I’ve spent the last ten days tramping through Oxford, London, Paris, and Hamburg with my dear sister, Nat. We’ve had quite a few adventures, from desperate train journeys to retrieve absolutely necessary travel documents, to running out of money to pay our hotel bill in Paris. I’m a little surprised we’ve made it back to Durham in one piece.
During my travels, I’d hoped to discover God in a new way. Sometimes I struggle to connect with the massiveness of divinity. In the midst of routine it’s difficult not to get stuck in the duty of religion. So whether it be in the art of Paris, a cathedral in Durham, or the German countryside—my heart sought beauty like a secret. I would discover it, and I would be awed to tears.
I cried the first time I saw the Seine. Nat and I had been wandering the avenues of Paris, weaving our way through a myriad of buildings and busy streets. We turned a corner and voila! there she was flowing sweetly past the Louvre, like she’d been doing it for a millions years. A sharp intake of breath and my eyes got blurry. The fleeting sunset accentuated the ancient buildings with a painting of pinks, an original never to be seen again. I could have stood there forever. In that moment I knew there must be a God, and he must be beautiful. I felt very small in comparison.
The next day we went to Notre Dame. One thing I’ve discovered about cathedrals is that they’re a bit ridiculous in presentation. Not in a bad way, it’s just there’s so much sacred that it’s almost frightening. You walk in and feel like you have to appreciate every detail—the high archways, the intricate stain glass, the archaic paintings of saints, it’s a lot too take in. It’s holy, overwhelmingly so.
I was pondering this while walking around the cathedral when Natalie pointed out a wooden panel that had several important biblical scenes carved into the wood. We tried to identify each one, and when we got to the middle section, we found a depiction of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. For some reason, I couldn’t stop looking at it.
I am very aware of my inadequacies, especially in contrast to the beauty and holiness encountered over the past few days. I couldn’t shake that feeling of smallness, of weakness, of an inability to love the way I wanted to. Even in simple interactions—I wanted to be kind to Natalie, but when frustrated my remarks were short and harsh. I thought perhaps I just needed to try harder. Excuses are such sweet temptation.
The wooden block of Jesus brought me back to reality. If God is Notre Dame, he is holy, beautiful, too sacred to touch, too above to be known. God of Notre Dame exposes my weakness. I cannot be like him, be near him, no matter how hard I try. But if God is Jesus, he is humble, accessible, loving. He takes my weakness upon himself, he washes my feet. I think that’s why I was so moved. God is both. Big and beautiful as the magnificent towers of the cathedral, as intricate as the stain glass, and as powerful as the beams and archways. And yet, he is humble, on his knees, washing the dirt off my feet so I can experience and partake in this overwhelming holiness.
It’s deeply mysterious is it not? But if we grasp it, if we allow this grace to sink into our core, I think it can be revolutionary. That, my friends, is a good adventure.