There were beggars.
Relegating themselves to weathered skin on the cold stone ground. Holding out mangled hands; rasping unintelligible words; lining the cathedral of God.
There were thieves.
Glancing furtively; attacking quietly. Plain clothed people. Regarding others as pawn and pawn as riches for the squander; interspersed in the cathedral of God.
We were warned of them, as inherent in the architecture. “Notre Dame boasts its flying buttresses and clustered pillars, but you will also find its beggars and thieves.”
Walking in, we found that stone after stone grasped for the heavens. Vaulting shafts conspired to tell of a Grandeur whom the architects had to have known. Every window and portal painted God’s story.
Notre Dame has this fascinating history of prayer and music; of pillage, of plunder; of saints and sinners. In 1768, geographers decided that all distances in France would be measured from its spires. It would serve as a tool of reference; of distance to and from.
Revolution found war here. Victor Hugo found inspiration. I found an identity of sorts.
There was a certain desperation in the eyes of the beggars I met that day: a poverty of externals; a poverty of the soul. I have looked into these eyes before, serving potato soup and browned beans. I wondered how poverty seemed at home in a homeless shelter and yet so out of place here.
My best conclusion is that Notre Dame is a cathedral, immense and rich, constructed to weave the goodness of the God-man into the fabric of humanity’s sin. Creating a stunning work of art that rings out redemption with its bells. Yet redemption wasn’t ringing. I could see it in their eyes.
What could they see in my own?
Would they see me begging for mercy and yet so quickly robbing others of its riches? Would they see me craving for more than my daily bread and finding a gnawing hunger in my soul for more? Would they see me crying for God’s will to be done and stealing that will into my own hands?
I am accustomed to living in this world of faded glory, under the heavens. Mine is a dim understanding, like squinting to see text in the dark. Glory will be met one day, and held close in my arms, and worshipped. For now I see only faint traces, even as I am fully known.
These faint traces of Glory may look like the laughter of our kids, the bent knee of humility, the hushed white of snow blanketing the hardened ground. Yet without Glory giving me eyes to see, I bypass it all. I am the beggar in the cathedral who doesn’t know for Whom the grandeur was made; who hardly sees grandeur at all.
Despite the suffering in this world; even in the midst of that very pain, Glory is alive and well. This side of heaven, Hope surrounds me, ascends beyond the clouds, and stands firm beneath my wandering feet.
His story is the One I must know, grasp, and tell, for by it I am made fully whole.
Above all, I am a beggar and a thief redeemed to love. If there be any desperation and craving in me, may it be the plea to be cured of this world’s blindness. I so need the vision of Christ above my own.
“Son of David, have mercy on me… Lord, I want to see.”