I discovered to pray at Notre Dame Cathedral


On Monday, Notre Dame de Paris was engulfed in flames. The spire fell. The organ is gone. All that stained glass. I couldn’t watch the video the photo that Rebecca Solnit posted on Facebook was really hard sufficient. Her caption reads, “Drone image from earlier (which I obtain shocking, like seeing open-heart surgery: this structure has not been open to the sky for 800 years).”

I’ve only been to Paris when, numerous years ago, but I try to remember it effectively. I try to remember coming up close to the cathedral—not realizing exactly where to get started hunting, feeling unable to take it all in. 

I’m a preacher’s kid. (Half my stories get started this way.) I grew up in United Methodist church buildings they had been my residence away from residence. I knew these churches intimately, their ins and outs and secret closets and ladies’ bathrooms. I knew which sink didn’t operate and which floor tiles had been loose and the greatest spots to hide though playing sardines. I knew their people today, their songs, their stories. I loved them, and they loved me. 

When I got to college, I encountered for the 1st time evangelical narratives of deciding upon to be a Christian and of falling in adore with Jesus. I was confused. I had often been a Christian my infant baptism supplied an outward sign of an inward grace. The church had been my residence (along with owning my residence). 

I was in fact delighted to commit time away from that residence as a college student. To indulge in Sunday morning lie-ins just before dining hall brunch and studying. I did not seek out a campus ministry. 

But then I went to study and wander abroad for a bit. It changed my life, as these sorts of adventures normally do. I studied and I drank, I wrote endlessly, and I sort of fell in adore. I got a rail pass and wandered by means of ancient cities of the sort we just do not make in Illinois. 

I wandered into cathedrals. I sat. And I prayed—for possibly the 1st time outdoors the unison prayers in my mainline congregations. Not words chosen for me, not issues and thanksgiving supplied by other individuals, but my personal. I sat, breathed in air that felt old and mature but also alive, curled in on myself, and prayed. 

In Notre Dame, I tilted my face to the ceiling, took in arches and colour, and then closed my eyes. I knew myself to be in a holy space, 1 so numerous had labored to bring into becoming, 1 exactly where God was wholly beyond my imagining. I was secure, resting in a location that felt familiar. But somehow—in the centuries-old pews, surrounded by each humanity and so substantially empty space, by echo and quiet—God was new. 

How, I wondered, could this God—whose existence and adore I had taken as offered in my 20th-century midwestern life—have also moved in the hearts of minds and hands of artists so numerous years just before? Was the typical, each day God I knew the exact same 1 who had inspired such greatness, such beauty?

I came residence to the States, returned to worship, applied to M.Div. applications. I wanted to know that God, that mysterious God who had often been so familiar just before. 

There are motives to really feel some guilt more than grieving a constructing, even or in particular a magnificent 1. The children’s song tells us the church is not the steeple but the people today. The grandeur of the church has been complicit in so numerous of the evils of history. Other churches have been destroyed by flames in current weeks—3 black churches in 1 Louisiana parish alone, exactly where the alleged arsonist has been charged with hate crimes—and the globe hasn’t been practically so moved. 

There is a tradition on the Monday of Holy Week of remembering the story of Jesus “cleansing” the temple. It is a fraught story, for many motives. And at 1st glance this Monday, Jesus’ get in touch with for people today to examine their priorities and intentions seemed to clash with all the people today revering a space, a grand constructing.

But I wonder if there is some critique in this biblical story for me, as 1 whose faith was for so lengthy quotidian and whose aim, in substantially of my ministry with young kids and their below-churched parents, is to assistance them really feel comfy and at residence in the church. Jesus reminds the people today that the temple is a dwelling location of God. Church is a location for worship, not just a location for us to really feel at residence and to play sardines. I want my people today to know God’s adore, to know that faith is about grace and not worry. Nevertheless, I wonder and be concerned, in particular for my personal youngsters, that enabling these glimpses behind the curtain may well be rendering God also modest. 

One particular of the items I loved about Notre Dame is that you can basically go in and sit. Guests are everywhere reminded that this is a residence of worship. The bishop presides nearly everyday more than mass. Pilgrims and Parisians alike can collect. The cathedral supplied sanctuary to the fictional Esmerelda and has supplied an encounter of the holy to so numerous other individuals. 

Watching the flames climb in Paris, I grieved—and wondered if my daughters will ever really feel the presence of the divine there. I’m sad, mainly because even if the cathedral is rebuilt, the new walls will not tie us to the previous faithful in the exact same way. Aspect of what created that space so holy for me was that it had endured across ages, that it had welcomed numerous numbers of the faithful.

I am not alone, of course, and I have study the sorrow-filled words of numerous other individuals with closer and deeper relationships to Notre Dame than my personal. But if there is a week for Christians to mourn with each other what is lost, to mourn some thing valuable slipping so rapidly away, it is this 1. Standing at the grave, staring at the island in the middle of the city, we grieve for what we have identified and wonder what will come subsequent.


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