It has been a little over six months since I have written anything other than letters of recommendation for colleagues and students. This has been a difficult season for me and I have found myself strangely mute. Soon I will write about the lessons of this painful season, about how Sarah Bessey helped me to “Obey the Sadness” and Ann Voskamp taught me that “The Broken Way” is the only path to wholeness, about how Rachel Held Evans made it okay not to be so certain about everything all the time…This younger generation of women has so much to teach us, and it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks because Jesus loves making things new.
I will save those lessons for another day because today I want to tell you about Paris. That’s right I went to Paris over spring break with 3 fabulous women. (I would still think them fabulous even if they weren’t related to me by the way.) It was quite simply the perfect adventure, a love gift from Jesus that I continue to unpack.
Most recently I was reading Psalm 18. It is full of good stuff about God being our rock and our defender but it was verse 19 that caught my eye. “He brought me out into a spacious place…” This season has seemed confining and narrow so this verse has become a prophetic promise for me. All the more as the Lord reminded me of our Sainte Chappelle adventure.
Sainte Chappelle, one of many beautiful gothic churches in the heart of Paris, is not easy to get to. We walked from the easier to navigate Notre Dame through a lovely flower market (another love gift from Jesus) to where we thought it was. We then forged our path through a construction zone, past concrete obstacles and traffic barriers and still no impressive structure in sight. Because the chapel is hidden away within the Palais de Justice there are armed guards and security checkpoints galore. When at last we found the entrance, our bags were searched and we entered the lower chapel. It was gloomy and singularly unimpressive. My brother had touted this place as exquisite and his favorite, but I was beginning to have my doubts.
After a less than satisfactory tour of the lower chapel, our gang of four began the climb up the claustrophobic spiral staircase leading to the upper chapel. When I say claustrophobic, I mean it. This staircase was like something out of a Dracula movie and had we been watching ourselves on video we may have said, “What are you thinking? Don’t go up there!” Got the picture? It is dark, narrow, and confining.
We go around and around with Sarah leading unable to see the top and then all at once I hear Sarah’s audible intake of breath. Several seconds later we are all at the top and Sarah says, “Well, that was unexpected.” The place is hushed partly because the security guards are constantly shushing noisemakers but mostly because you step out of the narrow, dark, claustrophobic stairwell into a spacious room with stained glass on all four sides and it is awesome. A holy hush is the only response. The afternoon sun, even partially clouded makes the room dazzling. It is in the words of London’s Guardian newspaper, “a sheer ecstasy of light.”
It is this that I think of when I read Psalm 18:19, “He has brought me out into a spacious place: He rescued me because He delighted in me.” I shared this with the faculty at my school, saying that when we feel squeezed, when our belts are tightened to the limit, when things feel confining and narrow and claustrophobic we should get ready because, He is getting ready to bring us out into a spacious place. There is, after all, a wideness in God’s mercy… The biology teacher told me later that it made her think of birth, the narrowness of the birth canal, the laboring and contracting and then the birth.
What a perfect image. Indeed, in my grandmother’s time pregnancy was called confinement. So if you are being squeezed, feeling confined perhaps it is because you are pregnant with the purposes of God. So here’s to being born again and again, being brought out into the spacious place of His love and mercy freely given. Don’t forget part B, He rescues because He delights in us!