The first time I heard of Notre Dame, was in high school Art History class. We studied the cathedral as an example of Gothic architecture and we memorized terminology and floor-plans. We learned of cross-vaults and flying buttresses. But there was something else: The light in our teacher’s eyes. The awe in her voice as she described centuries of craftsmanship. Her gravitas as she tried to open our self-absorbed teenage eyes to the existence of something so much bigger, and grander, and more significant than anything we would have encountered at that age. Learning about this building ignited my imagination. The thought that places like those were not just for movies or books, but actually existed, launched grand dreams within me.
The first time I visited Notre Dame was on a cold, rainy December morning in 2014. Like almost every other tourist in Paris that day, we were desperate to get out of the freezing drizzle. With scarcely enough time to glimpse at the apostles guarding the entrances, I was carried into the cathedral along with a wave of other people. It was not at all the kind of visit I had imagined. The side-aisles were crammed with moving bodies, silently shuffling along in a dim gloom. Nervous to keep my young children in sight, and pick-pockets at bay (the carnal amid the sublime), I could only sneak quick peeks, or quietly point my children’s attention to the rose windows.
Just before the throng carried me out the doors, I stepped between the rows of pews. My husband, who instinctively understood the gravity that moment held for me, took the kids and whispered, “We’ll meet you outside.” For a brief second, I allowed my gaze to travel up the tapering columns, letting them fulfill their purpose. They drew my eyes, and my heart, past the crisscross vaults and decorative ceiling, heavenward. For perhaps two deep breaths, I beheld the worship offered by craftsmen centuries ago. And added my own. For a breath or two more, this travel-weary sojourner found peace.
The next time I saw Notre Dame, was on a bright blue, summer morning in August 2017. Once again, we were making the most of a long layover, exploring the parts of Paris we hadn’t visited the first time around. Notre Dame was not on our itinerary, as we had seen it the previous time, but we happened to walk past it on our way to catch our water-taxi on the Seine. I asked my family to slow down, to spend some time taking in all we missed that rainy December day. We talked about flying buttresses and structure. I admired tarnished bronze kings who climbed towards the tall spire and the delicate lace that trimmed the roof line. The Lady shimmered pure and white in the early morning sunshine, showing off amid vivid green and white gardens.
All throughout that morning in Paris, as we traveled along the Seine, or walked Paris’ streets, Notre Dame spires and towers were comforting beacons. She was a guide to navigate our way back home.
I wonder, in all the centuries you have graced the earth with your beauty, how many dreamers did you inspire? To how many travel-worn pilgrims did you provide sanctuary? How many lost and lonely did you lead back Home?
This often-lost traveler and dreamer thank you.
‘Till we see you again,
When I was a little girl, my mom taught me to sew. She taught me to thread the needle. She showed me to fold and pin the seams. She guided my unpracticed fingers to weave the needle in and out of the fabric to leave a neat row of tiny stitches. If I forgot to hold the short end of the thread and it slipped through the eye of the needle for the umpteenth time to lie limply on the fabric, she helped me pick up and start again. She taught me about tension. And later, sewing machines. And ripping out when those stitches were wrong, or crooked, or messy. Man, did she teach me about ripping out!
While she was sewing grand outfits for her friends, or light summer dresses for me, I made little pillows from her fabric scraps. I embellished them with her cut-off pieces of ribbon and lace. I stuffed them with cotton wool from her medicine cabinet and spritzed them with perfume from her vanity. Carefully, I wrapped them in gift wrap from her closet. And then I ceremoniously gifted them to her. Small gifts from her great gift.
Creating is like that.
The talent and passion were placed in us by a loving Creator. The opportunities, education, and connections orchestrated by the One who provides according to our needs. When we mess up, or get stuck, or stumble, He is the Loving Father who helps us pick up and start again. And when we persevere, and edit, and finish, and offer Him our final product, it is a small gift to the Giver of great gifts.
Somewhere in my mother’s dresser, there is still a lopsided little pillow. The fragrance of the perfume long gone. The stitches crooked and uneven. The ribbon a touch too short and the insides creeping out where the seams were not properly tucked. She treasures that imperfect little gift. Not because she needs another pillow. But because she recognizes it as something made with love and gratitude.
And God is like that.