I took a trip to France with my Father and brother touring the Normandy and Calvados regions of northern France. We hugged the coastline and found ships, channels, and seafaring interests everywhere. One of those appeared in an unlikely spot.
|Low tide in a protected harbor at Cap Levi, near Cherbourg, France. A lone sloop sits high and dry, its cradle tethered to a heavy rode of chain leading up the beach to a secure position. Made me think of Baggy Wrinkles and how she was doing.|
We were travelling back from the Cap de l'Hague towards Cherbourg, France. After a windy visit to the western facing side of the Contentin Peninsula in northern France, we made our way to the top of a ridgeline where a windswept village sat at the intersection of two roads. I was flying through the small village when my eye caught the phrase, "XIIIth siècle eglise" on a sign, "twelfth century church," being a Lutheran minister and retired Army Chaplain, I quickly pulled off and jumped out of the car to see this little sight...
At the intersection was a church dating back to the twelfth century, L'eglise Notre Dame de Joburg. For one thing, the church sign indicated it was a 12th century edifice and another was that it looked peculiarly old after seeing more modern structures near the port of Cap de l'Hague.
Upon entering the church I noticed a sailboat suspended from the rafters of the church. Something I had seen before at Mont Saint Michel, the famous island off the coast of France which is surrounded by waters at high tide, or perhaps tourists these days. The sailboat hanging in the rafters of the church was not written up in the historical piece left on the visitor's table near the entrance. But its presence was certainly not missed either. One got the feeling that safety at sea was part of the reminder this little rig provided the parishioners of Our Lady of Joburg.
After I returned home and was perusing the photos I'd taken, I certainly gave more attention to this little sailboat than I had noticed at the time I first glanced up at it. The rigging was rather detailed for such a model, as was the attention to the keel deliberately added below it and the spreader near the top of its little yellow mast.
It was curious to see a sailboat within the walls of an ancient church. It reminded me of the importance of taking time to remember our limitations as sailors. Certain times might become more adventurous, or dangerous, and it wouldn't hurt at all to recognize a bit of divine presence at times if only to admit our humanity and find in that perhaps some wisdom as to how to proceed from time to time while underway.
Too, Joburg's little church was a redo. Mostly destroyed during the conquering Normans' tour of France, the little building was rebuilt from the stones which littered the ground. It had a very humble yet determined look. I couldn't help but think of how classic it looked sitting at this modern intersection, a restaurant on one corner, a business on another, and little Joburg church on another.
There's something timeless in these ancient stones and its classic lines. As the winds from the English Channel pelted me with bits of rain, the hollering whistles of wind pushed me around to see the remarkable resistance to change old stones afforded the church. And off in the distance was the Channel, part of the world of this little church on the ridge. And again I wondered at the tenure and tenacity of this congregation to withstand the urgencies of modernity as it made its way a chapel of sailors and ships.
Off in the distance, past the cemetery stones was the grey English Channel, reminding me of the special relationship between time, classic ideas, and the people who live in the midst of it all, facing the future while embracing the past. I was certainly glad they did. Made for a delightful visit in this out-of-the-way climate with its unique blend of life at sea and ashore. A glance up at the sailboat showed me they were sailors at heart with a view always cast toward the sea. How similar to each of us who love the adventure and lure of the sea. Everywhere I looked there was a vessel, whether stranded at low tide or sitting ashore on the hard, waiting for a sailor. I felt right at home.