In January, near a sign that read, “Prayer only No visit. No phone,” I sat and prayed, in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
Watching the inferno this past week, my heart hurt. Sometimes we don’t have words.
I can tell you that I don’t like it when I feel how fragile life can be. Even when I’m not sure what’s been lost, in my gut the scales tip, and I know it matters.
So, what do we do when the unimaginable happens? When the cornerstones and anchors (places or people where we tether ourselves) are devastated? When in our vulnerability, we feel completely “at the mercy of”?
A part of me needs to figure it all out. And a part of me wants to close my eyes and heart, and move on, assuming that some wounds will never heal.
Can our vulnerability shape the very building blocks that make healing possible?
Our strength and resilience does not come from a show of force or bravado, but in the freedom to be tough enough to be soft. When we do not hide our woundedness, we are prophets of steadfastness, justice, compassion and mercy. When we find the wherewithal to stand in the middle of it all, even without words, the healing begins.
We must let go of our hasty urge for a cheery spin. It’s important to see the devastation. To not run away. To feel undone.
Because here’s the deal: You can be broken, or you can be broken open. Broken open, you understand the depths, and you see an invitation (albeit dimly), to be wholehearted and to care. And you know; at any given moment we have the power to say… this is not how the story is going to end.
I write this on Easter Sunday, when a crucifixion did not say how the story would end. Richard Rohr writes, “Brothers and sisters, if we don’t believe that every crucifixion—war, poverty, torture, hunger—can somehow be redeemed, who of us would not be angry, cynical, hopeless? No wonder Western culture seems so skeptical today. It all doesn’t mean anything, it’s not going anywhere, because we weren’t given a wider and cosmic vision of Jesus’ resurrection. Easter is not just the final chapter of Jesus’ life, but the final chapter of history. Death does not have the last word.”
After the Notre-Dame fire, here’s what I know…
There is power in thin places.
The Celtic church had a word for moments of transformation. They called them thin places. “A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened,” writes Marcus Borg. “They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold (the “ahaah of The Divine”) all around us and in us.”
When you walk into Notre-Dame, you stand, silent and gratefully humble. But not by constraint. (I smile when I see the sign asking for quiet.) When I’m there (or in other cathedrals) I feel stunned into reverent silence. It is palpable. And the good news? Thin places are not owned by or proprietary to cathedrals or church sites or a particular faith group. I relish the way silence and awe resonate across lines of religion, ethnicity and age. “I don’t believe in God,” said one man, “but something real is here.” (17th-century poet George Herbert described church bells as heard “beyond the stars”.)
Do you notice how when we lose our bearing, we give way to forgetting, cynicism, noise, chaos and division? Well, awe resets the scales. My stuff, the stuff (and weight) I carry is now in context. Not merely that I am small (which I assuredly am in this universe), but the literal smallness of what derails me (worry, ego, disquiet, fear) is apparent, and now takes a backseat to wonder and gratitude.
In awe, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know”. And not be at the mercy of uncertainty. To find calm, even in uncertainty, and flames. To set down the weight.
In the presence of beauty time slows. It is literally, the sacrament of the present moment. “We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul,” John O’Donahue reminds us. You see, awe is fueled by beauty, and beauty holds our broken world together.
In other words, the Cathédrale is more than a tourist occasion for marveling. This sacrament of the present moment invites me to be a participant, welcoming my heart and soul to live smack dab in the middle of life. I am so grateful for Teilhard de Chardin’s reminder about the beauty in the divine which runs through all matter and life. Including life on edge.
And count on it; beauty (“divine diaphany”) spills into our lives and into the lives of those we touch, through acts of goodness and kindness and generosity and healing.
This is good news, because in the presence of beauty, what has disconnected us dissolves. And as the story goes forward, it is we. “We’re All Parisians Now.”
And yet. While we crave completion, rebuilding is a given, because we are never finished. Or, put it this way; there will always be scaffolding.
