06 March 2015

Night at the Cathedral

Lent is a rebirth I always seem to need.

You don’t have to be a religious type to find the idea appealing. Redemption, new life. Pretty compelling stuff.

I’m not giving anything up this year. Self denial is not one of my strengths.

What Lent feels like, especially these days, is like a visit I made a few months ago to a cathedral in France. The cathedral, in the city of Chartres, is known for its stained glass—it has 176 stained glass windows, most of which date back to the 12th and 13th century, including three rose windows, those very large, lovely circular windows you often see in Gothic cathedrals. They are beautiful works of art, something worth traveling long distances to see.

But the drive from the south of France took longer than expected, and by the time we got to Chartres, it was getting dark. We dropped the car at the hotel and rushed up the dimly lit road in the chilly November cold to the cathedral. Stepped inside. The last bit of tourists were shuffling through in their coats and woolen caps, pointing at this and that. A children’s choir was singing in the nave. 

It felt still, despite the end-of-day bustle, or maybe it was just that I felt still inside, in from the cold, all that space, the warm glow of candles flickering in a corner, some solitary person with her head bowed, praying. 

Daylight was receding, almost gone. Some disappointment that we wouldn’t be able to see the stained glass in all its glory. But when I looked up, way, up, I could still see it -- the jewel glow of deep blues, ruby reds. We’d have to wait through the night for daylight to come again to really see, but even in the dark, the light was there.

I don’t know how rebirth works. I know I want it but I don’t know how it works.

The other day, I read Frederick Buechner’s telling of the story of Jairus and his daughter. Just like us at the cathedral, Jairus got there too late—he got to Jesus too late. His daughter was already dead, passerbys said.

One can only imagine how that must have felt, how time must have stopped, there, on the road, dust blowing at their feet, the sun high above them, drops of sweat on Jairus's forehead.

Jesus told Jairus to not be afraid. Don’t fear, he said. Just believe.

And then he went with Jairus, to his house, where he said that the little girl wasn’t dead, she was just sleeping. And he told her – little girl, get up. And she got up.

Had she been sleeping? Had she been sick and Jesus healed her? Was she dead and now alive? Hard to say. But her parents had her back. She had herself back.

If beginning again is possible, it’s an idea that could change the world, or at least my world.

I got to the cathedral too late, was dark outside, hard to see. I'm still there in many ways. But I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins on the cross. And I hope I don’t have to depend on my religiosity. I hope I don’t even have to depend on my faith. 

I’m holding out for whatever Jesus did in that room with Jairus and his daughter. New life.