In the Spring of 1989, on a choir tour to Paris, with just a couple of minutes before I had to be back on the bus, I ran into the Notre Dame Cathedral and purchased a recording of the organ symphonies of Louis Vierne, played on the great organ of the cathedral by Olivier Latry, still the organist to this day. That night traveling on the bus, my headphones on, the music, recorded in the very room where Vierne had served as organist, changed my life as a musician. I hadn’t heard anything like it in the dry American churches in which I’d grown up. It was brooding, mysterious, exultant, passionate, and resonated with emotion, and the history of that great room and organ.
In February of this year, while visiting my wife Joy, in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, we attended one of the weekly organ recitals and marveled at the sound of that incredible organ and room. Then, on April 15 of this year, I watched an online video stream as a horrific fire tore through the roof of that great cathedral. It looked certain that that amazing historic organ would be lost to the ravages of flame and heat, but when the smoke cleared the next morning the organ stood, covered in soot, but mostly undamaged. Thanks to the technological marvel of the vaulted stone ceiling and the physics of heat exchange, the temperature inside the organ hadn’t risen above 62 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last month, I strolled around the cathedral and saw workers already hard at the tasks of cleanup and eventual restoration of the great cathedral – a reminder of resilience of the human spirit. I will sit in that beautiful nave one day and hear that great organ sing again. Buildings burn and are rebuilt. Fires happen in our own lives through loss, hardship, and tragedy, yet strengthened by God’s mercy and grace, we rebuild and continue.