How can it be? Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames? And, early on Holy Week no less. There are not words to capture the sense of our world’s spiritual and cultural loss. Serge Schmemann, comes close when he writes “beauty and human genius lies gravely wounded” (New York Times, 4/16/19).
In response we hear brave words about rebuilding. Good. Yet, we know some things are forever gone. Amidst the rubble and ashes lies an awareness that all our desires for permanence are ephemeral. Constancy and immutability are never fully within human grasp. Great Cathedrals serve as pointers to something more eternal yet even they come with no guarantee-of-forever. Small rural African-American churches, like those destroyed by fire in Louisiana recently, served as miniature cathedrals, for their faithful. They too now grieve irreplaceable loss. Our call is not to believe we hold a final word or permanent design as to what God is about. At our best we point the way, catch a glimpse of something better, and share what we have seen with others. We offer our best, our highest aspirations, mixed in with our frailties, our vulnerabilities. How then shall we proceed? In the places we live and work? In Louisiana? In Paris?
This Easter, with Notre Dame in view, I am reminded of a favorite poem by Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” Closing lines include these delicious words:
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest…
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice Resurrection — My prayer is that you, that we, will practice our Easter prerogatives and that the practice of resurrection will become routine. May it be our habit, our nod to that which is indeed eternal.