Tragedy, resurrection, hope

Cornwall Cogitation 16/194 Saturday 20 April 20119 Tragedy befell Paris, a nation, and the world as fire raged in Notre-Dame on Monday evening. The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral suffered a mortal, though thankfully nonfatal, blow.

A Parisian journalist, interviewed on BBC Breakfast, on Tuesday spoke of the 12th-century cathedral as–what I interpret–a culturally-inspiring part of her life, the place she passed on her bike and occasionally paused to enter. “I don’t believe in God,” she said, but, like others, she valued Notre-Dame as a central place in French culture. a cause for personal and national mourning, like “mourning people you love,” she said, adding, “I’m fed up with tragedies. There are too many griefs and sorrows. At a time of grief it’s the place where people in Paris go.”

Oliver Daff, editor of the i newspaper, said, “One need not believe in God to marvel at Notre-Dame. . . . The cathedral, one of European civilization’s treasures, was a masterpiece of creative ambition, a living monument to faith, compassion and human endeavour–and for 850 years a survivor.”

Daff concluded, “Paris will come together to support the rebuild. the walls of Notre-Dame will rise again. Right now, though, as emergency services examine the wreckage, we have time to reflect on history lost, and on the possibilities of the human spirit.”

Parisians gathered to watch in silence, say prayers and sing hymns, as, an interviewee said, “history burned.” He spoke of this being a time to assert hope and resurrection.

A German woman who lives in Paris spoke of the universality of Notre-Dame’s treasure. “It’s not just stones and culture,” she said, “but a living community. Life is stronger than death.”

On Tuesday the focus moved from what was lost to what survived. The stone structure remained intact. Financial support for rebuilding had already reached a staggering sum. The spiritual home, the cultural soul of France, will rise again. BBC Breakfast quoted Barack Obama’s response: “It’s in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow.”

i newspaper on Wednesday quoted Michelle Obama, who was in Paris on Monday: “The majesty of Notre-Dame–the history, artistry, and spirituality–took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be.”

Along with countless others, I have a story related to Notre-Dame. I visited the cathedral in 1968, while travelling around Europe–largely by hitch-hiking–for a month after two months of a student cultural/work exchange in Germany. Notre-Dame’s West Rose Window caught my attention. I used my reflections on the window in a paper for a college course; hope I can find it. It’s heartening that all three rose windows survived the fire.

The central panel of the West Rose Window is of the Virgin Mary, the inner circle shows the 12 prophets, the middle circle shows Idolatry, Anger, Despair, Ingratitude (hardness of the soul), Discord, Rebellion, Cowardness, the signs of the Zodiac, Pride, Anger, Luxury, Avarice, Inconstancy. The outer circle includes Faith, Patience, Hope, Sweetness, Concord-Peace, Obedience, Strength, the 12 months, Humility, Prudence, Chastity, Charity, Perseverance. Source: The Online Stained Glass Photographic Archives

The tragedy calls me in humility to reflect on life and death, faith, love, the past, that which gives meaning to now, the future, eternity. On Sunday I will be among those celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. I am conscious of my own failings and needs on my journey toward unquestionable truth. That’s the God thing for me. 

I read an article, “We’re too flawed to engineer our own salvation,” in The Guardian Weekend (13 April, 2019). It’s written by Oliver Burkeman in a column, Body & mind (Also available online, 12 April). Burkman, A Guardian writer based in New York, writes about a new book, Seculosity, by David Zahl. Zahl maintains “that religion is as omnipresent as ever–even among self-styled secularists.”

We hunger for “enoughness,” Zahl said, the assurance that our life has been validated. “It’s just that now we seek it elsewhere: in work, politics, technology, romance,” Burkeman wrote, noting that Zahl argues “we are almost never not in church.”

Burkeman continued, “Our problem is that we’re not simply trying to do good work, build good families, or get good politicians elected. Deep down we’re using these things to try to achieve salvation.”

