My reflections on the fire in Paris are now published in The Point Magazine. You can read the full piece on their site.
Here are some excerpts:
“Stepping inside the Notre Dame is a bit like stepping outside of ordinary time and space. The immense verticality of the entire structure, illuminated from outside through light refracted in the colors of the stained glass, isn’t accidental in its immediate effects on our consciousness. We are meant to experience our own smallness relative to its vastness; we are meant to be drawn upwards towards the light pouring in from all sides, and to recognize it as symbolic of an external revelation that illuminates and transfigures our minds and hearts. Her rose windows are meant to be occasions to contemplate the mysteries of human life—birth, love, sex, death—and the nature of eternity. As we enter, we are meant to feel deep in our hearts a yearning for that which is greater than ourselves; if we do not experience this awe and wonder, or stop to contemplate the depths of these mysteries, we have missed something of the structure’s essential intent.
In noting its essential meaning, I certainly do not wish to deny that one can marvel at it simply as an architectural achievement, or at its historical significance for France—these are clear aspects of its universal appeal. At the same time, there is something abstracted about this posture that does not quite touch the depths of emotions even secular people report of their own experiences inside it. The truth is that the Notre Dame cannot be reduced to a “monument to civilization” or “architectural wonder” or “historical landmark”; there is a definitive truth it aims to help visitors encounter. The Notre Dame was and still is a cathedral of the Catholic Church, wherein sacrifices, confessions, and prayers to God are made every day; the entire edifice is therefore designed to draw out our deep longing for union with an absolutely transcendent truth, goodness and beauty. A posture of detached observation and mere appreciation stands in tension with any experience of it as what it essentially is. Mere abstractions do not pierce the human heart.”