Tragedy

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We were at a work event for my son’s job this afternoon when I found out that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was on fire. Just the view on the computer screen with the white smoke, the bright orange flames licking the stones and rising higher and higher was speech stopping; it was mind-numbing to me. I have a sensitivity to viewing buildings burning. I think it brings me to 9/11, it brings me to California wildfire devastation, and with television and social media it brings it literally into our fingertips.

As of this writing, I believe the two towers have been saved even though the spire collapsed. One of the rose stained glass windows was destroyed, but three remained. The statues that had been on the spire were removed four days ago as part of the renovation. The art, artifacts, and holy relics were saved after being removed during the fire. These are all good things.

This church is nearly one thousand years old. The person who laid the first stone was not alive at its completion. As it has been before, it will be rebuilt because like the church of people remains in perpetuity, the building will be repaired, rebuilt, and it won’t be the last time. The idea, the ideal of the church family lives on in the people who will return to Notre Dame.

In the meantime, we can mourn the physical building as we mourn the death of a loved one and know it will rise again.

I have never been to Notre Dame in Paris, France, but my son visited while on a school trip in his senior year in high school. Knowing how close I am to my own local church and my Catholic devotion brought this home for my souvenir from his visit, ironically also during Holy Week. It sits on my bookshelf where I look at it every now and then, and after seeing the cathedral burning, upon coming home I took this pewter replica in my hand and turned it over, touching the carvings, pressing on the spire, tracing the cuneiform. It was sad and comforting at the same time. (c)2019

Je Suis Paris

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Artist: Jean Jullien

I haven’t had any problem expressing my outrage and my pain with the terrorist attacks in Paris, France earlier this week. I put the news on for the first time in two months. I needed to see what was happening thousands of miles away but in a place I’ve thought often about. My thoughts went to my friends who live there, to my son’s school visits to Paris in recent years. I have been struggling with the outward expression of solidarity however. As the French flags went up on Facebook profiles, I knew I didn’t want one, but I didn’t really know why. My friend put it into words when he removed his transparency from his profile pic. Here we are supporting France (as we should be) when we ignored the same type of attack in Beirut this week, ignoring Kenya’s terrorist attack at the beginning of the month, and the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Many people cite racism. The French are white Europeans and not Middle Eastern Arabs, but that’s not my thinking or the thinking of my friends, so why do the majority of us focus on their pain?

For many Americans, myself included, France is our friend. Of course, we’re upset at the tragedy befalling others, but we know France. France has been our friend since the literal beginning. They helped us become who we are, not like a parent, but more like a favorite and favored uncle. That doesn’t mean that Great Uncle Al, twice removed and divorced from the family isn’t thought about and cared about and mourned when he dies, but he’s not Dad’s brother. Dad’s brother has picked me up and patched up my skinned knees. He’s taken care of me, and he’s always there when I call. It’s not the homoethnicity as much as the familial relationship that we have with the French people.

In addition to that, I mentioned that my son has been to Paris. Twice. I imagine how I would have felt if he were there at this time and it tears me up. I have put myself in the places of the Syrian refugees and Arab victims and I’ve cried and felt pain and received courage from them but my family

Since I wasn’t able to attend Sunday Mass this week (I hurt my leg and couldn’t manage the walking), I still read the readings, and one of them spoke to me about this tragedy and unrest in the world.

In my life, the readings and the Scripture and my spiritual headspace includes everyone; it is a part of my everyday life. I live it. It is a Living Word.

From today’s Readings in the Entrance Antiphon:

The Lord said: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. You will call upon me, and I will answer you, and I will lead back your captives from every place.

– Jer 29:11, 12, 14

This stuck with me throughout the morning, and regardless of your religious affiliation or no affiliation we can still think on and want and hope for peace and for affliction to be gone, in my life, in my family, in my world.

G-d promises to listen and answer and lead back those of us who are ‘captive’, missing, stuck in situations not of their making; to help them escape, like Moses leading the Jewish people out of Egypt and out of slavery.

Non-religious people have their own beliefs and hopes for peace and ending conflict and affliction and bringing those ‘captives’ back home.

The current book that I’m reading is Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. In the 16th Revelation she relays from her vision:

‘But take it, believe it and keep yourself within it, comfort yourself with it and trust yourself to it; and you shall not be overcome.’

You shall not be overcome.

We have the strength to get through these tough times and any other tough times that are yet to come. G-d is speaking through her, and her visions – she is not alone in her world, and similarly we are not alone. We are surrounded by people who are on our side and want to and will help us through the hard times and celebrate the good ones.

As I said about prayer earlier today, prayer builds up, and doesn’t tear down. That doesn’t mean that prayer is the only way. Embrace all the ways people want to help, through spirituality or through humanity, and we will be better for it.