I was transfixed by the flames over Paris this week. I watched the fire crews, the residents who live in the shadow of Notre Dame, the drone footage. I was saddened by the potential loss of an icon.
I read commentaries about the meaning of the building. This one was written by Kira Austin-Young, an Episcopal priest in Tennessee.
" … what I saw burning was a church. I thought of all of the churches that have been destroyed or damaged— the black churches in Louisiana burned through racially-motivated arson. … in a world where things are increasingly disposable and marked by private space that can only be accessed through commerce, to lose a public worship space, a place where the community gathers, is devastating. … particularly one that has been hallowed by centuries of prayer. Our souls need sacred spaces, places that are holy and set apart, places marked by beauty."
Each of these places blur sacred and secular (Notre Dame is the property of the French Government, not the Church). Our Lady is the zero kilometre mark for the roads leading from and to Paris. She is an icon and commercial hub. That's not necessarily bad. Last week I spent two days in a room with others discussing how sacred space might become more so by being less so: transforming sacred buildings into inclusive community buildings, commons, neighbourhood households where people, religious and not, work together for each others' good.
Who determines what is a "worthy" sacred space?
There is a roughness to this podcast by Ryan McMahon, but it offers an invitation to consider how we see sacred space. Notre Dame is sacred space. Many of us see our places of worship as sacred space. Indigenous burial mounds are sacred space. Aren’t they?