The profile of Notre Dame de Paris has always been high. The grand cathedrals of medieval Europe have been described as having both an anchoring, foundational presence, and an uplifting, aspirational presence.
And Notre Dame functioned in both of those capacities.
Standing within such a cathedral, persons feel appropriately small. Eyes and hearts are drawn upward, heavenward: there is a mystery to the experience—a person feels the immanence of the transcendent, the nearness of the beyond-ness. It’s a place of worship. The stained glass and icons, the incense, the bells and even the 8,000 organ pipes all conspire to encourage silence, reflection, prayer.
Standing without the cathedral, one is stunned by its size. So massive. So stoic. An architectural masterpiece. Ancient doors. The storms it has weathered. The coronations and funerals it has hosted. At the center of the city, this symbol of the Christian faith. And now?
This fire raged through an unseen forest of beams. And crowds watched the spire collapse: its rooster-top falling low. And a roof, a ceiling, a firmament pushed aside. There is in this moment, no barrier between heaven and earth, or between sky and sanctuary. The curtain has been torn.
I watched the sadness of so many. Heard them sing their Ave Marias to Notre Dame. Noted how the distance between symbol and reality, between cathedral and living person, seemed so fluid.
It will be rebuilt, it seems. Though it will take longer than three days. And one hopes that there will yet again be a significant fire in that place, with a fluidity between place and people.
I wonder if in this suffering, this being brought to ashes—the profile of Notre Dame de Paris and the Christian faith it represents, may be higher than ever before: more of an anchor for a city and a people, and more aspirational for all. The paradox of a God both immanent and transcendent—and a place to sense that, to know it, and to trust it.
The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus have him way up there on the throne, and present with us, in us, by way of a fire. And our profile?