I was seventeen the first time I visited Paris. After a two week stay with a French Family in Nuits-St-Georges, the school party I travelled with had a little free time in the capital city before heading home. I will never forget those few hours alone exploring the streets, crossing the river, stumbling upon Notre Dame, wandering the length of the Champs Elysées. I’m not a city girl, but on that day Paris crept into my heart. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there and I’ve been blessed enough to return several times. One year, as I attended a two week Education conference, I spent le 14 juillet watching fireworks light up the sky over la Seine as French citizens all over the country and the world, celebrated their values of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Freedom. Equality. Brotherhood.
Expressions of shock and horror and condemnation over the events this weekend that have claimed so many lives have been expressed millions of times across the world, the destruction that a handful can inflict on a community beyond comprehension.
I don’t know the names of the dead, I haven’t yet seen any of their photos that will trickle across our television screens in the days and weeks ahead. People who’d had a hard day at work, who were celebrating a birthday, catching up with friends, laughing at a joke, trying to say sorry to someone. People who’d planned what they were going to wear, bought tickets for a concert weeks ago, saved up for an evening out, looked forward to a great weekend. No two stories the same. Gone.
So, what sort of people could perpetrate such unthinkable acts of murder? What sort of evil inhabits their hearts?
#PrayforParis, alongside other expressions of grief, has swept social media. As I did just that earlier today, as I continue to pray for that city in my own inadequacy, I was reminded to examine my own heart. Along with all the others who profess to be Christians, we are called to be light in the world, for even the tiniest light can be seen through darkness. We are called to be salt, to add flavour to the life of the world. We are told that out of the heart, a man speaks, and as a man speaks, so actions follow. But so often, my heart is so full of my own needs, my own frustrations, my own prejudices, my own intolerance, that impatience, anger, dissatisfaction, jealousy, selfishness are what spills out. Self-justification becomes the currency by which I buy my peace of mind; it’s okay to say this, do that because the person I’m irritated by, the person who has cheated me, hurt me, betrayed me, doesn’t deserve anything else. Their hearts aren’t filled with patience and goodness or love, so why should I bother about how I treat them? Because, so long as I profess to love God, to claim His forgiveness, it’s my heart I should bother about.
In my last blog post, I wrote about words and quoted one of St Paul’s letters where he talks about the nature of love. That same passage could equally apply here, but I’m reminding myself of other words he wrote, to yet another group of early Christians in Galatia who were not quite getting the point:
‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There is no law against these things.’
As the city of Paris, the French nation, the people of the world community who condemn the evil that has been done, as humanity seeks to root it out and replace darkness with light, let me look to my own heart and make sure that the fruit I produce in my life is not bitter or spoiled or rotten.