’s keeping track of.
We saw lots of other churches in the post-Zurich, less-hungry parts of Europe. The Italian churches were pious and elaborate in every way, with their heavy, wooden doors and paintings of holy people I’ve never heard of. They had lots candles for lighting and slots for money, as if God’s intervention cost more than just asking.
Faith felt expensive in the more decorative places.
And in the end, when I thought about reverent churches, I didn’t think about the stained glass or marble sculptures, about the heavy doors or the velvet pews.
I thought about the bare walls of the Grossmünster and its ancient prayer room that felt more intimate because it was in a cold basement.
When I got home, I kept thinking about how the world’s most expensive city is home to the region’s most undecorated cathedral. It seemed ironic, really, so I Googled it.
It turns out that a pastor named Huldrych Zwingli ushered in the Swiss-German Reformation from Grossmünster. Zwingli attacked excess in the church and launched a revolution by calling for simplicity. It all began with those bare walls.
In traveling, I was impacted by reverence in the simplest places: in churches without art, mountains with few people, and cafés with strong coffee. In fact, the most glamorous places felt the most empty of all, they were the venues that left me hungry with a $150 tab.
In the first post of this series, I said that travel is an ultra-expensive way to arrive at simplicity. It’s true. And now I know that simplicity is the beating heart of reverence. It requires only a bit of quiet and a bit of focus and really any venue at all.
Reverence is just lingering in a place where opulence comes for free.
And you can go there anytime.