During the era when Germany was divided, a friend and I were taking a train from Rome to Berlin. Through a complicated set of circumstances, we arrived in Munich, and as it turned out, we weren't able to get to Berlin in time for a conference we'd planned to attend.
Munich is a beautiful city, and neither of us had been there before, so it wasn't a hardship to be there, but we were very disappointed to miss the conference.
In the late afternoon while wandering through an art museum just before closing time, I was struck when I saw a painting of Jesus and the disciple who has come to be known as "doubting Thomas."
Thomas was kneeling at the feet of the resurrected Jesus, looking up and reaching toward the wound in Jesus' side. To me, the expression on Thomas's face said, "Could this be for real?"
Jesus was looking at him with great compassion and an expression that said, "Yes, it's for real. I'm glad you understand now."
As we visited more museums and churches during our time in Europe in the weeks that followed, I saw many depictions of that encounter between Jesus and Thomas, none of which moved me as that one had.
The painting's message for me that day was, Do I really need to know why I'm in Munich and not at the conference? Isn't it enough to know that I'm in God's presence right where I am?
I also saw a lesson for all time – not to doubt that all the activities of my life are in God's hands and that I can trust His care wherever I am, whatever the circumstances, whenever plans go awry.
I'd been hoping that there might be an obvious reason for having ended up in Munich – that I'd see the beginning of a new academic or career direction, or even a new friendship with someone from that city. But there was none of that. Now, the fact that I remember the message of that painting 30 years later is significant enough.
I can certainly relate to Thomas's need to touch the wound to be sure that it was really Jesus who stood before him. But I also love Jesus' comment on the situation as recorded in the Bible: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
I appreciate Mary Baker Eddy's insight on the scene: "Nothing but a display of matter could make existence real to Thomas. For him to believe in matter was no task, but for him to conceive of the substantiality of Spirit – to know that nothing can efface Mind and immortality, in which Spirit reigns – was more difficult" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 317-318).
The ensuing years for me have been an effort to learn to trust the reality of Spirit – to understand more fully that life and love and everything that matters have nothing to do with physicality.
But I'm grateful that Jesus understood the needs of the Thomases of this world, including myself, and had compassion on them.
Trust the Eternal when the shadows gather,
When joys of daylight seem so like a dream;
God the unchanging pities like a father;
Trust on and wait, the daystar yet shall gleam.
William P. McKenzie, "Christian Science Hymnal," No. 359