My Father was a stone mason. I learned the trade. And am proud of that. Standing in Notre-Dame, admiring the stone work, it gives you a different perspective. Did you know that the construction, beginning in 1160 took almost 200 years? Which meant that there were stone masons who were born, spent their lives working on the cathedral, and died before it was ever “complete”? Even so… their passion and beauty spill to this day.
Our world is still a broken place. Today in the news; “Terror in Sri Lanka: Easter Sunday bomb blasts kill more than 200 people at churches, hotels.” And yesterday, the 20th anniversary of the killing at Columbine High School.
One of my favorite rituals during Holy Week is lighting the Paschal candle, and seeing that light in a darkened church. A reminder also that paschal in Hebrew is pesaḥ, meaning the passing over.
There is power in the flame.
Let’s keep spilling that light, shall we?
for your week…
It is hope that helps us keep the faith, despite the evidence, knowing that only in doing so has the evidence any chance of changing. William Sloane Coffin
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–Thank you! My heart is too full for many words. All of your words were the msg I needed! Thank you for the courage to stand and speak the truth in such a loving way. Be kind to myself… I find it easy to be kind to others… why not me? Lagniappe is perfect for Easter (and every other season). Thank you! A’Lisa
–Good morning Terry, I couldn’t read or pray Sunday or yesterday but asked for God to hold me during this time… two losses of great people so close to me is hard to deal, there’s this fog that’s not leaving. But then this morning I read Sabbath Moment and it spoke to me. This is always the first thing I read on Monday mornings when I begin my prayer and meditation. If all I do today is read this I know the fog will lift and healing will begin. It did when I lost my daughter and I know that realistically it will soon lift. In the meantime God holds me while I weep. So dear Terry please know how much your Sabbath Moments on Monday mean to me and that this week they begin my healing. In gratefulness, K
–Your weekly musings have become part of my meditations. Thank you. Jill
–Thank you for all you do to bring peace, love and compassion to our sad world. Rita
–Terry, happy 40th anniversary! Thank you for your fidelity to “absorption in moments of grace”, for the sake of every one of us … Deanna Rose
–Thank-you Terry. A perfect day to be introduced to a fellow tribe member. For as long as I can remember, I have sought sanctuaries. I had them as a child. And I happily have them as an adult. Just read your book intro, and I delight in anticipation to read your entire book. Finally, what I have known my whole life is being articulated beautifully, and I’m most grateful. All the best, Marlena
–With Tiger’s win yesterday and this wonderful message of love this morning, my heart is full. Selma
–Congratulations on 40 years! Thank you for all the Sabbath moments, especially this one!! They refresh my soul! Wishing you and yours a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter. Cassy
–If you aren’t following Terry Hershey, do yourself a favor and start right now!! I’ve read this Sabbath Moment 3 times today…and I will read it again and again this week until I have tasted every single drop of good and grace and mercy and hope and resurrection “spilling” from this message. Oh.My.Goodness is an understatement. Thank you, Terry
–Terry, I grew up in a Southern Baptist church hearing all the same things you express nearly every week. Yet, I view my time there as a great foundation for my life since. I am now in a more open and welcoming church tradition. How about trying to see the good in your past rather than always bashing it? Just a thought…. Dee
–I feel like I’m living the Lagniappe…..your word brought so much beauty this morning…. thank you!! Terri
–So very very special! The world IS alive with The grandeur of God! Terry you have led us more deeply into not only your garden… Sanctuary… but our daily experience of Grace! Congratulations on 40 years of Ministry! Brenda Ann
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
The focused energy of angelic love makes these places havens for healing, portals to heaven. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one such place, filled with love and light that travels on angels’ wings into the hearts of all who enter and finds its way around the world. Those same angels are there now, and their love lives in the hearts of all who ever entered. Notre Dame will stand, even through this. Some things cannot be consumed, even by fire. Kanika Jelks
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.