The heat is sweltering. When it’s ninety degrees and there isn’t air conditioning anywhere, everything just exudes sweat. Sitting on the steps outside of the Dom praying with the rest of my team, I feel restless. Something’s been bothering me, but I’m not exactly sure what. I decide to take refuge inside the cool stone walls of the cathedral behind me.
I’m fascinated by how people respond when they walk into the Dom. It’s a jaw dropping experience, to take in the grandeur and size of it all. Everyone automatically switches to a hushed tone, so it remains surprisingly quiet despite being full of people. Some like to kneel in the pews, saying a quick prayer before moving on. Others drop euros in the collection bins to fund the never-ending restoration of the cathedral. I slip into a pew and pull out my journal. I’ve only written a few lines when I notice a small crowd sitting across from me. It looks like a tour as a guide whispers into a microphone and her audience listens through headsets. For a place that has such a rich, longstanding history, I wonder what it means for its non-religious visitors.
This is where the problem lies for so many people here in Europe. Church is an ancient institution that has historically abused its power and influence. The Dom was left standing during World War II because it was a landmark for pilots, not just because it was deemed a holy place. Now, the Dom continues its land marking duties, serving as the meeting place for tourist groups and weary travelers. Just fifteen minutes ago, I sat and watched as not one but two bachelor parties yelled and drank beer on its steps. They toss aside their empty bottles for beggars, who can recycle them for an euro. Every hour, a group starts a flash mob to the Cupid Shuffle, concluding their performance with a short Gospel presentation. It’s an assault on the senses.
Back to the pew where I’m sitting, and my mind is racing. It’s been a fast paced week, and I’m still processing. But I hate that word, “processing.” My mind isn’t a piece of machinery. Nevertheless, I pick up my pen and write. However the world chooses to see this place, the truth is that it’s a place where God wants to make himself known. At the same time, church was never meant to be tied solely to a place but to God’s people. And as the Spirit dwells in me, I am part of the church. That’s why here, halfway across the world in this physical church, I know that the Lord promises to listen as he reveals himself to me. When I leave half an hour later, there’s a little less of a load on my chest.