Two evenings ago, sitting around the dinner table, the Downings had a epiphany: we only had one day left in Paris.
Our lollygagging over croissants and coffee, our wanderings in the time-stopping halls of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre, not to mention strolling through the back streets of Saint Germain des Pres, had conspired together to tee us up for seeing, well, none of the tourist attractions in this city. We were stricken.
So, we quickly drew up plans to see the entire city the following day, because that always works.
No, seriously, out came the city map and then the metro map and we figured it out. The following morning we would start early (ok, 10a but that’s early when you go to bed at midnight!) and head straight to the top of Paris – crepes in Montmartre and the gleaming white Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
Friends, I was On A Mission: my Type-A personality was in full tilt, my determination pinned at 100%. We would see it all, take it all in.
It was in this state we arrived at Sacre-Coeur. It was a spectacular, cloudless morning and we stood for a while at the aged wall that surrounds the courtyard, tracing the Seine and searching the topography for familiar landmarks.
Finally, we wandered in and the girls stopped dead in their tracks, necks craned to take in the expanse. I realized a few minutes in that there was actually a mass being held, though to be honest, the droning voice of the priest hadn’t really broken through my consciousness. The faithful sitting in the pews were indistinguishable from the tourists getting off their feet for a few moments.
But then, something brand new happened, something I’ve never heard in all my visits to landmark churches both modern and medieval all over Europe: an angel started singing.
It took me a moment to figure out what that unearthly sound was, as it rang out in the acoustical masterpiece that is the copse. I searched the platform and there she was, a small nun, about my age, blue habit, barely tall enough to reach the microphone at the podium. But her voice, crystal clear and unaccompanied, floated and danced, ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder as Heaven came down.
I stood there listening … entranced. I stared, not at her but at the immense mosaic celebrating the heart of Jesus, and tears sprang to my eyes.
Who would have thought a busy day in Paris, an on-the-go day, a day I had all planned out, full of tourist attractions, would begin with a surprise encounter with the living God?
The “old” me would have felt a twinge of guilt at having “forgotten God” in all the hubbub and busyness and stress of traveling and the allure of sightseeing.
The “new” me – OH I like her so much better, am so grateful for all God has done in me to birth her, this “new” me stood there with tears in my eyes and gratitude swelling in my soul that God would find me there, fill a thin space with His presence, sing life into my soul – a song that would carry me through the rest of the day and infuse everything with grace and beauty and truth.
I am so very, very grateful that I am not required to create opportunity in order for Him to accompany me on my journey, although I am welcome and invited to do so.
This Person who I love – He found me once, a long time ago and has been finding me over and over again ever since.