I woke up to devastating news.
With many of my friends and family living across the continents and ocean waves, most of my news of their lives arrives at the start of my day – through an email, a text, or a Facebook post. I often learn of difficult news – cancer diagnoses, deaths in the family, tragic accidents, and terrible, heart-sore national and world hardships and misfortunes early in the morning. I receive marvelous, heart-warming news as well. But, I confess, it’s the jarring, kick-you-in-the-gut word from my family and friends that concerns me most.
This week, while I was sleeping, flames ignited and engulfed much of the structure of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Millions of hearts, millions of memories – on every continent – ignited in horror and disbelief.
My family and friends’ sorrow and lament bled across my computer screen. Post upon post upon post declared their heart-brokenness. The centuries-old landmark and its significant meaning in their lives stood still, charred and seemingly life-less.
Now, a few others on my Facebook feed, couldn’t relate or understand the loss.
‘It’s just a building,’ one said.
‘It can be re-built,’ offered another.
‘There are other more pressing world-issues that warrant our concern, attention, and outrage,’ countered a third.
Now, for me, I must confess I’ve never stepped foot in France. In all my world travels, I have yet to view the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomph, or set my eyes upon the iconic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. However, that doesn’t prohibit me from caring about my family and friends who have. This doesn’t stop me from offering my prayers, my support, and my love to them while they grieve.
Grief is integrally bound to loss.
We all grieve in life. It’s part of the human experience.
In grief, we are emotionally responding and reacting to a significant change – something that can never really be put-back-together-as-it-was – again. And honestly? Being heart-sick about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire and its destruction is so much more than grieving the loss of a building.
My friends and family are weeping over the relationships, the memories, and the deeply affecting spiritual moments they experienced while visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Recently, Jake, Caleb and I learned about the cathedral in the boys’ World History course. Who knew this learning would be so relevant to us now?
Think about this. This cathedral construction began in 1163 AD during the reign of King Louis VII of France. The French King desired that the cathedral be of French political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and religious significance. The building was finally completed in 1345 AD. This 850-year old French Gothic monument is a testament to fortitude. It has endured the onslaught of weather, revolution, war, damage, decay, deterioration, and apathy and even, iconoclasm. For there was a time, when the cathedral was targeted for purposeful destruction.
During the years of the French Revolution (1787-1799), the Notre Dame cathedral was considered a symbol of power and aggression. Its buildings ransacked, and its sculptures and statues demolished. The goal was to purge the building of iconoclasm – the perception that the cathedral images and structures served as symbols of a corrupt political and social system from the Middle Ages to the present day. Unlike Tuesday’s indiscriminate, but extensive damage by fire, the inoclasts of old targeted specific objects of worship. It wouldn’t be until an agreement between Napoleon I and the Roman Catholic Church that the damaged cathedral would see any form of renovation, although limited. Napoleon wanted the cathedral to serve as his coronation site in 1805.
Years later, in 1843, as a result of the popularity of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the cathedral’s care and attention would be renewed. A major 20-year renovation project launched to bring the cathedral back to life. Sculpted gargoyles were added to the exterior. New murals were painted in the interior. And the old, dilapidated spire was replaced. The cathedral was reborn.
For centuries, located on the small island of the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine in Paris, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris has served as an indelible, historical, and spiritual landmark for countless generations across the world.
Generations of pilgrims and tourists –over 30,000 of them a day – have climbed the bell tower steps, sat before the altar, reveled in the beauty and wonder of the magnificent Gothic architecture and prayed to their God at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris . That’s nearly 12 million people a year!!! Therefore, it’s no wonder that much of the world wept this week.
Yet, amazingly, as the fires ceased, as the smoke cleared, as the charred ash settled, the cross of Jesus Christ still stood.
Above the altar of the Lord, positioned with purpose, was the symbol of resilient, life-centering hope and salvation for the suffering masses.
In our darkest times, in our moments of pain, when life makes no sense, and we ache for memories of a sweet, joyous past, the hope of Christ remains – resolute, strong, and able to withstand the most intense, unrelenting, destructive, and dangerous firestorms of life.
Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to remember life-giving moments – like visiting the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, relishing the climb up the bell tower with family and friends, and appreciating and experiencing the presence of the Lord. Truly, God-inspired, God-given moments, indeed!
Yet, it is just as meaningful and precious to experience our Lord, Jesus Christ in times of grief and loss. To know that He is not absent nor is He unavailable in times of devastating need. His care and comfort are near.
To see the cross of Christ seemingly unsinged and unscathed by the fire’s hand, standing resolute and strong, inspires us to reach out to Jesus in such times of grief, pain, loss and uncertainty in our world.
We don’t know what’s ahead in this life, do we?
We only know what’s beautifully been.
What do we have?
We have the promise of hope.
But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
New International Version, Isaiah 43: 1 -2
Yes, we weep.
Yes, we cry.
Yes, we grieve.
For it is in and through our grief, that we remember what was most meaningful, what was most beautiful, what was most precious, and we honor the people, the places, and the things that gave us these holy breaths with our God.
We remember the hope we have in Christ.
And hope is still standing strong.
Photo Credit: Christophe Petit Tesson