La tenebrae n'est pas tenebrae", goes the chant from Taize ." The darkness is not darkness ". The words from the psalms go on to say ," In Your sight, the deepest night is clear as the daylight". Those ancient words carry new meaning for me as I write this from Chartres. For the past decade, I have returned here as often as I can, like a swallow migrating back to my homeland. Year after year, I have felt a rush of anticipation as I step into the cool vestibule, a buffered luminal space between the happy chatter on the cobblestones streets of this quaint village and the dark embrace of the cathedral. Year after year I have been a spiritual mermaid, swimming in the blue light cast from the medieval windows above. The sanctuary has held me in its soft silence, like a loving mother cradling her newborn in gentle protection from the harsh glare of the world. I have felt like a child again here, had the sensation I used to experience when floating in the deep end of a swimming pool, hearing the sounds of the busy world from afar, cushioned as if I were still in the womb.
It is a different world this year. The cathedral has undertaken a massive renovation, and both the head and the feet of this magnificent Gothic Lady have been scourged, stripped, cleaned and painted. Restored, some say, to the splendor of centuries past. And the high altar, it is true, is dazzling: a kaleidoscope of colors at play, the windows streaming in golden light. It blinds and bewilders the eyes, and has its own breathtaking beauty.
But in one of those accidents that are no accident, the state ran out of money, and cannot finish its renovations. And so, the cathedral is poised in a terrible tension: half dark and old, worn and scarred, half bright and brilliant, with newly restored virginity. It is a yin and yang in stone.
This is fitting for a place that was one of the most celebrated alchemical schools of Europe: a place dedicated to spiritual and psychological transformation, and blessedly honest about the difficulties and pain of the world, just as it celebrated the possibilities of hope, joy, life and love.
In the Gospel of Philip, rediscovered in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, it is written|
Light and Darkness
Life and Death
Right and Left
Are brothers of one another
They are inseparable
The Gnostics, Carl Jung believed, were the forefathers of both Alchemy and Depth Psychology. It is a lineage that surely includes the builders and teachers of Chartres Cathedral as well. As it has often been, the cathedral is a mirror of our times. Today, it reflects that we are living at the juncture of so many contradictions, poised in the climax of paradox. Can we hold two kinds of beauty, as Chartres does so achingly right now: the dark beauty of mystery, the bright beauty of revelation? In a further reflection of how mixed up everything is, I could only post the picture of this juxtaposition sideways at first. Perhaps there are no straight lines anymore. Perhaps I am called to look at life from a different angle, a new perspective- and to invite you do to the same
And are we called in someway to leave the womb, to take the deep, dark mysteries of the past some of us have have been blessed enough to experience, and bring them gently into the half light of day?