When I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral at Bayeux, France, two things happened.
First, I had a felt sense of the prayers that had been offered there over the years (the Cathedral was built in the 11th century), as if I was part of the communion of saints—I was joining my prayers to all the people who had prayed in this space over the centuries. Their prayers hung in the air, filling the vast space; I could almost hear their shouts of gratitude and cries of anguish. I walked into that communion of saints, and I prayed in gratitude for the opportunity to be there, to be part of this community of faith.
I was reminded of the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and imagined a parade of people from the past, heads bowed in prayer.
(The Cathedral at Bayeux also has a tapestry, which depicts the adventures of William the Conqueror in 1066 and is now housed in a museum near the Cathedral.)
The second thing that happened when I walked into the Cathedral was a memory of a mystical vision I had almost forty years ago.
In the vision, I was in an old church like this one (I had been in Spain a few years earlier and had visited several churches like the one in Bayeux—stone walls, floors and pillars and no permanent pews or fabric to soften the church interior).
When I had the vision, though, I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish in Pennsylvania.
In the vision, I saw myself lying prostrate on the floor of a medieval cathedral. I could feel how hard the stone was against my body and how cold it felt against my arms. Then, the floor began to shift and rise up, becoming a hand that was lifting me up, and I knew it was the hand of God. God said to me, “I will hold you.”
It was soon after that vision that I moved to a l’Arche community, and I thought of that vision many times during my time in l’Arche and how God held me.
Today is the feast of St. Norbert, an 11th century French priest who was known for his deep faith. The writing in the Liturgy of the Hours, says, “He spent many hours in contemplation of the divine mysteries and fearlessly spread the spiritual insights which were the fruit of his meditation.”
I wondered about the spiritual insights of my meditation, and then I remembered my vision. God will hold me.
God did hold me during my time in l’Arche, and I came away from that experience with a deep awareness of God’s care for me. Living in l’Arche was the most challenging thing I had ever done and also the most fruitful—I learned so much about myself.
The vision was a gift, a promise from God that I would be held. Almost forty years later, the vision still consoles me.