Sunday, June 24, 2012
Notre Dame Cathedral
What happens when a heart breaks? To match the rush of emotion or flood of numbness is there crushing of capillaries or pulse of contractions in the walled chambers of a physical heart- the one beating here right in my chest?
I am thinking about heartbreak this morning and all the heartbreak in the world. I spent a lot of time in churches in Paris. When we travel internationally, my husband and I love to attend a service at one of the large cathedrals. Our faith is not Catholic or Orthodox, but to me, it connects me to the thousands and thousands of people who have sought solace and communion with God in that building. Experiencing a worship service in a cathedral is much different than visiting it as a tourist.
So it was that on our first day in Paris we attended an early evening service at Notre Dame. We sat on small wooden chairs surrounded by people from all over the world and were provided (very thoughtfully) a program of the service that was also translated into many languages.
As we waited for the service to start we craned our necks at the vaulted ceiling and sighed over each new detail as it unfolded itself before us. I kept thinking over and over, "Thousands of people have sat where I am sitting, looked up as I am, and longed for God."
I do not fully understand everything that went on during the service but it was quite exciting when a procession of bread bakers came marching down the aisle, dressed smartly in their kitchen whites, hauling enormous baskets of rolls and others with arms wrapped around stacks of baguette. With hundreds of people in attendance, I was hoping for a "loaves and fishes" moment. Alas, it turned out to be some kind of blessing event and the rolls and baguettes were part of the processional as well.
The music was beautiful and spare. I love when there is an acknowledgement that the place where we are is so grand and there is no need for further embellishment or elaboration. The pure simplicity and pitch perfect voice of the song leader (I am sure there is a wonderful title for such a person, but I do not know it) piercing through the vastness of the space while the incense rolled upwards, sometimes in shadow, sometimes haloed by late afternoon light, pooling in through a stained glass window. And all the time I was thinking, "Thousands of people have sat where I am sitting, looked up as I am, and longed for God."
After the service, we did take a few minutes to wander about the Cathedral. I was glad that my first moments in that place had been through the lens of a church service because it is so easy to flip back into tourist mode, to separate myself from a space as an observer.
It is a marvelous Cathedral, stunning in it's size and grand gestures. We were walking up the side of the interior, where there are a series of altars and stands of candles. The effect of the candles on the din of the space was quite beautiful and there were several people around (including us) taking pictures. There were just enough people around that it was not until we were standing right next to him that we noticed this gentleman:
His vulnerability took my breath away. I perceived such a depth of loss and sorrow in his expression. It was then that I realized, thousands of people sit, look up, and long for God. The space went from past tense to present tense. In the midst of a sea of tourists, happily snapping pictures and going about their holiday, this man had heartbreak and understood the true nature of where he was.
I am still processing through what all this means.
One thing I am thinking about, is that we never know what point of heartbreak a person is in. We each carry within us the heartbreak of our lives, tote it around in these physical shapes. Large losses, small losses - it all adds up.
And maybe that is a portion of why grace is so important. We must be gracious with one another, to those we love and to strangers. We must be gracious enough to allow each of us our moments, be they in a holy Cathedral, or wherever they occur.
I pray that today, whatever stage of heartbreak you may be in, you will find enough grace not only yourself, but for others as well.
(Many thanks to my husband for capturing the beauty Notre Dame Cathedral in the pictures above.)