Imagine our surprise.
After a few seconds driving our rental car through the gates of the walled Italian city San Gimignano, we realized that the ancient cobble stone streets were meant for pedestrians only. Yeah, there were probably signs somewhere that forbade vehicles from driving on these historic pathways but my Italian was marginal at best and so we saw no reason not to drive in like we knew what we were doing.
Unfortunately, we discovered our mistake after we had turned a corner and entered into a tangled maze that promised no way out. If we hadn’t been so panicked it would have been funny. All I could think of was how to explain our almost certain arrest and incarceration in a foreign prison.
Weaving through narrow streets and finding cross streets aplenty, we made a left down a lane that seemed to have a gentle slope that, we thought, could quite possibility show us out. But no, it was a Chevy Chase moment (ala the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation) when we started driving down a set of steps that landed us on the front porch of a private home. No way to turn around and no way to back up. The gentle slope wasn’t so gentle after all and so we could get no traction on our front wheel drive vehicle.
A woman (apparently the owner of the home we had invaded) came out and shouted something that didn’t sound like “Welcome strangers to my humble home.” And so I said in my best Italian mi dispiace (I’m sorry) while Dennis jumped out and moved her potted plants a little so we might have a fighting chance of turning around and ascending the steps. After maybe 20 foot-long back scoots and 20 foot-long forward scoots, we finally were able to reverse our position on the lady’s piazza. We had hoped to make an unremarkable exit at that point. Too late. By then we had drawn a crowd that was rather equally divided. Half jeers and waging heads, the other half touristy cheers. Finally an Aussie in the crowd yelled, “Give ‘er the gun, mate.” So, Dennis gunned the accelerator, we made it up the steps and intersected a main street which eventually led us out the exit (which was the entrance in which we had come originally.)
Walls. In this case, I’m sure the city had built these walls as a protective fortress at some point but for us they were, at least temporarily, a prison.
Last Sunday at church we sang an arrangement of the song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, original lyrics written by Christian reformer Martin Luther.
Fortress. Wall. I couldn’t help but think of our San Gimignano experience and I began to wonder why we equate God with a wall. The standard answer would be that He is our refuge, our Protector. He keeps out the enemy. So I wonder how the metaphor works. If God is our Fortress, our Refuge, our Protector how does that translate into our 21st century lives?
Since colonial days in our country we haven’t built walls around us to protect us from enemy onslaughts. Because of this, the metaphor of God being our fortress might elude us. It doesn’t paint a picture for some of us. We have a hard time believing that something we cannot see or touch actually exists. But I just rediscovered this:
Paul writes in Romans 8: “…hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
I think it’s worth the wait.
P.S. Thanks, Glenn-o, for reminding me of this experience.