I am writing on the train travelling from Paris – destination Rome. I am wondering what words I can draw together that could ever do justice to such an amazing place. I’ll have to write several blogs but for now instead of trying to describe the suave stride of the confident Parisian, the flamboyant waiter or the gothic and elaborate decor that dresses every nook and cranny, I’ll keep to familiar territory – moi.
I survived a perilous bike ride with my wife (she may as well have used a unicycle). The terrified pedestrians will still be talking about the crazy woman who wobbled the breadth of the walkway narrowly avoiding a front wheel up someone’s crutch warning the innocent Parisians of danger with a cry of, “le shit!”
After robbing the local bakery of all things yummy, we went from street to street admiring the lives that had been lived and their stories wondering if the historical journey would ever end. I was curious if the fast talking waiters were mindful of the history laden buildings in which they served us and how their centuries old counterparts served the many before them. Honestly it is complete overload, you simply can’t take it all in.
Understandably, so much of our lives are spent thinking about here and now; buying a house, kids, work, community, bills, holidays and of course ice cream! Yet the thing that most impacts our life right now is the legacy and history left by those before us – some even sacrificing their lives for a principle that we take for granted today. Being in Paris has prompted me to think about exactly this – how history has impacted me and how can I honour it.
The most personal thing that impacts my present day is the life of Jesus – Christianity disturbs me and yet offers hope, my spiritual journey reminds me of a glass of oil and water. If you stir it enough the water and oil temporarily homogenise but within a few minutes it predictably separates again. I have to admit, I have trouble getting through the noise that the modern faith expresses, but I am also respectful that what is happening now is carving a legacy for the generation to come. Experiences like Paris vigorously stir my glass of oil and water giving me a moment of an unseparated faith.
I visited a church in Paris called St Germaine de pres. It is the oldest church in Paris built around 543 AD to house the supposed fragments from the cross of Jesus. On a cool autumn day 1470 years later, I walked through the church’s old wrought iron doors that ancients had opened countless times before me and despite my varied church experiences, I broke through the noise and captured a spiritual moment. Cutting through the musty smell of this old church came a sweet aroma of my place in the world. Fortunately for me there is more in this life than the instant gratification from eating chocolate croissants – although after Paris I could almost be satisfied with that.
I could describe my moment as temporary relief from my introspective view that only an experience like this could provide. I am one individual amongst billions of others and although life demands that I take note of my immediate surroundings, it has to be balanced with a sense of perspective. I am a musician and being an artist can encourage long periods of reflection, hoarding introverted feelings like priceless antiques. By walking the streets of Paris I was confronted with the enormity and sheer volume of art and writings. My reflective and melancholy pondering’s are just a grain of sand in amongst the countless others who have created the tapestry of thought dwarfing the size of the ocean. Our thoughts are important but they just add to the collective, they aren’t definitive, and this is why I think we need to live open handed.
I belong to a local church because I want to be a part of the spiritual conversation like the many artists that have contributed for many millennia. After this wonderful visit to Paris, punctuated by my moment in the pews of St Germaine de pres, I feel more satisfied to hold things loosely. I hope to follow the example of Jesus who demonstrated his comfort level with ‘the grey’ over and over again. When Jesus was confronted with black and white propositions, he used stories that reflected unimaginable grace and compassion when the religious of the day demanded a militant and legalistic response.
Knowing your place in the world may be the best way to moderate the sometimes brutal conversation Christians have around topics like gay relationships, climate change, heaven and many other things. What I do know is the collective conversation over millennia has brought followers to more mature conclusions than what was originally considered the agreed wisdom, and that should be sobering for us all. It was only a few years ago that many churches wouldn’t allow women to be elders in a church. I am guessing there will be many other things that will adapt or be interpreted differently as the conversation evolves.
Much to my disappointment it seems the world doesn’t revolve around me and my ideas! I hope my moment in St Germaine de pres stays in the front of my mind when I get on my high horse and I am reminded that I am only a contributor to the conversation not the conclusion. For us to appreciate our ‘now’ we have to respect the past and what the global conversation has taught us. In amongst the buttery delights served on every street corner, is the silent speech that history cries out, we just have to listen.
Before our trip there was just me and my thoughts front of mind, but then….there was Paris.