I was watching the pics of Notre Dame burning and it harkened me back to 1979 when I visited that historic cathedral. I hopped a fence and walked into what was, on that particular day, an empty sanctuary. The emptiness seemed to make it all the more majestic. I felt like I was in the presence of something incredibly big and holy and that, well, it might be appropriate to take my shoes off.
It was as if the church was itself an icon, a physical structure that helped make the invisible, visible, tactile and real.
The commentary surrounding the recent fire understandably focused on the cathedral itself. Hymns were being sung lamenting the smoldering wreck of a once magnificent structure which served as a beacon of hope for Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox believers throughout the world.
For me, the scene seemed more ironic than iconic. It’s no secret that France and Europe (along with most of the western world) has put Christianity aside, devoting most of its time, energy and devotion to politics than to piety. For most Europeans, Christianity has become a rather embarrassing relic from an unenlightened past.
I found it ironic that there was more mourning going on over the loss of a cherished and altogether beautiful icon than there was over the loss of familiarity with the God to whom that icon pointed.
However, a second thought occurred. I wondered: 'Might it be that the cathedral, which stood as an enduring icon, reminding us of the enduring majesty of an invisible God, had become an icon of a wholly different sort as it lay in ruins?' 'Could it be that as Notre Dame lay smoldering, it offered those alert to it, a lamentable picture of the spiritual poverty that has become France and Europe?'
Maybe the spiritually sensitive were mourning both? Perhaps the lament was both architectural and spiritual in nature?
The good news is that mourning need not be the final word for France, Europe or for you or me.
I've been with friends who mourn the fact that, years ago, they elected to ‘gain the whole world’ to the neglect of their souls. Most feel regret bordering on shame. By contrast, I find such clarity a cause for celebration because mourning the story they've written; one that left God out (or behind) is often the prerequisite to an entirely new and wondrous story that God wants to write through them. God seems to write his best novels using broken or discarded pencils.
The Psalmist says it best: 'The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’