Journal Entry from December 9, 2014 Paris, France
As I exited the metro station and saw Notre Dame towering the taxis below, tears welled up in my eyes. It was more beautiful than I imagined it would be – and as my gaze locked with the cathedral, I crossed streets and the Seine – eyes fixed – like a sailor following a lighthouse signal.
I had read The Hunchback of Notre Dame many times as a teenager and had seen the silent films as well as the watered-down Disney version of Victor Hugo’s tale.
Notre Dame was an enigma in my literary life – a beacon of Gothic architecture extending toward heaven yet often forgetting the commoners on earth and the messiness of the Messiah showing up in the mundane.
As my footsteps drew closer to the main entrance and its three porticoes, my heart began to race. The skill, beauty, hypocrisy, and stumbling victory of the façade pierced the heart.
I stood under the central entryway for almost twenty minutes contemplating the faces of the statues etched into the façade: saints, nobles, clergy, kings of Judah, all with their knowing glances staring into one’s soul.
I took time to listen to what I was feeling – amazement, joy, wonderment, and suddenly, terror.
It was a strange feeling, this beauty/terror that struck me as I stood between the two monolith towers that supported the central façade.
We often talk about how unapproachable the Church seems to be and I wondered about the passers-by in the Middle Ages as they lived and walked past such colossal beauty. As they passed through the market, what did this gargantuan cathedral communicate to people about who God was?
Was God also a Colossal Beauty?
And as we stand beneath Her beauty and strength, His breadth and width that seem to swallow us whole, what is it that we feel? The more we gaze into God’s mystery, are we overcome with the knowledge of our own inadequacies and of that familiar, yet unnamed, haunting feeling that we can’t quite ever shake whenever we are overshadowed by the divine showing up in front of us in colossal and beautiful and terrifying ways?
There I stood.
I was Job and the façade along with its towers and Rose Window were the whirlwind – dwarfing me in its grandeur.
My neck began to ache from staring at the central sculpted art protruding over the main door. I looked at angels and demons battling, the righteous on the left and the condemned on the right, the devil and saints balancing souls in the scales. Above them sat Jesus, Mary, and the apostles: all with blank expressions and posed in static glory – emotionless as the judgment took place below them.
I did not like it.
Mostly because I don’t like facing my own darkness, what I know must be judged and purged, let alone facing it with some static, overhead lighting type of faux-glory that sheds light but does not transform.
A burning bush, a whirlwind, an empty tomb, tongues of fire – these are instruments of a dynamic Glory that transforms and draws us out of our darkness. The splendor and scandal of the crucified Christ is beautiful because it illuminates and changes those who hear it as their own story. It transforms those who allow themselves to be drawn into the stunningly intricate tale of God unleashed around and among us…
So, there I stood, gazing at a stagnant, static depiction of Jesus – very much unlike the rebel I often read about and preach about and pray to.
The Jesus I know has tears in his eyes, dust on his feet, crumbs in his beard, and wine in his mouth as he mingles with guests at a wedding in Cana, with lepers in their homes, with hypocrites in their holy places, and with women who cling to the hem of his garment knowing that this Jesus transforms them.
The Jesus I know is the un-static, God-on-the-move, glory of the divine, putting on skin.
I am changed by this Jesus. The One who sticks doubters’ fingers in his scars, breathes peace over the frightened, swallows up death and hell in his conquering the grave, calls women and men alike to tell the Story, and then cooks breakfast for his friends on the shore.
It might sound strange, but the façade still haunts me as I write this…perhaps because a depiction of a stagnant, static Christ, a Jesus unmoved by the story of humanity, is not the Jesus I know.
Rather, it is the active, subversive, God-on-the-move, Word-made-flesh, rebellious, compassionate, and conquering Christ who lays down his life for us – all of us – who promises to be moved by the human story, who promises to swallow up the powers of darkness, death, and evil forever, all because of the relentless LOVE he has for us. That is the Jesus I know.
The Jesus I know has laughter in his heart as he props toddlers upon his knees, compassion in his voice as he chooses to call us his friends, and sorrow in his eyes as he laments over ones who do not return his embrace.
The Jesus I know gets dirty.
He gets dirty from the mess he enters into when he chooses to mingle with us – the ones dwarfed and terrified by the reality of Colossal Beauty choosing to make our hearts a dwelling place for a vast kingdom and choosing our hands to be the place where righteousness and justice kiss.
Our Jesus isn’t static. Our Jesus gets messy.
Our Jesus becomes our mess and conquers it on His cross.
That ain’t a stagnant yawn-fest. That is colossal, beautiful drama.
And that is a Story worth repeating.
Transformed by the Story,
Photos taken from my climb up the cloisters…