Notre Dame and Louisiana: Theology You Can Touch

“The Gothic style has given the church a theology of glass and stone, a model that has spread to Catholic and Protestant structures across the centuries and around the world.” Dr. Matthew J. Milliner, Wheaton College, from  Christianity Today

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (before the fire)

A few days ago, as I was looking for Holy Week Psalms in preparation for my “Praying the Psalms” class, news came of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. Like the rest of the planet, I watched with grief as firefighters tried to save Christendom’s most famous cathedral. Gothic architecture has a special place in my heart and imagination. Recently, I was conducting one of my choral compositions at Our Lady of Santa Ana Cathedral, just two blocks from my home in El Salvador. This gothic cathedral is an imposing faith and cultural center of our city and province. I grew up admiring it, and the place has the ability to transport me to heaven when I hear singing in its nave.

The Notre Dame tragedy came on the heels of the awful news of three Baptist churches that were burned in Louisiana, in what has been labeled a hate crime.

As Christians, we lament the loss of any place of worship. It is basic to our respect for all humans.  In these recent cases, we lament deeply, because we remember the beauty that has been imparted to the Christians who have worshipped there for many years. In the case of Notre Dame, Dr. Milliner eloquently speaks for all of us when he says,

“It was excruciating to watch its spire fall. But at the risk of saying this too soon, the Gothic style represented by Notre-Dame de Paris cannot be stopped by fire. This style has given the church a theology of glass and stone, a model that has spread to Catholic and Protestant structures across the centuries and around the world.”

In the case of an African American Baptist Church, the pain is also excruciating. I first became familiar with the witness of the Black Baptist tradition when I found the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King and other preachers from his era during my refugee years in Guatemala, where I had fled to because of the civil war in my country. The acts of courage of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, were of great consolation and inspiration for my young heart. I was fifteen, and separated from my immediate family.

A veteran civil rights leader here in Waco once explained to me:

“For a black Christian, our churches are not only places where we exalt Jesus; they are also places of dignity and freedom. For many years, our churches were the only places where we had a voice and a vote, where we could develop leaders, where we could marry, and bury our loved ones. They were (and still are) the heart of our community.”

Because of these powerful words, black churches symbolize to me a high tower – beacons of light that transcend the values of this world. Their beauty is deeply displayed in their leaders and members: their witness and courage also reminds us that Jesus indeed came in the flesh, to love and to redeem this world.

God willing, Notre Dame will rise from the ashes: the resurrection power is strong in its bones, as her glowing cross reminded us.

And, at this time of pain for our sisters and brothers in Louisiana, let us not forget to stand with them also. Their witness has been, and continues to be, grace and truth. And this Holy Week, we need Grace and Truth Incarnate.

More than we know.

(Please consider giving to the rebuilding of the Louisiana churches damaged by hate and fire)

By Carlos Colon

Composer, liturgist of global sacred music

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