Bonjour. So begins every interaction in Paris. As our event with writer Stephen Clarke tonight emphasized, contained within that one word is a complex and necessary acknowledgement of equality and humanity, which undergirds all of French culture. this is not my first trip to Paris, but it is the first time I have taken students to Paris and so I find myself attentive to the intricacies of French culture in a new way and with new appreciation. As my students and I explore questions of culture, identity, spirituality and borders…..which in Paris, requires a bit of stepping into the medieval world of theology, art , and architecture.
At the end of a long and productive day of guest lectures and museum tours, my students went off exploring and I walked in the rain towards the Seine. Everything was grey. The clouds, misting rain, and swirling river all blended into the flurry of grey stone making the most beautiful buildings look depressing….and then I arrived at Notre Dame. From the outside it too was engulfed by the grey…but then I went inside. Dusk and just before Vespers,, Notre Dame glowed illuminating the cathedral I love.
And as the female cantor began to sing the Magnificat in French…I could not help but think in this city full of history, in a cathedral celebrating its 850th anniversary and in this year of faith, perhaps we should pay more attention to what the light of the gothic cathedral can teach us about building something that will last generations.
in America, we are hearing a lot of strong rhetoric about “future generations” and what ls necessary “save social security” for future generations. Within the Church, we hear the medieval (especially Thomas) invoked with a nostalgia that seems to forget the historical context, innovation and development …..stepping into Notre Dame we learn that glorifying God and building a structure for future generations requires a much bigger picture. More than representing just the order and hierarchy of medieval life, the gothic cathedral was an innovation of light and longevity. It adapted the past and fused together continuity and innovation and all to magnify the creator.
My soul magnifies the glory of The Lord. The cantor sings, the themes of hope in God, faith, and humility weave in and out of French and Latin. It is the year of faith and all over the outside of the cathedral are questions asking me to examine my relationships with others, in what I believe….all culminating to with “I am the way the truth and the life” in multiple languages. Thousands will come here on pilgrimage this year searching. Believers and non believers.
we are all travelers. And this evening, amidst the dreariness outside, Notre Dame and the diverse global mix of pilgrims illuminate that we are called to enter into conversation with the past and the future. This requires commitment, creativity, and sometimes, a Parisian sense of time…