Eternity is a concept closely associated with religious thought. It bears a freight that phrases such as “steady-state universe” and “Big Bang” lack. Indeed, the foundations of Christianity and Islam involve the belief that eternal life can be had for those who play by the rules. Great cathedrals and mosques were erected to last forever, or at least until the end of the physical world. Perhaps that is the reason I find the idea of a church constructed out of ice so engaging. Annually for the past several years, a church has been built of ice in the Romanian Alps. Accessible only by cable car, the church is a temporary structure in a land where varieties of Christianity (let alone other faiths) are openly hostile to one another. As the globe slowly wobbles back to a northern inclination, the church will melt and disappear. Still, in its brief time in the world, baptisms and marriages will be performed there. Eternal vows in a temporary structure.
A theological message is inherent in such an institution. We are trained from our earliest days to be consumers. We are to acquire goods and desire more. Were we ever to be satisfied, capitalism would crash to the ground like an ice church left out in the heat. The secular world in unrelenting in its message that we are born to eat, buy, and use. The more expensive, the better. And the more quickly obsolete, the more profitable it will be. The towers of our cities are constructed of concrete and steel, and yet, I have watched new buildings grow and supplant those that have seemingly stood forever but which, in reality, have existed for less than a century. Indeed, all of our towers ought to be made of ice.
Ice is cold and hard, but it is still water. An article in The Guardian notes that some pastors see this as a kind of baptism frozen in time. Shape given to that which follows the contours of its container. The water, however, will ultimately follow its natural order and rejoin the oceans of the world. While humans are naturally disposed to collect, to save up against lean times, we have to be taught to be consumers. Some of us are content with relatively little, knowing that elsewhere our fellow human beings have nothing at all. Their churches are made of ice, and our corporations are eager to reach even them, to teach them to covet what the more “affluent” have. And the world slowly warms, turning all into liquidity.