It is always a very odd experience for me to go into a church that has clear glass windows (it’s rare, but does happen). Even though I don’t think about it often, it drives home the fact that almost every church has stained glass windows. Rather than seeing the outside world, you are drawn into the story of the church you have entered. This is different than the type of story being told by a casino (which often does not give vision to the outside world, either). In that case, the lack of windows seeks to dull the mind and prevent the patron from remembering outside responsibilities. Stained glass windows, in contrast, are not about dulling the mind or trapping the person. The purpose is to elevate the soul to see past the immediate demands of daily life, and return back to our responsibilities with minds refreshed.
Stained glass windows acknowledge that we as human beings are easily distracted. We can probably all remember times in school when a window became a distraction to staying focused on the lesson! Not only does the stained glass keep us from the distraction of outside things, it also gives us something to reflect on when our minds wander. When our attention drifts from what is happening in the liturgy, the windows give us something better to contemplate than our to-do list. The Scripture scene or saint depicted in it can help draw us into prayer despite our wondering thoughts! As human beings we need more than just words to feed us. Beauty speaks to us about other truths of our faith, and can draw us to an encounter with God. Our imagination gives us another avenue to enter into reflective prayer.
So, the next time your mind wanders in church and you get sidetracked looking at windows, give thanks that the design had your situation in mind!