Something about basking in the greatness

Something about basking in the greatness

The length of the queue was infamous. Apocryphally long.

I’d been here before. Twenty-three years earlier I’d stood in the same Louvre courtyard, daunted by a line of similar length. On that day, it didn’t take much discouragement to talk me out of the long wait, but today was different. I was hand in hand with my 12-year old daughter. I needed enough enthusiasm for both of us! All the same, we decided we needed fuel for endurance. We exited the courtyard on a hunt for food. It was close to midday, and with scant breakfast, the thought of a long wait on an empty stomach was even less endearing.

We found pizza. In Paris. They hadn’t cut it for us, so we entered a second store where we got ourselves a baguette. Because we were in Paris. And we asked them for a knife to help us quarter up the pizza. Then we sat on a concrete bench. It turned to be the front of a famous monument with a waterfall a little like the Trevi Fountain in Rome, but we didn’t discover that until we walked away. Because the pizza was good.

Then we returned to the fray.

There are two lines outside the Louvre. A short, manageable line for those who have pre-booked their tickets. It looked like a wait of 15-20 minutes. And a line for those who were walk-up starters like us. Two hours on a good day, closer to three most others. And that was just to get you through the front door. Mostly, it was a ticket to queue some more once you got inside.

As we contemplated the 2-3 hour wait, we were approached by a fella that I’m going to guess was from Somalia. He was scalping tickets with a few friends. We’d been warned about scams, so we were suitably sceptical.

“You can wait for your ticket over there for 2-3 hours, or you can buy this one off me and enter the pre-paid line and wait 15 minutes,” he said.

“Don’t do it, Dad”, Molly murmured out of the corner of her mouth, “it’s a scam”.

Looking at both lines and half walking away from the bloke, I said: “How do I know it will work and how much is it?”.

The reply, “Just look at these other people buying from my other friends.

“We pre-buy these tickets ahead of time.You’ll be charged 17 Euro over there. We charge you 20 Euro and pocket the difference,

“Look, here’s the ticket that you need once you get to the gate just there, and here’s the ticket you’ll need once you get to the check-in counter inside,

“Your daughter will be free, she’s under 18, it’s one ticket for you.”

I stood looking at the long line, looking at the ticket, and pondering the economic principle of opportunity cost. And the cost of the shame caused when it didn’t work, and Molly said, “I told you it was a scam, Dad”.

I rolled the dice. I bought the ticket.

If anyone had looked carefully, they probably would have been suspicious that I didn’t look like “Ileana Ella Nimz” (the name on the ticket), but I was willing to trade two and half hours for that possibility as well.

We moved through the first checkpoint without a hitch. Still on the outside but now in the official line.

Fifteen minutes later we were in the glass triangle, still not having presented our ticket, but in the Louvre all the same.

Another fifteen minutes later, having enjoyed the peculiar European custom of having people jump the queue ahead of you, I presented my phone with a bar code to the ticketing officer.

Nothing happened. She tried again, moving the phone around. Nothing.

She looked puzzled. I fidgeted nervously. Molly probably rolled her eyes.

In a flash of inspiration, I handed the paper ticket I was holding in my other hand to her and said, “Is it this one?”. She gave me the look of “well of course it is, you idiot!”.

The green light flashed, and we were in!

If all roads lead to Rome in Italy, all queues inevitably lead to one place in the Louvre. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. A portrait from the Italian Renaissance that’s been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most parodied work of art in the world”.

We were no different. We weren’t there to see a unique range of basket weaving from an ancient tribe of the Incas, we were the same cliche - there to see Mona.

And so we queued. Lines that snaked around bollards like those in the customs hall of an international airport. Lines that slowly ascended stairs. Lines that lurched forward slowly through corridors.

Occasionally, we’d glimpse a directional sign with a replica of the artwork and a forward or upwards arrow that gave us a cue for the way we should move towards the object of our affection. They needn’t have bothered, you just follow the person in front of you.

We’d heard time and again how disappointingly small the artwork is once you get to see it. I wondered whether the way-finding signs may have been larger than the real thing.

Years back, I travelled across the United States with my mate, Brad. When we couldn’t find a place to park at the Grand Canyon, he wound down the window to ask a woman in a jumpsuit seemingly sewn from an American flag whether it was worth getting out of the car to see. The indignant look had been worth the question. I now found myself looking at these way-finding signs wondering whether it might be a good idea to just take a photo of Molly beside one of these and be done with it.

We pressed on.

