Europe 10/11 – Ringing in Christmas with Americans & the rest of the world

Paris Days Three & Four
Ringing in Christmas with Americans & the rest of the world

Overview
I’m currently on a 3 1/2 week trip to Europe.  Centered primarily around the Taize community in France as well as their annual gathering (which is Rotterdam this year) I’ll also be doing some sightseeing and reflecting/relaxing.  Here I hope to log my journey for any who desire to join, first in a several sentence summary (for the busy folk) and then in a more detailed form (for the interested).

La petite
Yesterday (Friday), was spent at the Louvre, before venturing to a Christmas Eve service at The American Church in Paris, an international gathering of english speaking Christians, and then attending midnight mass at Notre Dame.

Today included a delicious chocolate crepe on my way to the Eiffel Tower, then returning to the hostel and preparing to leave early in the morning for Rotterdam.  My next two days will be spent helping to prepare for Taize’s annual gathering of young people and then participating in it for the following several days.  I don’t know what my internet access will be like, but I’ll update if I’m able.

Le grand
On Christmas Eve I decided to venture to the Louvre, one of the premiere art museums in the world and most visited, with millions of patrons every year.  A former palace that was transformed into a museum after Versailles was built (because the King thought the Louvre was too small!) it boasts 12 miles of art covered hallways and rooms that hold some of the most famous artwork in the world (such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo).  It’s the sort of place you could spend weeks in and literally just scratch the surface.  Besides the artwork, the building itself is incredibly beautiful.  I stuck to the basics, got an audio guide, and spent several hours exploring.  While surely incredible, the Louvre was honestly a bit overwhelming.  I think I enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay more, just in that it was somewhat more comprehendible. 

On a side note, in the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, he suggests that the Holy Grail is hidden underneath the inverted pyramid at the Louvre.  Turns out there are 2 “holy grails” under it actually…an Apple store & a Starbucks!  Next to the Louvre is an underground shopping mall & it starts at the inverted pyramid.

One of my friends from grad school has spent the last several years living in France and she recommended that I check out the American Church in Paris (http://www.acparis.org/), a large, international, English speaking congregation, for Christmas Eve (thanks Kristen!).  This service was probably one of the highlights of the trip so far (though there have been many of them). As you would, perhaps, expect in Paris, there was some incredibly artistic people involved, including performances of Ave Maria, a handbell choir, a gigantic organ (talk about some epic Christmas carols), and a candle lighting at the end.  The service was liturgical in nature and truly inspiring.  The pastor, Scott Herr, gave an excellent message on the Christmas story according to Galations (yup…you read that right).  Hopefully you’ll be able to read/hear it soon here:   http://www.acparis.org/sermons.html

After that service, I quickly headed over to Notre Dame where I arrived just in time to catch midnight mass.  There we literally thousands and thousands of people there…Notre Dame is gigantic and it was entirely packed, standing room only, with no space to move.  The homily, given by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, was entirely in French (and thus mostly not understandable by me) but the experience of standing in the square with thousands of others listening to the bells of Notre Dame ring in Christmas Day was truly amazing.

I got a late start Christmas Day, after sleeping in a bit after my late night on Christmas Eve and then headed off to the Eiffel Tower.  The sun shone brightly for the first time since I had arrived in Paris, seemingly appropriate for Christmas Day, when we celebrate the arrival of a Light shining in the darkness.  I hiked up the stairs to the first level of the tower and enjoyed some great views of the city.  Unfortunately, the upper levels of the tower were closed for some reason, but you could still see plenty of Paris from twenty some odd stories up.

The rest of the day was sent on various odds & ends…packing up, figuring out plans, and preparing to leave by train to Rotterdam this morning.  I had to make an early start of it this morning, with my train leaving the station at 6:01 this morning, but my eurorail pass secured me first class somehow, so I got a great breakfast, seating with lots of leg room, and free internet (which is allowing me to post this).  Today I’ll arrive in Rotterdam and help them to begin to prepare for the Taize European gathering (you can read more here: http://www.taize.fr/en_article11635.html). I have no idea what the next few days will hold exactly or when I’ll have internet access again, but I’ll post an update when I can.  Merry Christmas from the other side of the pond!

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