Our Lady in Flames

I did finish my “goddess room project” during today’s day off from work. And I was all stoked to post my before-and-after pics in a celebratory post tonight.

But that celebration will have to wait, because I am one among the throngs of humanity heart-broken over today’s catastrophic fire at Notre Dame de Paris.

I was just finishing up my cleaning when the news alert came through on my phone, and then I spent about 45 minutes glued to the livestream as the spire fell, as the flames continued to build and billow int he wind. Finally, I turned off my video feed, heartsick, and tried to distract myself with other things.

Now that I’m back some hours later, I am relieved to see the news that much of the stonework has survived, including the two emblematic stone towers and the interior vaulting of the cathedral. Still, I’m gutted to think about how much has been destroyed, and how this has occurred at the start of Holy Week for most Catholics and Protestants.

Incendie_de_Notre-Dame-de-Paris_15_avril_2019_11

It may not make much sense, a witchy UU-type like myself being so distraught over the fate of a Catholic cathedral, but there’s lots of ways I feel personally connected to and affected by this event.

To begin with, one of the main reasons for my UU leanings is the diversity of “texts” that I find to be spiritually nourishing—hence my love for the UUA’s Six Sources. Among the texts I have been inspired by for much of my life is architecture, including mosaic and stained-glass work. Now, I don’t know a damn thing about architecture academically or intellectually, but I love, love, love looking at buildings and grooving on the spirit of human creativity and effort that went into making these artifacts of life and art.(1) So, purely as an architecture fan, this is a tremendous loss. (For more eloquence on this than I can summon, check out this article at Vox that quotes Victor Hugo.)

More deeply felt reasons for my sorrow stem from the core-level empathy I feel for followers of any spiritual path, whether or not it’s my own such path. It’s more than having friends and heart-family who are feeling this loss through the lens of their own Catholic or Christian faith—though I have a great sense of that as well. You see, I grew up in a pretty non-religious family, so when I got to college and grad school and felt a call towards exploring my spirituality, I had the tremendous opportunity and privilege to dip my toes into different faith traditions. I did a bunch of reading and took the opportunity to visit different faith communities for worship.(2)

Obviously, the end result of that process was me claiming my witchy wonderfulness rather than converting to Catholicism. But the broader learning I took from this whole experience was a deep conviction about what Matthew Fox calls the “one river, many wells” factor: the ways humanity’s wisdom traditions are more alike than they are different, and the strength of my desire that every one of us receive the flavor of spiritual nourishment that most feeds our soul, whether that nourishment take the shape of ethical atheism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or neo-paganism of any stripe. And so, even though Notre Dame isn’t, literally, one of my spiritual homes, it is someone’s spiritual home(3)—and, as such, it is an important loss. (I dare you to watch this video of bystanders singing Ave Maria whilst watching the flames burn without touching into the depth of what this community is feeling.)

Finally, are the small interweaves between Notre Dame and my own pagan path. The ways that Marian imagery in Catholicism is one of the longest-running traditions within Christianity of venerating female spirituality. I still remember the conclusion of Mists of Avalon, when Morgaine talks about how the Goddess didn’t really disappear when Christianity took prominence in Britain.(4) And there’s the historical detail about how a pagan temple likely stood on this site prior to the cathedral’s construction.

So yes: much to be grateful for, in that the main structure has been saved, and the majority of artworks and artifacts were removed from harm’s way. And: much legitimate sorrow tonight.

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(1) Some day I will have to dish on my obsession with Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

(2) I was lucky enough to find a book that had some great advice on how to be a good visitor to different houses of worship. It was long enough ago that I can’t recall the title with any precision—and I’m bummed because I really wanted to share a link to this book!

(3) Many someones, to be more precise. Not only is this building emblematic for Catholics and French Catholics, it’s emblematic for all Frenchman, and a whole lot of historian/music/art types as well.

(4) N.B.: I haven’t read MZB since I learned her crimes—but I can’t erase the fact that her novel halfway made me a neo-pagan even before I officially claimed the identity of witch.

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Image credit: Wikipedia contributor Remi Mathis, via a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

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