Molly had been doing a pretty good job of mimicking the poses captured by artists in some of the other paintings we passed, but Mona is famously tricky to replicate. Is she happy? Sad? Bemused? Annoyed? Curious? Incontinent? Molly’s efforts to imitate fell well short, but they filled up some queuing time.

I queued for the Sistine Chapel one time. I’m pleased to say, Mona didn’t seem to keep ups quite that long. Neither could it have taken Leonardo quite as long as it took Michelangelo!

Still closer. As we entered one room, filled with full-scale artworks capturing the Passion - particularly the crucifixion - I could see ahead that the next room was ‘the room’. She was in there, waiting for us.

A confession: while I’m as aware as most about the significance of this piece of art, it has not been the missing piece of a near-complete life. It didn’t feature on any bucket list. I knew it was a big deal, and the prospect of seeing the painting with Molly felt meaningful and potentially memorable. But nothing more.

As I approached the entry to the viewing room, though, all those rational feelings were suddenly hijacked. I glimpsed the long snaking queue in the room towards Mona Lisa, saw the gilt-edge of the frame and the darkened parts of the artwork over the heads of the others ahead, and was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of awe and greatness.

It blindsided me.

My children look to me any time they see or hear something that they imagine might cause me to cry (cause it’s a fairly regular thing in my eyes), but Molly didn’t even steal a look. I don’t think she suspected a thing. But after all the waiting in anticipation of what I’d begun to imagine was a painting the size of a postage stamp, I was in a room containing something seemingly transcendent.

We continued to zig-zag with the hemmed-in human train. Once finally poised at the front of the line, batches of 30 or so were ushered into a viewing pen. Molly and I were the last in, standing at the back of the group, craning our heads for a closer look. Most people didn’t even seem to look face-to-face, they had their backs to the famous woman as they took selfies with her. I thought they’d slowly move on and we’d move to the front. Instead, the officials waited for what felt like 30 seconds before telling us to move en masse for the next batch. As others moved, Molly and I tarried for perhaps five or ten seconds and just stared. She’s bigger than everyone says. We quickly took a photo before the stern voices were accompanied by an officious nudge and we were moved out of the pen.

It can’t have been more than a minute all up. It felt far less. I took another photo off to the side of Molly with Mona in the background, and then we spat out into an adjoining room.

Business as usual. More famous artwork, but none with the notoriety that created the sense of anticipation that I’d just witnessed.

Fleeting, blinding greatness. Just a flash.

As we walked in the next room of paintings that were capturing the Last Supper, the Ascension, and other moments of the incarnation, I reflected on my 10 seconds with Mona.

Jesus said to his followers at one point, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

The Bible also tells us that heaven is the dwelling place of God. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven. Permanent majesty and holiness.

Talking Heads wrote a song with the lyric, “Heaven, heaven is a place. A place where nothing, nothing ever happens”.

I think they got the first bit right. It’s a place. But it’s a place that Jesus has been preparing for us. Many rooms, many mansions.

We’re not short on details. No tears, no pain. No dislocation from perfect relationship. A place to stay, eternally. To bask, to worship, to revel in the incandescent, ineffable wonder, greatness and awe of the One who loved us into creation, then loved us back to relationship with Him.

My overwhelming thought in the room that came after Mona was, “I won’t be cast away after ten seconds, I’ll spend eternity in that place”.

Things will happen. Wonderful things. I’ll worship forever. I’ll see Him face to face. Not as in a mirror dimly, nor through a shield of protective Perspex, but face to face. I will worship without distraction, serve without exhaustion, fellowship without fear, learn without fatigue, rest without boredom.

An eternal life with no more death, mourning, sorrow or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away and the One seated on the throne will say “I am making everything new!” (Rev 21)

The American negro-slaves would often write songs anticipating this beauty. They penned songs with titles like “Oh, what a beautiful city”, “Oh, freedom”, “There is a balm in Gilead”, “When the saints go marching in”. These songs were cries for eternal freedom, born out of sorrow and anticipation.

It seems we’re often short on the sort of adversity that turn our thoughts eternal. While few of us would seek out suffering, the pinnacle of our human experience on earth is a pale facsimile to the greatness of the coming Kingdom. Yet, we’re often distracted by the pretty good in lieu of the exceedingly great. In the Developing World people queue for hours for bread to sate their physical hunger. In the First World we queue for hours to sate our higher hungers. Either way, we’re hungry.

This is not about escaping reality, it’s the experience of the perfect reality that we were created to enjoy - perfect communion with our Creator.

“To the thirsty,” John writes in Revelation, “I will give water without cost from the spring of the river of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this. I will be their God, and they will be my children”.

When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.

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