Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Seeking the Divine in Architecture

I’ve hunted down and read people’s comments on a lot of different sites about the Notre Dame fire and its restoration.  Most of it is supportive, but there are a few fellow Christians (and others of course) out there hung up on the money it will take to restore Notre Dame, and the fact that “it’s just a building.”  I do my best to empathize with my fellow human beings, especially when there is a dearth of that on the interweb, so I do get the point they are making, but they are missing The Point of structures like Notre Dame.

Yes, it will take loads of cash to rebuild the Lady, yes, that cash could go elsewhere (I suggest putting your cash wherever you like if it bothers you so much, and make sure you are eating beans and rice, and not anything more expensive so you can give even more money to your causes), but do you seriously think that a structure is all that the money is going toward?  What good are buildings anyway?  Does God disapprove of buildings? Of beauty? Of Architecture?

We already know from Art Appreciation 101 that the human eye, hence the human mind finds certain ratios, and shapes pleasing.  It evokes something in us at a level that we are hardly aware of.  There are many articles out now about the impact of architecture on the human brain, even neurobiologically speaking.  Interesting isn’t it?  I don’t think God does anything frivolously, especially in the laying down of laws or guidance, so all of those structures he ordered humans to build in very specific ways can’t have been capricious.  We are not Gnostics; the physical world (including our bodies) started out good, we are physical beings, and after the resurrection we will have perfected physical bodies.  The physical is important, it always has been since the beginning.

God even gave specific instruction dealing with physical things all the time, including buildings.  The way He instructed the Jewish tribes to arrange their camp, the instructions for the tent, and then the temple.  Noah’s ark, the ark of the covenant, and Nehushtan the bronze serpent.  God knows us and our minds because He made us and He recognizes the need we have for physical-ness.  No, He is not limited to physical place and clearly when Jesus walked the earth, was crucified, and resurrected things did change, but there was never a proscribed ban on buildings built to hold worshipers.

Notre Dame was built with worship directed toward God.  The artisans and workers poured themselves into it and made their praise physically manifest.  The windows were the Gospel writ large in living color.  Symbols are important, they are not impotent signs, but rather something that has taken on the true essence of the thing it represents.  Symbols have power.

There are people that owe their belief in God to capitulating to His call put forth in beauty.  People have felt His call in churches, before great works of art, or listening to music.  I know the stories of people who were agnostic, but upon traveling to all the great old cathedrals in Europe said they came away knowing He existed, and have followed Him since.  When humans allow God to work through us, or to inspire us, the result can be a glimpse of heaven.  We can definitely see that in nature as well, but when we see something that comes from the effort of a group of humans working together to build instead of destroy… well, we recognize a truth in that.  Civilization.  Civilization directed toward God and in His service.  That’s important.

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Watching Notre Dame burn…

Watching Notre Dame burn, I wept.  I’m not Catholic, nor French, but none of that mattered as I watched The Lady of Paris light up the night in horrible flame.  It surprised me how strong the reaction was inside my heart, and then my head.  I’ve never been to Paris, I’ve never seen that venerable cathedral, and honestly, I think that made me hurt worse.  I feared I would never see it stand again in my lifetime, that I would never get to see the rose windows for myself with my own eyes.  Yes, my first responses were based in selfishness.

My second response was to see a terrible metaphor played out on my television.  It’s okay, dear reader, if you don’t agree, but I find it self-evident that Europe, and the West has lost it’s soul.  It’s lost it’s mooring in Truth, and by that I mean absolute truth that has one source; God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one true God Who is triune in nature.  Bastions of the Christian faith that have held out for thousands of years have slipped from their moorings.  They don’t recognize the One Who bought them… and here burns His Cathedral right in the heart of France.

Yes, yes, I do know and truly believe in the end all will be put right, but that’s not where we are right now.  Right now the world is groaning, you could hear it while Notre Dame burned.  Not only was she burning, but burning and toppling at the beginning of Holy Week.  Call it what you will; a metaphor, a sign, a wake-up call… it hurt.  I’m left mumbling like Richard Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary, “This means something.”  It’s not the building burning that made me weep, but the neglect of the Faith amongst the faithful that has lead to the state of disrepair the whole Church catholic is in, no one noticing until it’s being destroyed right in front of us.

Then the morning comes and shows us a new image; fire out, cross still shining.  Yes, the roof is gone and the cathedral is now exposed to the elements, but the heart of the church is still there, and the glorious windows depicting the gospel along with man’s love of God, man’s creative gift from God as we are made in His image.  The devastation is vast, and it will take time and money and expertise to mend it all, but it will be mended Lord willing!  Will the Church, all of us believers of every stripe wake up?  Will we start living and reviving our faith by allowing God to live in us and move us?  God, I hope so.  I beg so.

The other things in the world going on faded out, and for several hours everyone’s eyes were glued to the news and the coverage of the fire.  Now, you see the pictures of the cross, and the parts of the cathedral that have survived.  Some will move on and the images will fade and they won’t act on what they felt when watching it burn, some laughed and cheer while it burned, but some wept. It hit me hard enough that I came back here to this blog of mine that has set idle for three and a half years… and what did I find?  My last post was all about France, about the attack by Muslims on civilians, and hence on civilization, and I said what I will say again; my sentimentality can be a good thing, so can yours, as it can be for everyone that felt it… but it’s not enough.  We have to start acting like Christians, and that means learning the mind of Christ, begging for the mind of Christ, and following the Spirit, doing as He says.

As for me, it meant coming here and writing this, it meant searching out a legit way to give to the restoration of Notre Dame.  It also means to keep living my faith, to broaden my actions, and pray for depth of understanding in order to live out the faith.  I don’t know if anyone still reads my blog… if you are here right now, and you’ve read this far, and you agree with anything I have said… just know you aren’t alone.  Just know there truly is hope, and we can live like there is.  Just know there is Truth and Love, and we can actually live our lives in accord with that, and it is all meaningful.  Christ did indeed die on the cross, but let’s not forget He rose three days later!  I hope I’ll have more to say about all this very soon.

As for me, it feels like another sign that my last post was about France, I’ll have to seriously pray about and consider the import for me, because I do believe, “This means something.”  Don’t forget, it turn’s out Roy Neary was right even when the world around him thought he was nuts…

Grace and Peace to my brothers and sisters, especially all of you over in France.  Revive us again, Lord.

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