There is a long history in many religious and ethical systems of sacrifice, self-sacrifice, self-immolation, martyring one’s self to take a stand, make a point.
I sense Notre-Dame de Paris self-immolated today in order to serve as a metaphor to bring the western world together, to remind us of our historical journey these last 859 years, and to assist us as we move forward to become a loving Earth community.
One friend wrote that buildings do not self-immolate. I’m not so sure.
Geneen, a friend in Utah, wrote, “Our Lady ignites our attention and pondering of the mysteries [of life], and [with] unexpected, public devotions and grief.”
On the evening of Monday, April 15, 2019 Our Lady huffed and puffed and burst herself into flames just minutes after closing when the last of her visitors had safely left for the day. She made sure everyone was safely out of the building. It reminds me a bit of what Thomas Berry said about the World Trade Center in New York City. If it were ever destroyed he hoped it would happen on a Sunday morning when no one was in the buildings. Always keep the people safe.
Art historian Lord Kenneth Clark opened his 1969 book and accompanying documentary “Civilisation” in front of Notre-Dame de Paris asking “What is civilisation?” (pg. 1). He believed that Notre-Dame de Paris represented it in some ineffable way.
My friend Siddika just called to share her sadness about the cathedral’s fire. She felt it was a metaphor for the fact that western civilization is on fire, destroying itself. That is true, of course. Later she added,
I had a further thought about the Western Civilization on fire motif. The towers, essential to Notre Dame, remain. They are the moral foundations of the West, the true distilled wisdom of the earth’s great Western religions: love; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; be merciful; care for the stranger and the vulnerable; feed the hungry; care for the sick; forgive (even enemies). From these towers of ethics we will have to rebuild our world if we are to survive as a race worthy of the name Homo sapiens rather than be consumed by the fires of climate change, hatred, and war.
And speaking of hatred and war, maybe it is no accident that the color of our current president’s hair is the color of fire, and that we say about him what we said to kids on the elementary school playground, “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!”
Resurrection by Brian Sebastian Swimme, the son of Brian Thomas Swimme
Brian Thomas Swimme framed the fire as the mystery of death in this post in the Journey of the Universe newsletter entitled “Resurrection”:
The world watched in horror as some of history’s most beautiful works of religious art became flame, then smoke, then atmosphere. Stunned to our bones, again, by the mystery of death.
Only in the rarest places, including the poetry of our most profound mystics as well as the ravings of our saddest lunatics, is death admired. Our fear reveals our intense love of our fragile lives. Even pyramids fail as bargaining chips.
Though the universe has been creating itself for fourteen billion years, only recently has any Earthling pulled back the blanket of time to contemplate the whole. We are astounded to discover the ways the universe thrives on death. Ninety-nine percent of all the species Life has concocted have gone extinct.
We do not have words for the fire that destroyed Notre Dame forever. We shiver when we hear St Francis call holy the burning firebrand pressed to his eye. Or the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin discovering, at the front of war, the Cosmic Christ. But they force us to wonder. Does the universe have the creativity to turn our dread into astonishment as something new, something erotic, something death-defying comes forth?
I just talked to another friend about the fire in Paris. She is not someone prone to the metaphysical so for me her words carry extra weight. She said that upon hearing of the fire she glimpsed a vision, a mythical image, of a phoenix rising from the ashes of the cathedral. Perhaps western civilization reborn?
Here is an illustration from the past to give hope and direction for the future. It’s by Jean Fouquet from about 1450 and depicts the cathedral of Notre-Dame, already nearly 300 years old, with the rest of Paris in the background. It is proof that there once was wild nature on the banks of the Seine. May it be so, again, under the graceful guidance of Our Lady for Our Earth.