I had the privilege of spending last week in Paris. Yes, France. Not the presumably beautiful town in Kentucky.
My wife, daughter and I spent the week in the labyrinthine streets of the Left Bank walking in the pathways of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the giant Victor Hugo. We worshiped at Notre Dame Cathedral, celebrating vespers in a grand marble sanctuary where the stones have been singing longer than any voice we heard that night.
We ate at the quaint cafes, enjoyed petit dejeuner and the crepe sucretes, and we saw the sights of the Eiffel Tower and the Musee D'Orsay. We mingled among the people who we had been forewarned would be rude and unhygienic and those were all poor stereotypes. The post-Christian nature of France was readily apparent, even though the history of Christ's people was woven into the very stones of the buildings, it was easy to see that the assumed influence of Christianity that we, well, assume in the US has been unmasked as a wizard behind a curtain to their modernity, postmodernity, and zest for fulfillment of every indulgence.
My greatest reflection on France, however, took place at the Louvre.
The titanic museum, taking up nearly 4 city blocks, stands like a great architectural horseshoe with the obscene (in my mind) glass pyramid punching up through the middle. You could spend weeks there and not see every piece to its fullest, and given the fact that we're traveling with a 5 year old our expectations had been highly moderated to seeing three pieces: "Winged Victory", "Mona Lisa", and "Venus De Milo".
As we traversed through the Italian painters, seeing wonderful renderings of St. Francis' receipt of the stigmata and St. Anthony of Padua with his hand engulfed in the flames of the Spirit, until we found our way to the wing where de la joconda, Mona Lisa herself, rested.
In the grand room, Mona stood at one end behind a glass wall. Surrounded by cameras, people and attention, the tiny smug lady looked at us and made us realize our longing for her was misplaced. Like the flesh-deep desires that drive us most of the time, Lisa exposed it all. You came here to see me, and now you're surprised that I'm not what you wanted? Oh, I'm sorry.
Then I looked at the other end of the grand room and saw a massive painting that stood directly opposite to Mona Lisa. It was "The Wedding Feast" - a rendering of Jesus' miracle in John where He turned water to wine. In the center of the painting, Jesus sat quietly and peaceably, while everyone around Him celebrated His miracle.
Mona Lisa was the disappointment. Jesus at Cana is the fulfillment. In Jesus, we find out that all of our longings and desires are misplaced and small and smug. Yet in Him there is goodness, grace, and better wine when the presumed quality stuff has run out.
Father, remind us of the image we are truly searching for. Selah.