Last Monday, April 15th, I went for a drive to clear my head before recording my podcast. When I got into my car, my phone started blowing up. People were texting me from all over the place saying, “Bethany, have you seen what’s happening in Paris?”
I stopped and scrolled the news and found that Notre Dame was on fire, and I literally just started crying. I know it’s just a building, but the reality is that it’s so much more than that.
I had people texting me because they were saying, “Bethany, when I think of Paris, I think of you.” And the reason is because I used to live in Paris, and when I lived in neighboring Switzerland, I traveled to my beloved city of Paris as frequently as possible. It was only a three and a half hour train ride from Geneva where I lived for about five years, and I would get on a train as much as possible just to spend the weekend there. So, anytime there’s any world news about Paris, my heart is stirred because I’m drawn to that city more than any other city in the world.
On that Monday, I just was really struck. I was moved by the fact that the world paused and everything was put on hold.
When beauty burns, something within us changes. I don’t know about you, but when I see an animal that’s dead, it really affects me. I remember when I lived in Australia, I used to walk down this path to school and church on a regular basis and it was just a sidewalk in a neighborhood. Nothing special about it. But I remember one spring, there were these beautiful butterflies that I had never seen in my life. It’s not the kind of species that we have in Texas anyway, and they had these really clear wings with like beautiful specs of rainbow colors and big polka dots. They were shimmery and shiny. They almost looked like an art project with glue and glitter and sparkly bits. And I remember walking down the sidewalk and I saw this butterfly lying on the ground. It was so beautiful, but there was no more life in it. I stepped onto the grass to get out of the way of passers by. And I just wept.
I don’t know what it was about beauty that made me pause. I don’t know why. When I go to the mountains or when I stare at the ocean, sometimes I’m just captivated. My breath seems to disappear. It catches in my throat and in my chest and I just cry. Beauty is one of the things that we are created to live with and not created to live without.
God Himself, His is beauty. And He is the Master Creator. One of my favorite things is creating and one of the times in which I feel most like God. That may sound kind of weird, I don’t mean that in a prideful way. I just mean one of the most connected times I have with God is when I’m creating. He is the creator and when I’m creating I feel like I’m following in His footsteps and I’m mimicking His pattern. And to me this all ties back into beauty.
That day as I was driving around the countryside, just thinking about my love for Paris and thinking about all my personal memories at Notre Dame, I thought about the people. I thought about the beauty of the stories of centuries and centuries of people. I thought about the beauty of the craftsmanship of those who built that wonderful ancient place. I thought about what offering people brought, what expression of their own heart and spirit that went into the work of that Cathedral. And not only that, I started thinking about every moment of sacrifice and praise and heartbreak, every moment of joy and triumph and celebration that’s happened within those walls. Every proposal, every first kiss, every breakup, everything that’s happened on the outside of those walls. Every moment of strangers meeting for the first time, every moment of reunions and meetings after a separation of years.
I thought about all of those things and how rich those stories are and that the reality is this burning of Notre Dame is not about a building. It’s about the hearts of humanity. It’s about people. It’s just a symbol. It’s a symbol of the beauty in our world and when beauty burns, something in us feels lost. Something in us feels like we’re dying; there’s loss and there’s mourning, and though, that’s a hard place to be in and we don’t always want to face that, it’s exactly what we have to do.
I got home from my country drive just and I went over to my shelf of really detailed and organized journals in my room. I have about 30 journals on my shelf and they are all dated from 1995 all the way to current. I picked up my journal from 2003 when I was an au pair living in Switzerland. And I started just randomly flipping through the pages of this journal and no less than five times did I see the words, Notre Dame, scribbled on the pages.
As I mentioned, I have so many memories there and one of my favorite ones is when I met one of my American college friends in Paris. We made our rendez-vous point Notre Dame – it’s in the middle of the city. It’s easy to get to. You can see it from far away. And I remember I hadn’t seen her in a long time and we met there and we hugged wildly and then we went on an adventure for the day. We went to Centre Pompidou. We went to the Louvre. We went and had crepes with Nutella and banana under the Eiffel Tower, and in a turn of events, we stumbled upon Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France. We didn’t even know it was happening and it was on both of our bucket list. How crazy is that?
One thing I reflected on that Monday of Holy Week was that more than Notre Dame – a symbol of history and the stories of a nation on fire – there was Jesus. It made me think of Jesus because He is the most beautiful and divine human this earth has ever known – beautiful because He is a physical, tangible representation of the Father and the Father’s heart.
I thought about being there on that Palm Sunday and ushering in the King of Kings. I put myself in the shoes of a person who thought that king was going to come and save everyone from this evil empire. I thought about the disappointment that they must have faced when they realized He came to be beaten and to be put on a cross because He was coming for a different kingdom. He was coming for a different purpose.
And the people couldn’t see that. They didn’t have eyes to see that, but those who did have eyes to see saw him on that cross beaten and bruised with His flesh torn apart. His body ripped to shreds. Jesus struggling on that cross to lift himself and breathe. They saw him bleeding and sweating and in agony, and I wonder if they looked at Him and thought, this beauty before us is dying.He’s going down. He’s being defeated.
Beauty feels personal. It’s like we own it. We hold onto it, we possess it, and when there’s an attack against it, we feel like we have to protect it. I see someone throw trash into the ocean and it really bothers me. Or someone leaving garbage on a beautiful mountain trail. Why? Because it’s pure beauty that they’re messing with and it feels untouchable. And I think that’s how the people must’ve felt about Jesus. He’s the beautiful representation of God. He is other worldly. He is the King of Kings and you’re messing with beauty.
Even so, He gave Himself up to die on a cross.
But we all know that’s not where the story ends. The resurrection is coming. It HAS come!
The purpose of the pain is around the corner. The beauty will rise again in a more beautiful way than we can conceive or believe. But this – this is the plan of God.
Here’s what I know to be true. In those moments when I feel like beauty is burning in my own life, there is always purpose in the pain. There is always redemption on the other side. We do ourselves an injustice if we just move past the pain into the resurrection, per se. If we move past the pain into the light and the beauty again, so quickly… we miss something. We miss the importance of sitting in that place and knowing who God is with us in that place.H
My hope for you today, as we pause to reflect on the journey of Jesus from Calgary and the cross where He died to the moments of the empty tomb, is that you would stop and reflect on who He is to you, what He’s done for you.
He is the one and only true beauty.
I pray your hearts would be stirred by Him this week. But I also pray that you would sit in that place and linger longer in that place of pain… BECAUSE PURPOSE IS COMING.
Let me pray for you.
Jesus, my heart is broken for the city of Paris, for the people who are hurting because they are watching a symbol of their history, of their freedom, of their triumph, of their deep years of faith come burning to the ground in ashes. And yet I’m thankful for the perspective to know that You are with us in the fire and You are with us in the flames. John Wesley said, “Catch on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
I think about that with Notre Dame. The whole world has its gaze locked on the city. And I pray that You, God, would make Your presence known in peoples’ hearts – that You would be so real and so present in they’re suffering and in their confusion and in our suffering and in our confusion, in our places of pain where we feel like beauty is burning right before our eyes.
God, I’m thankful that that is not where the story ends, that the sun is rising metaphorically and literally the Son, Jesus Christ, has risen. Tomorrow’s a new day, but may we not miss You in this moment in this pain. May we see You with us and know Your goodness and know Your touch and know You’re nearness. We love you so much. We give You all the glory in Your mighty name, Jesus.