“Look there it is, you see that tower there?”, my aunt pointed out to her son the first glimpse of one of the towers of La Notre Dame de Paris. The boat pulled up to the bank and the woman announced the stop for the Notre Dame in French and English. My family debarked; a rather large party consisting of my parents, two younger sisters, my aunt and uncle and their son and daughter, and another uncle. This was our first day in Paris and our second day in France. We had rented motorhomes in Frankfurt, Germany a week before and made our way through Germany visiting old friends. We were staying in Paris before moving on, making our way to the west coast of France where we were going to meet up with another aunt, uncle, and cousin. Coordinating with so many people in three different motorhomes while trying to navigate in foreign countries was a challenge. In fact, it was such a challenge that later on, two of the families became separated and did not meet up again until we were all back in the States. Leave it to our family to get lost with a week left in the trip.
My sister Molly and cousin Ben climbed up and sat on the steps on the bank across from the cathedral. We all stopped and gazed at the triumph of gothic architecture; buttresses supporting large stained glass windows, saints in prayer adorning the roof while gargoyles stand by, looking down on L’Ile de Paris and light softly filtering through the intricate rose window. We walked across the Seine and joined the crowd in the front of the cathedral. Nearly a thousand years of religion and tradition stared down through cold stone eyes as we walk through the main doors.
I gasped a little as I walked in, the beauty and the intricacy of the design literally took my breath away. Candles flickered silent prayers and danced on the paintings and stone walls, casting a soft glow and illuminating the cathedral as they had been doing since it was built in 1165. I wonder at those who built it. Did they really believe in the faith upon which the cathedral was based? Or was it just insurance against hell? I walked past the pews where French men and women were praying, then looked to the other side of the cathedral where a Jewish man was marveling at a statue. I realized in seeing that man something that I must have known all along, but in a way that was so real I could not have truly known it before: faith is the heart, the life of religion. It is the reason why a cathedral built hundreds of years ago can still fill our hearts with wonder, regardless of what religion we are. Faith, in its purest form, brings us together, despite our differences.
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