Europe is a place I haven’t been, I take that back, I have been there but it was back when I was not yet a toddler so as far as memory goes, I don’t think that counts. They have massive cathedrals in Europe. Grandiose masterpieces of gothic architecture. I think it would be surreal to be standing inside such a place. I’m not Catholic but there’s something about those structures combined with the roots of tradition. Cathedrals are a sight to see and although I haven’t taken a European trip at an age where I could truly appreciate and absorb the culture, I have seen a strikingly beautiful cathedral.
Almost everyday at some point during my trip to NOLA I found myself next to or near the cathedral. It was so white and historic, I had to look at it. I felt like I gravitated toward it. The St. Louis Cathedral is a work of art that is the centerpiece of the French Quarter. The first time I found it I just stumbled into the courtyard, happy to be walking on a smooth surface and not busted streets. There was always something going on in Jackson Square. Usually psychics and palm readers trying to catch the eyes of passerby with their shady stares. I’d get beignets in the morning at Cafe Du Monde and be sitting by the cathedral at night, reading and listening to the street musicians. I got kicked out the famous ‘word’s greatest hamburger restaurant’ that Brad Pitt was filmed in for Interview with a Vampire and when he was the aging-in-reverse Benjamin Button. I was too hot and tired to argue their so-called policy about dogs against my rights under the ADA like I normally do. We left to find food elsewhere and soon after, we ended up right by the cathedral again.
I’d spend the day in the bayou holding a baby swamp shark, and after watching our tour guide risk his life by taking a selfie with an alligator that was over a century old, I’d be back in the Quarter tired from the sun, near the big white church again. I’d walk down the street from the hotel to CC’s and have the privilege of overhearing a full-fledged French conversation, it was thrilling that the language of love is an option in LA. I loved having dinner nearby a Frenchman and walking toward the Mississippi past a woman with a group of people occupying one of the homeless people’s favorite places to sleep. “Oui. Tout suite.” She said to her seated audience. Hearing something short and sweet that I actually understood made me smile. Then that grand building of ivory would find me once again. As we waited for our ride to spend the day away from the tourist parts of NOLA traveling Magazine Street, we had the pleasure of meeting a friendly neighborhood junkie.
“You’re a man” she said to my mom, who looked up at her from the bench where she sat. Seeing the approach of this thin, blonde woman on drugs was minimally threatening, she parroted her words right back to her.
“You’re a man,” my mother answered. Hearing her own words visibly offended the woman.
“Baby I have a five year old son, he looks like Hitler.” My brother and I were laughing with the regret of not having our phones out to record this interaction. The situation quickly dissolved and we boarded the trolley. When it was dark again we rode the tracks back to the Quarter, right near the cathedral.
In the heat of the day I walked past art on display against the fence bordering the cathedral’s courtyard and noticed a metallic woman posed on a bench. By the time I realized I had been staring at a real person and not a silver statue adorned in an elegant dress, the eye contact had already lingered for too long. I couldn’t break it now, this was a contest I wanted to win. I almost made a move to go sit by the shiny, seducing stranger but instead I just stared until the distance between us no longer allowed it. “What was that?” My mom asked, noticing her focus had been on me.
“We were having a moment” I said. Prophesied to by druggies, questioned by pirates, beckoned by silver ball gown beauties, it all happened near the St. Louis Cathedral. New Orleans is the kind of place that makes someone with a background in faith ask, where is God? Not where is the building for church but where is Christ? It’s the question each one of our souls is asking but not everyone recognizes that still small voice. Where’s Jesus? Is what I felt the eternal part of me asking repeatedly. He’s always there, always. Sometimes I just have to look a little harder. He sees me. He loves me. He’s with me. That may not be so obvious to the drunks stumbling outside early in the morning or to the people running the voodoo shops but God is there, right in the center, gently guiding us back into the courts of His Kingdom.
It wasn’t until the last day of our trip that I learned people could go inside the cathedral. Sadly, I had assumed the church was an inactive museum of religiosity. After watching an acrobat from Seattle spin around in an aluminum hoop to the sound of One Time by Marion Hill in front of the cathedral’s entrance, my dog and I left the abrasive heat and stood behind the pews with a gathering of other curious people. I looked toward the alter, positioned front and center with the wooden rows of seating facing it. My peripherals caught the colors of the stained glass windows. No one approached the pews. We just stood in the back staring. “What are we not allowed near the cross?” I asked, not too quietly, deciding to find a seat before anyone gave me an answer. I hate the heat. The sun sticks to me. It’s exhausting. The Son I want sticking to me is the one who is life giving. My dog and I rested to catch our breath. I’m Christian not Catholic which vaguely made me feel like a trespasser sitting with hymnals but I shunned the feeling of repression by piety and moved up, close the very first row. I’m not religious but I am respectful. I said a prayer and some verses I know because I figured that is what you do in a place like this. On my way out I figured out how I could keep my balance to take pictures. Where is Jesus? I doubted He would be in the cathedral gift shop. Should a cathedral even have a gift shop? Seeing the fleur de lis on virtually every surface reminds the people of NOLA the grace of God this town was founded in.
Three fleur de lis on the House of Bourbon flag. Fleur de lis on clothing and street signs, there’s even a fleur de lis emoji. The grace of God is everywhere in NOLA but in order to find it you have to know where to look. You have to seek it. Crosses are like this too, they represent the love of Jesus yet we’ve commercialized the design endlessly. Is the cross something that stands for salvation or is it just the charm on a necklace we have? Does the fleur de lis stand for God’s grace or is it just the logo for the Saints football team? Where is Jesus? Is the question we need to ask ourselves. Not just in a place like NOLA but whatever town, park, apartment or city we are in.
Where is Jesus?