April 15th, 2019, the day after my fortieth birthday, I heard news that made me nauseated. Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris, France) was burning.
My reaction surprised me. Why did I care so much?
I had an amazing opportunity to visit Paris when I was in high school. Notre Dame, of course, was one of the necessary stops. It was breathtaking. I did my best to soak it in realizing that I was having an experience that was important–but also realizing that I lacked the categories to adequately appreciate what was before me.
Later, I read Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and wondered at how he was able to make the cathedral a character in his story.
The cathedral took 100 years to build. This means that the people who started it didn’t get to see it finished in their lifetimes.
And it was still worth doing.
So the fire was appalling. Not only because it threatened my nostalgia….
It screamed absurdity. It symbolically threatened our connectedness to the ancient. It threatened the loss of the irretrievable. It reminded us of our collective impermanence. And made us wonder if transcendent truth, beauty, and goodness really does win out in the end.
The irony is deeply instructive. This building–this sermon of stone–was designed to preach transcendence, and permanence. Now ablaze, to the faithful, it’s pointing to a greater transcendence and permanence than wood and stone. We realize that all along it was merely a symbol–not the real thing. Kind of like my wedding ring.
So, look up, my friends! Higher than the spires. For they were arrows all along pointing to something–Someone–far greater.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.Hebrews 11:8-10