Last night, Dean Malcolm Clemens Young shared his reflections on Notre Dame and the spirit on rebuilding. You can read his sermon below.
During spring of ninth grade my English class went up to Ashland, Oregon to see the Shakespeare Festival. We stayed in a local campground. Instead of sleeping with my friends I ended up getting a tent by myself. It wasn’t what I usually did but that night I prayed before going to sleep.
Then at 4:00 a.m. although it was still dark I woke up. This has never happened to me before or since but I was completely awake. My body felt like it was noon. I went for a walk through the wildflowers around the lake. I completely lost track of time. A wonderful sense of contentment came over me. It was almost a kind of heightened awareness of the spring clouds, the symphony of birdsong, a light breeze in the new oak leave and the smell of the earth.
When the sun rose, with my whole being I felt a voice say, “All of this is created. It all comes from God.” I will never forget this experience of holiness when everything felt so new, as if it was the beginning of a world.
People talk about spiritual rebirth in two main ways.
1. Most often we hear about a sudden conversion. A person is going about their life and a powerful experience changes them forever. Some Christian groups love this experience so much that they make it the basis for pretty much everything they do. People in those kinds of churches sometimes feel that they don’t really belong unless they can claim to have felt this. It can degenerate into a forced emotionalism.
2. Great mystics describe another path for spiritual rebirth. In the past people like the Puritans called it sanctification. This is the long-term practice of gradually growing nearer to the Divine. The story that guides my life, my habits of perception, the way that I meet people in the world, my sense of myself, even my connection to nature are gradually changing over time as I draw closer to God.
Cathedrals help us to meet God in both ways: in dramatic moments that change our life and gradually over time. Cathedrals are built by human beings over generations to be places where the beauty and love of God really get our attention. The architecture, the soaring arches, the spires reaching into the sky, the light filtering through stained glass, the deep notes of the organ give us a sense of transcendence. They connect us to the mystery at the heart of our life.
I guess a statistician would say that we are a self-selected group. Cathedrals matter to everyone here right now. That’s why I imagine that the news of the destruction of Notre Dame yesterday may have especially touched you in the way that it did me. It is tempting to see the collapse of the fleche, or main spire in flames as the end of something. It seems as if a unique and sacred place as been destroyed forever.
It’s hard to realize that the most seemingly transient parts of cathedral life, the prayers, the connections between friends, the sacraments, our memories of this shared yoga practice, the spiritual rebirth that happens here – these will continue on even if the building is destroyed. Cathedrals help us to connect with something higher than ourselves but they are not the only way to do so.
This week I encourage to see your own body as a kind of cathedral. Your body is beautifully constructed. This body that you work on through your yoga practice, and in other ways, it may be a way for someone near you to have a sudden conversion in how they look at the world. Your body over time might be the means for the people around you to gradually come nearer to God.It has been a very difficult week for me. But I have been looking forward to our time together tonight. You are images of the divine to me. Through you I see a new world coming into being.