Fire is a strange thing.
It cooks our food, keeps our bodies warm, and purifies the water we drink.
It is also one of the deadliest and destructive forces we encounter in the natural world, and it never ceases to amaze me that despite our technological advances, we can do little against a raging fire other than toss water at it.
Fire eats people. It eats the oxygen in our lungs. It will eat the stuff of a lifetime within minutes. And when it’s hungry, it doesn’t care whether the fuel is coming from a sizzling Christmas Tree light in a Walmart parking lot or the wooden rafters of a 12th century gothic cathedral. The fire will continue to feed until there is nothing left to eat.
Having experienced some recent personal tragedies as the result of fire, I can tell you that I place very little value on structures and possessions at this stage of my life. It’s all just stuff, really. I wear my father’s wedding band on my pinky. If it fell off and rolled down the drain, my father’s memory in my heart would not be diminished. I love my new house, but the structure of it doesn’t make it a home. The people inside it do. The human experience transcends our mere possessions.
I am thinking this as I watch the cathedral at Notre Dame burn to the ground.
When it’s over, there will be little left of this iconic house of faith but ashes and sadness.
But as it is the start of Holy Week, there is something else to consider. The cathedral, like all cathedrals and churches, represents the Body of Christ. It is the physical place where Christians go to practice their faith, and celebrate the Divine. The actual body of Jesus Christ was no more indestructable than a church building. It could be cut, it could bleed, it could be beaten, and it could be murdered. But the body of Christ did not contain Christ, as the Easter story teaches us. And, as Jesus ‘rebuilt’ his own body from within the grave, so, too, can we rebuild churches, even historic ones, from the ashes of the fire.
While my heart breaks for the loss of this most astonishing of human creations, I am comforted by the idea that what the cathedral represents is something that mere fire cannot destroy.
Love and faith endure. Always.