God Casts a Line…

…and we three fish take the bait. In the ongoing reflection of whether to use God or The Universe I like the way Mike Dooley says it best. He says, “It’s always The Universe when things are going really great. It’s God when I’m searching and in times of need.” And then we all chuckle and understand. Let’s just say on this Thursday in Paris there would be much searching and plenty of Divine intervention.

Our day on Thursday started a bit slow. Three days of running around in Paris and a four hour meal the night before had finally taken it’s toll on my body. There were no prospects of starting day four on a rapid pace and at an early hour. When we finally did get going around noon, our destination was to be Les Duex Magots, the famous Hemingway- favorite Brasserie on Place Saint Germain-des-Pres. We were to fuel up after sleeping in past breakfast.

Within two blocks I began to question whether or not I would be able to make the 20 minute walk without passing out. With each fading step I began to play that game in my head which asks alternately, “Am I just tired? Is it a hangover? Maybe I’m dehydrated? Is my blood sugar too low? Am I going to black out?” I suspect most of you have traveled to that unfriendly place before.

unnamed-4Fortunately for me, my wife Christiana recognizes this and offers the suggestion that we could eat closer to where we are right now and then just have coffee at the Hemingway cafe. Suggestion taken and she, Rhonda and I find a nice looking cafe. I order a chicken salad because as much as the burger tempts me, I realize that eating something other than meat, bread and cheese for the first time in three days is a good idea. More importantly I order a 5 Euro bottle of Coca-Cola. I almost didn’t order it because I thought it was ridiculously priced. Let’s just say it might have been the best 5 Euros I’ll spend on the entire trip. I sign onto the wifi, exchange a few pleasant messages with friends back home. I drink some French coke and eat a few bites of salad. I’m rallying.

After lunch we walk in the light rain towards our original destination, Les Duex Magots with Christiana serving as navigator. As we walk up Place Saint Germain-des-Pres we take in sights and sounds that no longer have me questioning my ability to remain upright. The light rain on my face feels refreshing. On our left we pass a non-distinct play ground. Rhonda stops to take a photo. As Christiana and I look over our right shoulders we see a fantastic, colorful wall mural that we might not have seen if we just kept walking unnamed-12in the direction we were headed. We turn and walk back to inspect things more closely. We speculate that it must have been erected in 1900 because the two dates at the top are 1753 and 1900. They couldn’t have put the 1900 on it if it was erected in 1753 but they could do it the other way around. We carry on. Near the swing set we see a door behind two parked cars. Christiana says, “Let’s see where that goes….”

Where it went was into the side vestibule of Abbey Saint Germain-des-Pres, the oldest church in Paris. The original Abbey was founded around 500 AD and like many old churches it has been ruined and re-built many times. The current structure is much newer, built somewhere around 950 AD! As usual photos don’t begin to describe the energy of a moment in time. This magnificent place drew us in quite by accident and then held us by the seat of our souls for the next half hour. As we entered, the giant organ was playing. There was a buzz of true spirit as the Holy week carried on in preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It reminded me more of the true purpose of this journey. Richard would have loved this moment in time. He did.

We carried on to find that Les Duex Magots was directly across the street from the church and right next to a Louis Vuitton store. What a contrast to the moment we had just enjoyed, but nonetheless we sat outside at Les Duex Magots. We had expresso and water and Cafe au Lait. It was clear that what brought Hemingway repeatedly to this particular corner of Paris was more than just the food or the service at Les Duex Magots. After our coffee we toured the Louis Vuitton store just for shits and giggles. I wondered if I would spend 3000 Euros on a suitcase even if I could. I must say some of the clothes though were more like art than just clothes. We enjoyed our little diversion back into the modern world.

Christiana and I carried on with our day shopping and eventually pointing our direction towards Saint Chapelle. Rhonda took some time on her own to explore other Hemingway sites and perhaps a museum. Along our way we found the famous Laduree and had a few exquisite macaroons. We saw little boutiques. We locked a lock on the Pont Neuf bridge for a new friend back home who missed the opportunity when they were here for the New Year a few months ago. Eventually we found our way to the line to get into Saint Chapelle. We were not prepared for what we found in the wait being almost an hour standing in the cold light mist. At a few points we almost decided to bail on this part of the adventure. Something inside kept telling us it would be worth the wait.

unnamed-13We walked into Saint Chapelle after yet another line to buy tickets. All in all the process took about 90 minutes. The vestibule and gathering area is quite dark and unremarkable. Christiana quickly shuttled me off to a winding stairway. I’m not too good with enclosed spaces and about ten steps in I started to get that panic feeling of “What did I get myself into…” Flashbacks of the climb to the top of Notre Dame began to play in my head. This fortunately was much shorter climb. Christiana was ahead of me on the stairway. As she emerged into the open area I had yet had the opportunity to lay my eyes on, I heard her simply say, “It was worth the wait…”

Saint Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis the IX in the thirteenth century to house a number of Passion Relics that he had collected, including the Crown of Thorns from the Crucifixion. As I stood in the very crowded and beautiful scene I’m not sure which blew me away more. The fact that I was looking at floor to ceiling stained glass windows that stood over 100 feet high and were built in 1300 -OR- the fact that I was in the place where the Crown of Thorns from Christ’s head was housed. That tingle inside my soul that I love so well when I get this close to Source was vibrating at an all time high. Those of you who read regularly I’m sure already know this line is coming. I wept uncontrollably.

