Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Not alone

God is not in heaven: he is hanging on the cross.
Love is not an otherworldly, intruding, self-asserting power—
and to meditate on the cross can mean to take leave of that dream

Dorothee Sölle
On This Gallows

RSCN2923
(blooming wild shrubs / Julie Cook / 2016)

There is a sobering reaccounting of a tale by Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz turned author and activist, taken from his book Night.

The tale is found within Dorothee Sölle’s reflection On This Gallows and is here, paraphrased…

Mr. Wiesel recounts one of many tragic episodes…of how several SS guards rounded up the camp’s prisoners and hung three of their members in front of them…for no apparent reason but that they could.
Two of the victims were grown men and the third was but a boy.

Mr Wiesel notes how quickly the two men died but not so for the young boy.
He struggled and suffered for nearly thirty minutes before succumbing to the slow torturous strangulation.
As Mr Wiesel stood, witnessing this numbing atrocity in a long line of atrocities, he hears a voice from behind him coming from the assembled crowd…
“Where is God? Where is he?”
As the boy struggles, he hears again…
“Where is God now!”

Mr Wiesel and the other prisoners were gathered to witness another round of senseless deaths.
But this time it all seems so much more barbaric, completely incomprehensible.
A boy slowly and horrifically dies…
A single vocalized lamentation, representing the silent question screaming in the hearts of all those gathered…how, why, where…. is offered up to the empty void of hopelessness…
As the single answer is heard echoing within Mr Wiesel’s head…

“Here he is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”

And so He is…
He is here now…just as He was then…

God is indeed in the midst of each and every horror and atrocity.

He is present in each and every lonely pain filled moment of agony and emptiness.
He is every bit a part of our struggles as we are ourselves…

He is not watching coldly from some remote vantage point as so many imagine.
Not as some maniacal puppeteer who finds sick and twisted pleasure watching the suffering of those so far removed.
He is not far removed…

Quite the contrary…

He is in the unimaginable
the unspeakable
the horrific
the sorrow
the agony…

He was given up…
to suffer
to share alongside us in our suffering
to hang on a cross
to die along side each one of us…

As we in turn, are now allowed to rise with Him…
In His final vanquishing of death…

I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Psalm 118:17

Sure foundation or shifting sands

He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.

Psalm 104:4

“God laid the foundations of the earth with perfect thoroughness (104, 5). He has made everything firm and permanent and imposed boundaries which limit each things operation.”
― C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

DSC01636
(the lovely legs of a great blue heron / Perdido Key / Julie Cook / 2015

What is the base of your foundation, your strength, your bedrock of existence?

Firm and steady. . .
or
loose and shifting?

To what are you bound, fettered, tethered?
What is it that keeps you grounded, secure, rooted?

Is it something solid and strong
or
Is it something soft and unreliable?

Earthly kingdoms rise and fall.
Man soars then quickly descends.
Bigger, better, faster, farther in the constant continuum.
Until there is no more. . .

Where will you put your trust?
Where will you look for permanence and continuity?
What shall be your everlasting?

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand

The Solid Rock
Avalon