Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

 There’s nothing modern about this tragedy.

Like many, I found the pictures of Notre Dame—with flames reaching to the heavens, the ornate steeple collapsing like a toothpick sculpture— heart wrenching. I’m lucky to have experienced her exterior and interior on many trips to Paris. (The inside and outside are very different, as different perhaps as Paris and France.)

My first time was in the spring of 1983. I stumbled downhill from the Latin Quarter, bleary, knowing for the first time the unique funk jetlag can bring. I gaped up at Notre Dame’s solemn face and saw nothing there to persuade me from my pissy mood. The large café au lait at the hotel had barely dented my fatigue, and my first croissant lay uneasily in my belly.

I stepped inside, into the cool immense gloom and the sounds of voices singing Bach. The shadows tumbled from my heart and tears filled my eyes. I stepped slowly, carefully through the vast space, as if this utterly unexpected joy was fragile, like a robin’s egg, and might at any moment crack. I stood under the rose window which glowed with muted colors such as I’d never seen. The music washed over me in gentle waves, piercing my heart.

For someone who’s never been a Christian, I have a remarkable affinity for Christian art, architecture, and music. For all that The Church has gotten wrong—from the Inquisition to the sex abuse scandal—they’ve done at least one thing right. They’ve inspired work that evokes the elusive states of awe, mystery and joy.

So for me the loss of Notre Dame is the loss of a living vehicle for personal transformation. It’s unclear at this time how much has been lost. And it’s certain that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But has its magic survived those flames? It’s much too soon to tell.

The destruction of an artistic masterpiece leaves guilt in the wake of sorrow. After all, no one died in the fire at Notre Dame. Then why such grief?

Because unlike every one of us living on the planet, who must die, Notre Dame represents the eternal. Yes, we can imagine war, the floods of climate change, or the end of the solar system finally bringing this cathedral down. But we choose not to. So the visible death of this thing that should never die is terrible to witness.

No modern-day terrorists brought down Notre Dame. Old churches with wooden roofs have been burning for a thousand years.

Notre Dame is not considered to be the greatest Gothic Cathedral. That honor goes to Chartres. The church we now know was built in an astonishing 25 years after another catastrophic fire gutted the older, lesser church. It seems impossible that Notre Dame will rise from its ashes as something greater than what’s been lost. It was the product of times unimaginably different than ours.

The only thing in common between then and now is that yearning for transcendence. We ache as its physical embodiment lies in ashes. But the yearning lives in us and will find vehicles for expression.

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Comment by Maui Surfer on April 17, 2019 at 2:37pm

Mr. Manchester both your post and comment are spot on.

Comment by Ron Powell on April 17, 2019 at 5:18pm

Notre Dame Cathedral as a place can be rebuilt....

But as an iconic work of architectural art and genius, can it be restored?

Comment by koshersalaami on April 17, 2019 at 5:53pm

We have been blamed for it. Stories came out after the fire attributing arson to Jews and Muslims (separately)

As to Robertson, the man should learn his Bible. In his position he has no excuse. Even if you don’t look deeply at translations that indicate the Bible is mostly not talking about homosexuality as we now understand it, either testament, even if you take the Bible at face value in current translation, there’s nothing in either testament that indicates homosexuality is considered a major issue, certainly not this major. Sodom and Gomorrah are not in any way about consenting relations of any kind, homosexuality is not in the Ten Commandments (how much does Robertson talk about adultery, which is and which actually involves victims?), even if we call it an Abomination we need to look at what else is called that, including wearing clothing made of blended fabrics. Does Robertson make a big deal of all Abominations? Why is he so obsessed with this one? The Bible isn’t.

New Testament? Jesus says nothing about this. It’s all basically Paul, who never met Jesus, and who was probably talking about men who had sex with procured young boys. We know two things about Jesus regarding this. The first is that he constantly reached out to the marginalized. The second is that when confronted with an issue involving sexual morality, his reaction was: Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone. 

He’s making this stuff up. He has prejudices and he wants to bring God along as his accomplice in hate. That’s pretty serious heresy. This isn’t God-based hatred. It’s just hatred. 

Comment by John Manchester on April 17, 2019 at 5:56pm

KS - you nailed it - it is just hatred. Though there's also the possibility that dementia plays a role. For a guy I'm sure would never take psychedelics he sure has a lot of hallucinations. 

Comment by koshersalaami on April 17, 2019 at 6:02pm

Quite interesting. Biblically refutes this sort of thing. 


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