Dedicated to my father, Bruce Holbein
After my father’s conversion to Christianity in his late fifties, he commented that the spiritual life is like visiting the Louvre, the famous Parisian museum. With the campus spanning almost fifteen acres, each room holds numerous, unexpected, and priceless treasures in what seems like an unending maze—more rooms than you could ever possibly visit. The image captured my imagination. In the year after my baptism, each spiritual insight felt delightful and astonishing. Forgiveness! Salvation! Humility! Servanthood! On and on—the lessons were innumerable, each holding enormous complexity and depth. One could spend years dwelling on each and still not finish mining their delicate richness.
That spring, I traveled to Paris for a conference for work. I reserved a few days at the end of the week for sightseeing. I visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe. Everywhere I went, I was overwhelmed by the crowds, the lines. There were so many people! I was reminded of a nagging question that a non-believer had once posed to me. How could God really have time—and interest—in each of us? In each and every single person? To connect, care about, nurture, guide, and love us each one of us as individuals? Because this scenario seemed so farfetched to her, this friend concluded that God must not exist.
Wandering around Paris that week, I was startled by the number of tourists who were guided by GPS systems. On the sidewalk, I would hear a person’s phone vibrate and a robotic voice would emerge, “In 300 feet, turn left at the intersection.” As I watched a couple fumble with their hand-held device, squinting up at the street sign while they tried to get their bearings, I pondered the feasibility of providing every person on the planet with their own GPS system. If we pooled the globe’s financial resources (let’s say, if we combined the entire military budgets of all of the world’s countries?) I imagined that hypothetically it would be possible to do.
Humans are impossibly limited creatures. Yet we have the theoretical capacity to track all 7 billion people on earth at any given time. Reflecting on this, it seemed implausible to me that God – in all of God’s infinite, unknowable mystery – wouldn’t do the same and much, much more. That God wouldn’t connect with each one of us individually, honing in on our exact location, and offering guidance on our unique path forward. There in Paris, the ubiquity of GPS systems helped me feel that the whole premise of God is entirely plausible.
I saved the Lourve for the final afternoon. I was eager to see if the experience lived up to the image that my father had invoked. When I arrived, I wound my way through the maze of corridors, following a map to the wing that housed the Mona Lisa. I joined the crush of people lined up to get a glimpse of her. The crowd was moving quickly – urged forward by the museum guards – and I knew we would each have only a few moments to view the painting. Most people held digital cameras and cell phones out, poised to snap photo after photo as they passed by. I cynically wondered if we were all just hungry to fill a narcissistic need to be close to a little bit of fame. Like the paparazzi hounding after a celebrity, did we all just have a shallow desire to increase our own coolness factor by briefly being in the presence of supposed greatness?
Yet when I crowded forward and saw the Mona Lisa, I was deeply moved. Her sideways glance, her gentle smile. She was beautiful, and the brief moment I had with her did not feel like enough. It wasn’t about narcissistic voyeurism. It was about beauty, connection, a celebration of creation.
Likewise, yearning to be known and seen by God in our individuality is not narcissistic delusion. It’s not about fooling ourselves out of some insecure desire to be special. God can and does reach out to each of us at our unique coordinates, both physical and spiritual. God has a GPS signal on all of us, and all we need to do is plug into it and feel that connection. And when we do, what is the destination we must aim toward? Unlike with a normal GPS, when we doggedly attempt to set our own course, I was learning that on the spiritual path there is always only one request to make: “Thy will be done.”
Kate Rademacher is the author of Following the Red Bird, available online and from local booksellers.