Only vaguely do I remember my time there. It had been a long, two-week trip. We’d seen a lot of countries, and a lot of churches. Basilicas, they were called, though I didn’t know the difference between that and a cathedral and a regular ol’ church. But we stepped into the French basilica, and I knew it was different.
I traveled in the tour group with my friend, Amanda. She was openly atheist, but seemed to know the rules in a church. She crossed herself with holy water, and yelled at me when I didn’t do the same. (“I don’t do those things!” I’d written in my travel journal.) I knelt with her in the pews (that, at least, seemed acceptable). I didn’t understand these rituals, but she respected a house of God, so I respected her.
I don’t have a lot of photos from Notre-Dame. I was a budding amateur photographer, and many of my vacation photos ended up dark or blurry. But the memory of Amanda kneeling in the pew, and the spiritual quiet of the basilica, is better than any photos.
Tragedy doesn’t hit me right away. When I saw news of the fire, it didn’t register. It was sad, in the way any fire is sad. But as the day progressed there were more and more reports, and photos from every angle. Later, when they began celebrating the saving of relics and stained glass, the severity began to sink in. I finally understood that this ancient, holy basilica had burned, and I mourned.
But in its eight-hundred-year history, this is not its first tragedy. There are countless stories of countless churches that have been demolished, burned, and rebuilt. When I visited Israel, I stood in the ruins of a 4th-century synagogue, which stood upon the foundation of a 1st-century synagogue. We marvel over the most recent (1,800-year-old) structure, but before that, it was something entirely different—something that had come down, for one reason or another, and was reconstructed.
So, yes, our initial reaction is to mourn the loss of beauty, the loss of history. But it hasn’t been lost. This is a part of its history, and we’ll witness its next life. No, it won’t be the same, but things seldom are. Like its reconstruction from the original Gothic into the Renaissance, to its subsequent plunderings and bullet-hole scars from wars, this is merely a passage. And, sometime in the future, it will experience change again.
I won’t forget those moments spent in prayer at Notre-Dame. The old Notre-Dame, now. Perhaps one day I’ll visit again, marvel at its reconstruction, and catch hints of its—and my—old life.
I spent a lot of time in airports this past weekend. Back-and-forth for work, squeezing in a food-court dinner during a layover, checking the “departures” screen again because I forgot my gate, again. During the layover rush on my journey outbound, I spied a small “chapel” sign pointing up a long staircase. My gate ended up being not too far from this staircase, and there was still a half-hour before my plane boarded, so I gathered my bags and toted them upstairs.
Despite being located in the bustle of an airport, you hardly hear the commotion once the door closes behind you. I was greeted by a chapel worker on my way in, but she was packing up for the day, and I was soon alone in the small room. There was a bookshelf by the door holding various religious texts, atop which sat their prayer cards and a basket of plastic rosary beads. I took a rosary, despite having one in my purse—there was a novelty to the plastic airport beads—and a Divine Mercy prayer card.
I was alone in the chapel, with the office worker gone, which gave me a chance to look around. Besides the bookshelf at the entrance, a table sat up front holding a plastic plant and several religious texts. One of them was open, which I assumed was the Bible; it was Sunday, so they likely had a small, intimate Mass hours before I arrived.
I’d intended to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, or simply close my eyes in quiet contemplation. But, being me, I simply had to see what other books sat on that table.
The open Bible was between a Qur’an and an English/Hebrew Torah. I flipped through the Torah, first from the wrong way, because that’s how it lay on the table. But, being left-handed, the “backward” way felt more natural when I started at beginning. I skimmed the first few lines of Genesis, comforted by the familiarity of our creation. “God saw that it was good.” And it was.
I made a mental note to invest in a Torah. I can’t read Hebrew for anything, but it feels like home, somehow. Even reading those first few verses, knowing we have the same God and the same foundation. It wasn’t the prayer time I’d expected going into the chapel, but those few minutes were much welcome in the hurry of travel. Speaking of which… I had a plane to catch.
I tried to find the chapel in the layover airport on the way home, too. There were signs for it, which I followed across terminals, but soon discovered that the chapel lay beyond the security point. I’d have to leave, and then go through security again, which no one wants to do more often than they need to. But I liked knowing that it was there. It became my duty to find the chapel in any future airports I visit, to express gratitude for those who worked it and for the God who kept me safe in my journeys. The airport chapel is an unassuming room tucked away somewhere, a place of quiet in an unexpected location. And it’s my new favorite place to visit, a necessary waypoint as I’m busy traveling somewhere else.
It started as a curiosity, trying to find a new parish in a new home. I’d attend Mass, or adoration, or the stations, visiting a different church for each to see what they were about. Then it became fun—seeing how many I could visit during a single season, deliberately visiting a new church each time I went. And on Holy Thursday there was the Seven Churches pilgrimage, adding another crop to my growing list in a single night. Now, I share all those churches I visited during Lent. Some I attended multiple times, and some I only saw for a few moments. (I’m looking at you, Seven Churches.) But they were all a blessing, and for me will always be part of this spiritual journey.
(List under the cut, because pictures! And a lot of them.)