Further in the piece Burkeman said, “The problem is that seculosity doesn’t work. Enoughness never comes. It’s one thing to seek salvation in God, or to stop seeking salvation; but the attempt to engineer your own salvation is doomed to fail. . . . Try to do so and you’ll only end up struggling to exert more control over your life–whereas deep relationships, and other meaningful experiences, require giving up control.” Religion, “at it’s best, is suffused by forgiveness and what Christians call grace: the sense that enoughness is bestowed, not achieved, and that you needn’t reach any particular standard of performance or virtue in order to qualify.”

I have yet to see Zahl’s book. I agree with Burkeman’s though-provoking conclusion: “For those of us who aren’t already religious, it’s tricky to know what to do about this, since you surely can’t will yourself to become a believer. Then again, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, it must be a good start to give up searching in the wrong places.”

Some of the gods we idolize today have been objects of worship throughout time; one such is Mammon (love of money, or wealth regarded as a source of evil). Idolatry is hardly a word we often contemplate. It is depicted in the Notre-Dame West Window, as is Humility. May the light of the latter, and abandonment of the former, guide me in deepened relationship with God and others this Easter and beyond.




Open weekend for charity at Tregothnan

Saturday a week ago proved a fine day to ramble through the gardens at Tregothnan, a large estate near Truro, as part of its annual fundraiser for charity. The beneficiary this year, iSightCornwall, is dedicated to “Inspiring futures for people living with sight loss.”

Approaching the present Tregothnan house, built in 1652.

Tregothnan is a family enterprise with roots to 1334. 

Tregothnan today includes the largest historic garden in Cornwall, formed 200 years ago. It includes rhododendrons, rare trees, shrubs and camellias. Tregothnan is an official safe site for the keeping of rare or endangered trees from all over the world. We saw some of these last Saturday, without fully comprehending the variety or species.

In 1999 Tregothnan planted the UK’s first tea plantation. They began selling tea in 2005. They also sell seasonal bouquets, honey, plum jam, and charcoal.

Bluebells beneath lime trees.

Venison burgers were the order of the day, plus tea or coffee, ice cream, and a wide selection of cakes.


Kidz R Us performed CATS

Kidz R Us, the St Ives Theatre, presented one of the world’s most popular musicals as part of their 25th anniversary. The performance we attended deserves the words: incredible acting, masterful singing, high drama, magical, brilliant, bravo!

Each year the theatre works with 100 young people age 7 and up. “We’re a charity, run by volunteers, dedicated to getting young people involved in the performing arts and behind the scenes crafts, supporting their development and the wider community,” the charity said in the CATS program booklet. Worth an online lookup.

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral, and recollection of other tragedies past and present, tempered my observation of Holy Week. We pass through troubling, dispiriting, divisive times. Hope remains.



In anticipation of Easter Sunday, my soul is fed by a hymn by Brian Wren we recently sang at St Anta & All Saints Church: “I come with joy, a child of God, / forgiven, loved and free / the life of Jesus to recall, / in love laid down for me.”

I step back in time, reflect on the present, and, wonder beyond wonder, rejoice in Resurrection.


3 thoughts on “Tragedy, resurrection, hope

  1. The gift of yourselves through writing and photography brings motivation and substance to the day that awaits. Thank you. dear friends.

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  2. Dear John, Thanks for your thoughtful post. “give up searching in the wrong places.” That was a poignant word. What gorgeous pictures – bluebell woods, rhododendrons, all so evocative! Easter tomorrow at Prairie St. with our traditional music. Brass ensemble. No Mary Alice, no jello eggs, no breakfast casserole. But we will have breakfast at church before the 10 AM service. Then I host my family here at home at 1 PM. Have a Happy Easter day! Love, Ellie



  3. I really enjoyed the stain glass window pictures of Notre Dame. In a less complicated time, namely 1989 and 1990 I remember freely walking into Notre Dame with no lineup and gazing at those windows, lighting candles and just sitting taking in the majesty of the building. So glad I had the opportunity for those experiences. Many picnics also on the grounds behind the church.


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