Saturday, January 3, 2015

Resolutions Part 2: The Crown of Thorns and a Touristy Visit to Notre Dame

Yesterday I went to Notre Dame de Paris a learned a new word: parvis. 

No, that is not a French word. Well, it is, but the English translation is the same. The parvis is the open space in front of and around a cathedral. Sometimes it is enclosed by columns. Sometimes it is not.

In the case of Notre Dame de Paris, the parvis is entirely open and long and covered with tourists lining up for entry into the cathedral. We walked to the very end of the parvis and stood in line with the tourists. This is a real church with real church services, and I wondered if the parishioners needed to wait in line with all of the tourists in order to get into the church. That would be incredibly inconvenient.

After a while, I saw that there were actually two entry points. One was for tourists (visite), and the other one was for the parishioners (messe). There was no line for the parishioners. They basically walked right in.

As we waited in line, my son-in-law Patrick regaled us with a history of Notre Dame de Paris learned through a Google search. For example, in 1450, a pack of wolves infiltrated the city walls, killed 40 people, and were finally speared to death right in front Notre Dame, on the very parvis where we stood.

Another thing Patrick learned was that Notre Dame houses fragments of the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the crucifixion. On the first Friday of the month, at the 3:00 mass, the priests bring out the gold container with the crown of thorns. It was 2:45 p.m. when we arrived, and I thought this might account for the very long line.

Mass started right after we got in. The center of the cathedral is reserved for parishioners, and sides are lined up with tourists who around and take pictures while the parishioners pray. As a tourist, I feel very awkward and disrespectful. I mean, this is a real house of worship. As a result, I try to be very worshipful as I walk around, to try to be reverential. But in fact, I am a tourist.  I'm watching as people worship. I'm walking around. I'm having side conversations with my family.

We paused at the back and listened to the mass. It was at that point I noticed that a lot of people who had gone in through the parishioner entrance were leaving the center of the church and joining the tourist area. It turns out they were actually tourists who pretended to be parishioners in order to cut in line. That seems like a very touristy thing to do, actually.

We got to the front of the church, and we watched from the side as people lined up to kiss the gold container with the crown of thorns. I wondered if this was truly the crown of thorns. I tend to be a little skeptical. Nevertheless, it is good to remember the suffering of Christ, how he was "wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5). It is good to remember and to give thanks, to fall on our knees in adoration of the one who loves me and forgives my sins.

For a moment, I thought about joining the mass, about surrendering my tourist status to become part of the community. I wanted to sit and listen to the reading of Scripture, absorb the sacred beauty of the stained glass, and fellowship with Christians from a different culture who love God but who worship differently than I do. For a moment.

But this wasn't part of the plan.

And so I walked on. It's not good to mess with plans when you are a tourist. Especially if you are traveling with a group.

It occurred to me that if I want to stop living as a tourist in my own life, I need to create a new plan, one that connects me to the world I live in, the one I am not merely passing through.

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