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This weekend I was able to spend some time in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there, but I was definitely surprised to see that there were already several hundred people lined up outside in the grand open space in front of the looming face of the cathedral. It was only 9 a.m.
There were so many people there—many nationalities, colors, dress, and languages I could pick up when passing—from all over the world! That was clear. The line moved rather quickly, though, so it wasn’t too long before my bag was checked by security and I entered, along with throngs of others, vying for space as we jostled through the tall but narrow wooden door.
What was immediately striking upon entering was the darkness, illuminated only by the great stained glass windows, and the scent of frankincense, which I imagine never leaves this cathedral. This scent immediately lifts you spiritually.
On the sides were rows and rows of votive candles.
We first came across a booth selling souvenirs and replicas of many statues, with people gathered around, who were actually about to leave since they had completed their tour. Next was an impressive bank of votive candles in their classic red glass vases. These were meant for people to light, to remember a loved one who had passed, or to ignite their prayer so that it would continue on in the church until the wax had burned to its end. I noticed a small sign asking for two euros per candle and heard the familiar “clink” of coins going through the metal slot as they landed on the many other donated coins. Banks of votive candles such as these have brought me awe since I was a small girl, and their flickering red lights are truly mesmerizing. Above the candles, inscribed on the wooden cradle they were held in, were the words “Notre Dame de Paris, prier pour nous.” Our Lady of Paris, pray for us. It was so heartwarming, right from the beginning.
The cathedral took nine hundred years to build, and to this day, there are continual renovations and improvements. There is no entrance fee. Of the fourteen million visitors who come every year, not all are Catholic, or even Christian. It is a holy site, and yet also one of the major tourist destinations for those visiting Paris.
For me, the cathedral has a great deal more meaning. The last time I had been there was with my mother during her first time in Europe. She had obtained a passport for the first time in her life in order to arrive, and it was her first time visiting France, the home of our ancestors. For the past many years she had been sick with cancer, but that year, my father retired and they decided to come to Paris. It was a major event in their lives.
We went to mass on a Sunday morning. It was conducted in French, and I noticed that not only did she know every single word to every single passage that was said in that mass, but she recited it with a kind of love from her heart, as though her childhood roots were being nurtured, activated. There was something very nostalgic for me to hear the words of the "Our Father" in French. I’d grown up learning it that way, but at the time it must have been at least thirty years since I had last heard or recited it. Hearing her speak this holy prayer in French reminded me that this was her first language. She was born in and grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the strong Catholic community was all of French descent from Quebec, Canada. French had spilled into our schools, our Sunday masses at church, and our neighborhoods, where a 200-year-old version of French was spoken on street corners and shops and bakeries.
A year after we were in Notre Dame together, she passed away. I knew that her visit to this cathedral had been one of the great highlights of her life. So when walking through the wide aisles on the outside of the main seating area of the church, I decided I wanted a bit of space away from the many chatting tourists. I made my way to the inside portals, where a special area was roped off for those who wanted quiet time to pray.
As soon as I found a seat and sat down, I unloaded my backpack and my sweater, took off my shoes, drank some water, and had a huge sigh of relief. It had taken an hour and a half of roaming before I had found this place, and I'd had to wrangle with the multitudes of people, but now it was finally time to relax and meditate. Thank God! Ahhh, finally some space and peace, sitting in the place I’d been so looking forward to for the past many weeks during my preparations for arriving in Paris. This was the first place I had longed to visit!
I suddenly had the chance to become aware of the magnitude and profundity of the height and breadth of this space: the buttresses, the vaulted ceilings, the age. How many people had come here to pray, to worship, to unload their sorrows and their troubles, and to seek answers?
For how many hundreds of years?
How many had shared their joys, births of new babies, marriages, and deaths of family members?
How many had traveled from so far away to experience this?
So much could be felt! As I closed my eyes, all the images I had pondered as I had looked around this vast, remarkable achievement of humanity entered my mind and my heart.
Within moments I could feel a transformation occurring in my heart. I don’t know what it was, simply that there was a great deal of commotion…fluttering, I would say, and if I could put words to it, perhaps it would be a healing and opening of the Heart Chakra.
For all the time I sat in meditation there—perhaps twenty minutes—this fluttering commotion continued, and I knew there was an energetic transformation occurring. Because I am trained and practice energetic transformations as a healer, this feeling was familiar. I often feel it when delivering sessions to my clients, both privately and in group form.
While feeling into what was going on in my heart, I recalled the image so often seen in depictions of Christ: flames of radiant rays emanating from his heart entwined in barbs. Isn’t that our own heart as well? Isn't this image exactly what He came to experience and to show us?
This image is a reminder that no matter how chained you feel, your own heart contains the Rays of Love, of Light, and of your own eternal spiritual being.
I savored a deep moment of heart connection to the All That Is, and expressed deep thankfulness and gratitude to Christ for our connection and for His being my teacher.
In exactly that moment, the bells of the cathedral began to ring. They are enormous, and very high up in the twin bell towers above. The clanging went on and on and on for a good ten minutes. The echoing throughout the various chambers of the cathedral created an auditory experience that again expanded my heart. It was so overwhelming. I felt that I was once again experiencing a miracle, which is now becoming a regular part of my daily life.
Soon after, a priest emerged and a mass began. Apparently, I had arrived just before the regularly scheduled daily mass.
During the priest’s homily, (bear in mind, this was all happening while there must have been at least a thousand tourists milling up and down the grand outside aisles, talking, taking pictures, and shuffling along), he spoke about the number of people who come every year. He mentioned that there was no entrance fee, and that the church wanted to keep it this way because one never knew when someone could experience a transformation.
And there I was, experiencing a transformation. He was right. And I saw and felt the reality of the Energy of Place. It was here.
I imagine that so many of the most sacred spots in the world where thousands, if not millions, have gathered over the centuries, also have a tremendous amount of healing energy held in their atmospheres.
Isn’t that what churches, temples, and mosques do for us? Or extraordinary places in nature, which many have traveled to for a spiritual or revelatory experience? Or the sacred holy places where saints or ascended masters have appeared? What of the locations where shamans, druids, and ceremonial leaders have gathered their peoples for sacred ceremony for centuries? Do you believe that the energies brought in there remain?
Can you feel when you are in the presence of the Divine?
Leave your comments below! I’d love to hear from you about your experiences over the years with the Energy of Place.
P.S. I am holding private intensives throughout Europe this summer, so if the Energy of Place appeals to you for your own transformation, you can read more about these very special experiences here.