Saturday, April 16, 2011
I have been postponing this post for a bit, because I can't seem to do it justice in my head. To be honest I want to turn it into a well researched term paper on Brueggemann's Theology of Place, or some deep thoughts on the Temple and how I think we all secretly or openly crave sacred places, but really it is just my response to Notre Dame in Paris, and how I found God there.
I ventured to Notre Dame three times in Paris and went inside twice. Two of the three times we went just because it was close to where we were already. The third time I went alone, determined to go in and just be there a moment, as close to the alter as I could get. I don't think I knew it as the time, but I think I was trying to get physically closer to God, and the crazy thing was it worked.
After taking the wrong Metro, redirecting, and taking 3 Metro lines to get there the line of tourist was freakishly long and people kept cutting the line. I was grouchy and I almost didn't go in. I mean, I had already been in once and seen the building lit up like a chess board. (Why Paris would you do such a thing? Light up Notre Dame like a chess board, really?) It just felt like too much, but something was drawing me back in. I stood in the line, took some deep breaths and waited for the frustration to wain. I was entering a place of worship, and I wanted to be still enough to enjoy it. Once I made it into the building I rushed past the other tourist and made it to the front of the cathedral, deep breaths, calm down, pause. I had made it. I was standing in the front of Notre Dame, and suddenly it hit me:
God is real.
I knew that already, but somehow in that moment I knew it more than I had the moment before. Looking up at the cross with Mary below, holding the crucified Messiah in her arms, there is no question: God is real. More than that, I am reminded that God took on human form and took on the pain and rejection of human life on the cross. Jesus had a real mother who deeply grieved his death, and with that God is not only real, but God understands everything I could ever experience.
I took a seat, I cried, and I prayed. I had it out with God, as I often do, but this time I was aware that God was there and God was listening, and I felt like maybe God was even speaking.
I am both inspired and flustered by this experience of God in a place. It floors me that I can know in my mind that God is omnipresent; yet I need to be in Paris in a Gothic Cathedral to really take it in: God is real.
I desperately want to be the type of person that finds God in the little things, and often I do, but there is a crazy magic about some places that cannot be described.
I had a similar experience over the Christmas holiday in 2009 when I visited my old college, and in 2007 in Greece when I stood at the Bema in Corinth where Paul was accused, and back in 2006 in Waco when UBC was allowed back into our building after a tragedy had forced us out of our building for 9 months. These were all times when places became sacred, because they let me feel God, and in those moments, and in those places I knew that God was real.
No wonder the people of Scripture were so connected to the temple: it was the place where they knew God was present. There was no question that God abides the Holy of Holies and in knowing that they knew that if they journeyed there, they would be close to God.
I am grateful that my theology is one that believes God is everywhere and active in all things, but I am still trying to work out the mystery of why God feels more present in some places than others, and selfishly, I want to know why those places are not my house. Nonetheless, even with these questions I will say, even if it is an ocean away and I can't go back on a regular basis, I am glad to know I can find God in a Cathedral in Paris and hold on to what I found there.