Last week, I went to a very special place, one of the few places in Paris where there are noticeably fewer selfie-takers. A place, almost heavenly.
Church. And not one of the big dogs.
I’m talking about one of Paris’ ‘other’ churches, that seem almost as plentiful as a place to grab a jambon-beurre.
I didn’t attend mass – attempting to recall Catholic ritualism, in another language to boot, would have made for a scene more appropriate for a comedy club. But, I went inside.
I’d attended church in my youth, but it eventually phased its way out. The word ‘confirmation’ might have reckoned an early fear of being labelled….
But, it seems I’ve not been alone in this abandonment. Christianity has been steadily declining in the US, and simultaneously rising are the likes of agnosticism, atheism, and ‘nothing in particular’ (finally, a category for admission of utter unknowingness!).
While this trend is predicted to continue, I wonder, whilst sitting in a living room whose décor bears a striking resemblance to the ’70s, if religion is another aspect of culture that will come and go out of style through the years.
Still, whenever I travel, I find myself stopping in churches, and not just to see if there’s a public toilet. It seems a lot of people do the same.
The Notre Dame may be closed for reconstruction, but it is not short of any visitors around its perimeter. Meanwhile, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica has taken its place as the most-visited church in France. The exteriors of these places seem fair game for pomp and circumstance, with couples often flying in to take wedding photos and many a tourist picnicking upon their grounds. Within the walls of less famed churches, our modality is often different.
The non-parishioner enters delicately. The door is opened with care, voice drops, gait softens, eyes draw up to the ceiling almost instantly, battling the Darwinian phone gaze. Religious or not, its scale and age seems to make even the most obnoxious of personalities feel small, humble, insignificant. This smallness, a feeling which we’re often made to associate with inadequacy, somehow sits more securely within us at church.
Whilst tourists strut down the Champ de Mars like they’re #LivingTheirBestLife, that energy seems to make one met de l’eau dans son vin amidst a place of worship. Whether you are with Jesus, fully irreligious, or looking for a belief system after the past two years of…what the f*ck was that even? Church seems to makes all of us less obsessed with ourselves, even if for a second.
You don’t see anyone snapping at their family cameraman for taking a photo at a ‘bad’ angle, reading Google reviews, or vainly wondering if they are walking around with red wine-stained lips. It’s a place where we can at least pretend to feel a little less insignificant amidst the tumult of our modernity, and the heavens and hells of being human.
So, I went to church. And it made me think about things that are bigger than myself. Whether that is god, the weather, time, or an age before phones and selfies.
I don’t know what place religion has in my life. But, I’ll be back again.