A shoe-box size package came from Amazon the other day. I'd ordered coffee packets so that I could keep my American ways while staying in a pensioni in Italy. First thing in the morning, it isn't coffee, but something akin to chicory that they serve before the espresso bar opens in the piazza. I thought about all the things I carry on these trips.
But as I write this post, Notre Dame (Our Lady), is alight with flames and social media is burning with the personal stories of the impact that a visit to the cathedral provokes. Count me among them, my husband and I on our way to Geneva, had a few hours in Paris and taxied to Notre Dame where we went one-by-one through the doors to stand in awe of the church's magnificence. On that day, I muddled through hand signals to buy bread and jam at a stand nearby and we left the place on the Seine my mother always dreamed of visiting.
Watching the spire topple into the open space below today, my heart broke. Friends on the internet who live in New York had profound reactions to that event. Nothing could prepare them for revisiting feelings of other tall structures toppling. My heart breaks for them too.
Construction started on Notre Dame 800 years ago, around the time that Saint Francis began rebuilding the churches in and around Assisi. And Clare had begun to form community at San Damiano. In the preparations to build the Cathedral; preparations Francis made to, stone-by-stone, rebuild the Church; and preparations that Saint Clare made on a dark night to leave her comfortable home for a life of poverty; change occurred in all three instances.
Tonight, in the smoldering hope that much of the Cathedral's interior and towers can be saved, I hear the hope in the news coming from Paris. I also hear despair over what has been lost; a symbol of all that lies deep in our souls, that aches for a sanctuary of peace.
As I prepare for thirteen days with people I've never met, sharing the journeys of St. Francis and St. Clare, I will carry more than just a few coffee packets. I'll carry the deep sadness we all feel at the apparent loss, but I will also carry hope that deep inside, each of us has a will to rebuild our own sanctuaries, those places within our hearts where we can find true peace.