After our visit to Saint Chapelle ended we walked back towards our hotel to rest. Along the way we grabbed a wonderful street market meal of roast chicken, potatoes, cheese and bread. Christiana dozed off for a bit and I sat on the balcony and listened to music and reflected. Our plan for the night was to head up to Montmarte about 8 pm to find the little Creperie we loved so well four years ago. We didn’t get rolling until almost 9. We even entertained the idea of staying in for the whole night and resting. In the end we figured we would be disappointed in ourselves if we didn’t go out for at least an hour or two.

The train ride to Montmarte was more intense than we expected. The trains were packed shoulder to shoulder and we kept our hands thrust deeply into our own pockets to protect our phones and money as we got bounced around on the Metro from Odeon to Barbes-Rochechouart. When we surfaced from our train ride we were reminded quickly of the different flavor of this part of the Paris has compared to the Left bank. This area which we stayed in four years ago was much closer to Montmarte. The perfect word to describe it would be seedy. As we walked through the gates of the Metro stop, men on the streets held there hands through the fences and tried to sell us packs of Marlboro cigarettes. The shops were mostly closed and the dirty streets were slippery with a mix of grit and rain. We pulled out our map, got our bearings and walked quietly and towards the stairway of Scare Coeur which is a place we knew would make us feel more at peace. How much at peace it would make us feel was yet to be determined.

unnamed-14Walking up the steps to Sacre Coeur at night is a transcendent experience. Sitting on the highest point in the city, The Basilica was built in the early 1900’s and glows majestically in the Paris night sky viewable from every direction. As much as the height of the church is often the focus, on this night it would be the depth that caught our spirits. Deep in the crypt of the church we would find our most Divine connection in a day already filled with many connections to Source. We arrived at the basilica about 10:15 p.m. much later than our original plan. After a brief look around we noticed an open stairway with a small sign that said Crypt Sacre Coeur. To our recollection this area wasn’t open when we visited four years prior. We explored.

In the crypt we found a gathering of about 100 people. In a few spots priests were hearing confessions in the open. In other words not behind curtains or doors. In one of the enclaves a huge white drape had been hung from the ceiling which was about 4o feet high. The drape was gathered to a point at the top and opened to a width of 50 or so feet at the bottom. In front of the drape and altar was set thousands of white flowers. Roses, Lilies and other pure white petals filled the space. Tall white, tapered candles were mixed in amongst the flower arrangements and all looked like they had been freshly lit within the last hour. The bright sea of white struck a marked contrast to the gloomy dark grey mortar of the rest of the crypt. It was as if we had found an oasis of light in the depths of darkness. Worshippers kneeled on the concrete without any padding. Nuns scurried around as if preparing for something exciting.

We asked a nun if there was a special service. She spoke no English but brought over another sister who did. She explained that there was no Mass, but there would be a reading from the book of John about the night of the Last Supper and there would be some chants and refrains from the nuns. We asked when all this would happen. She said, “Trois minutes..” We knew the time of our delayed arrival at Montmarte that night was once again Divinely guided.

So for the next half our on the night before Good Friday we sat in the crypt below Sacre Coeur with a few hundred Faithful and listened to the tale of the Last Supper sung in the French language by candlelight. No photos were allowed. It doesn’t matter. None could capture the experience at all. In that moment in time I felt such Joy. As I looked around the congregation at people of all ages, races and nationalities on their knees and all I could see Hope and Faith.

unnamed-23After our visit to Sacre Coeur we toured the streets of Montmarte looking for the creperie we loved so well. We found it but due to our late arrival it was closed for the night. The door was ajar so we poked our heads in. Aside from the crepes we were hoping to enjoy, we wanted to see if the Blackhawks playoff ticket we stapled to the ceiling four years ago might still be there. If you look closely you can see the first five letters of Christiana’s name below the number 9, just as she wrote them on the ticket in 2011. Follow any Faith you wish I say, but on this day of the Christian Holy week and on this day of our Spiritual pilgrimage visiting three significant conduits of French Christianity, on the eve of our departure for the Chartres cathedral where we will spend Easter, how fitting is it that we find a marker we left for years ago and the visible letters are C-H-R-I-S-T.

We have now arrived in Chartres. Richard’s final home. The magnitude of this journey has revealed itself at an all new intensity. I can hold my camera up in any direction and capture pixels so beautiful and majestic yet I can find no words to describe the experience so I won’t even try. I totally understand why he wanted to make this place his final Home.  I look down on the outdoor labyrinthe in the rain and realize there are many paths to the end of the line. Can we know which path will unfold? The mystery of the path of life unfolds with all its joy and sorrow. I walk, continuing to look for a place to call Home…

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About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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