I just walked around Paris for the last hour and a half trying very unsuccessfully to get lost. I did walk down a street or two I hadn’t walked down before, but I always knew where I was. I always knew what was behind me. I always knew what was before me I always knew what was to my right and to my left. I felt bound, constricted, contained. The city felt small and simple. The world was boring.
I kind of like being lost, because I like discovering new things. Tonight, I always knew where I was, so there was little reason to keep my head up and look around. I had seen all this before. Being disoriented is the first step to discovery.
Paris felt simple tonight, because in the past three weeks I have been lost many times, and my determination to find myself then is what garnered me the knowledge that kept me found tonight. I kept walking, and each time I eventually found my way, and now, I know the city, because I endured long stretches of time where I didn’t know where I was in relation to anything else.
Not knowing where you are relative to the rest of the world is the essence of being lost. Location is a relative concept. It is not fixed or finite. Move the Eiffel Tower, the Hotel Invalides, the Tower of Montparnasse, and the Cathedral of Saint Sulpice, and my location would change too, or rather, my knowledge of my location would change.
Granted, if those four landmarks moved, I could take out my iPhone and activate my GPS. I would then quickly know my whereabouts. Instead of being based on landmarks my location would be based on a triangulation from the nearest three cell phone towers whose locations are based on their latitudinal and longitudinal positions relative to the earth’s poles and an imaginary line passing through Greenwich, England. Move the poles or Greenwich and everything falls apart. Even global positioning is still relative.
There are ways to be “lost” beyond geolocation. We even use the same words to describe those states. Relationally – “I just don’t know where we stand.” Intellectually – “Excuse me, professor, but you lost me somewhere back there.” Professionally – “I just can’t figure out my place in this company.” As before, each “lostness” is a product of not knowing where one is in relation to something else, be that thing a lover, other information, or a system of shared responsibilities.
One can feel lost spiritually as well when one is unsure of one’s position relative to God.
Now, the tricky thing about theolocation (if you will allow me to make up a word), is that really, we never know where God is located (metaphorically speaking). God also always seems to be moving, always changing, always mystifying, so even if we could locate God one moment, God will probably be somewhere else the next. That’s the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower skipping around Paris forever complicating my evening walks. So, God alone proves to be a very poor spiritual reference.
Thank God for Jesus. In Christ, God sticks Himself in time on earth in our experience. God bolts down the Eiffel Tower. “Where is God? Who is God? Where am I, and who am I in relation to God?” These questions are all answered by Christ. Now, Jesus proves to be pretty shifty too when it comes to moralistic imperatives, constantly failing to fulfill our expectations and plans, but Christ does give us a direction to face and a way to walk.
Jesus does more than just direct us toward God though. He isn’t simply a prophet. If He was, He would be of only slightly more value than a good sunset or a particularly good song. He would just be another arrow pointing to an always moving God. But Jesus is God, so while He does point us toward an always changing Divinity, He also points toward Himself. Jesus’ claim, and the Christian claim ever since, is that God can only be found in Christ. Therefore, the Christian is found, located, positioned in Christ, but he or she is also still lost, because God is still always moving, changing, shifting.
That’s why we should be wary of fixing anything as part of our faith that isn’t Jesus. We should not settle permanently on moral imperatives, spiritual practices, or cultural taboos. Jesus didn’t. Jesus settled on healing what He could, taking great pleasure in every meal, dying, and on resurrection. May we do likewise.
And may we keep going too, because God is still moving. Embrace the disorientation. We ought to stay open to discovery. We ought to keep our heads up and look around, because there will always be new things to see as we explore God. God is never boring. God is never simple or small. God cannot be contained, constricted, or bound.
We ought to allow ourselves to get lost, and we ought to be dissatisfied when we’re not, and we ought always to be headed toward Christ.
Gene Kelly Was Here
These blog posts were all written in the summer of 2011. They chronicle my time in Paris completing an internship as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary. I worked at an art gallery run by missionary-artists ministering to other Parisian artists and got to know the missionary-artists working there.
I am including them here for you to read because I think they work well together as a series. I wrote them as a kind of narrative collage about what it means to be a practicing artist whose first commitment is to Christ and who seeks to share the love of Christ with other artists.