A different post today.  It is the day after Notre Dame burned.  As many of you know, we made our home in Paris for a year—not too far up the Seine from Notre Dame. Watching from afar yesterday as those nearby prayed, sang hymns and wept, we witnessed how that magnificent structure, the geographical and spiritual center of that grand city, testified to a transcendence that feels so fragile and contingent in this time we dwell.  

This morning as I prepared to write, I was reminded of something my friend, philosopher Albert Borgmann, shared in his book,  Holding On to Reality:  The Nature of Information at the turn of the Millennium.   In a chapter on “Building” he wrote eloquently of the tower of Freiburg Minster in the city of his birth in Germany.  Freiburg Minster was built in the 1200’s over the course of 100 years…and just a few years after Notre Dame.  Like Notre Dame it sits on an east-west axis, “toward the rising sun.”  Like the grand towers of Notre Dame, he recalls how its tower caught and held the rays of the setting sun even as the rest of the city descended into the shadows. He talks of how the tower miraculously survived the bombing that ravaged the city already savaged in so many ways from war and holocaust.   Albert recalls that In January, 1944, the poet Reinhold Schneider, a fellow citizen of Freiburg, amidst that devastating time, wrote a sonnet.  It is titled, “To the Tower of Freiburg Minster.”

Stand unshaken, grand in spirit,
Great prayer of a faithful time.
How the day’s grandeur glorifies you
When long the grandeur of the day has died.

So I will pray that I may guard faithfully
The holiness you cast into the strife.
And I will be a tower in the darkness,
A bearer of light that flowered for the world.

And should I fall in this great storm,
Then be it for the sake of towers soaring,
And that my people may become a torch of truth.

You shall not fall, beloved tower,
Yet should the judge’s lightning shatter you,
Rise still more boldly in our prayers from the earth.

To which I can only add, Amen.