Bernd Leygraf writes: Today is the third time in a year that I find myself, en route, in Paris, immediately in the aftermath of yet another act of violence. I am invariably touched at how, at Notre Dame (‘Our Lady’) Cathedral, the shrine at the heart of their nation, Parisiens, rather than hide away at home, remember what they are about, as they congregate in this public place, and stand shoulder to shoulder — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, politicians and citizens alike.
I’m currently on sick leave from my faculty work at OneSpirit, but — so that you know I have not popped my mortal coil yet — I record here that in some unauthorised but tangible way, I represented the community of OneSpirit ministers by joining the thousands of Parisiens at Notre Dame Cathedral, to pray for peace in and for the city.
Notre Dame puts on, at short notice, a highly dramatic good show, beautifully focalising minds and hearts during moments of fragmentation. A huge choir sits with nuns and monks in the choir stalls as, at one moment, the organ belts out a processional hymn and, incense wafting, in sweeps the procession of clergy, followed by the Archbishop of Paris, himself chronically fatigued… up to the altar, which he censes carefully, taking his time and then turning to those assembled, and always without script, calmly and confidently addresses the congregation.
It strikes me that the space around the altar is heaving with people, old and young, many ethnically diverse, and so many women, despite an all male clergy. The singing is superb, the prayers are earnest, everyone has their place and purpose, and if nothing else, Parisiens return to their homes fortified, defiant and — despite all — with hope.
That’s what I am sending all of us today, and to myself — hope, that we can recover, individually and collectively, from our own bouts of violence, always remembering that this is not our work, but that of another. And if we want to collaborate in this work, we must serve, as Notre Dame serves her people, and not eat one another alive.
Stand with me, as I do with you, so that together we can say confidently to the other, the ones who are not ‘us’: I see you!