In St. Petersburg, we stayed at a hotel where, looking out a window, I could see one of Dosteovsky’s flats. Across the square lay majestic St. Isaac’s, commissioned by Alexander I. Not far away was Tchaikovsky’s apartment. Across a small park, the Bronze Horseman rears up along the Neva. A ten minute walk leads to the Winter Palace, seat of 200 years of Romanov rule and site of the final Bolshevik blow against the crumbling Provisional Government. Today it houses the famous Hermitage; locals and tourists wander about the large square below where many died in 1905. Who can understand the rhythms of Tsarist life, or the fear that reigned during the great siege of 1942, or Stalin’s terrors the decade before? Even in this recent city, born from 18th-century swamps, the past overwhelms.
Somewhere – I wish I remembered where – the late Shelby Foote noted that when it was still at Shiloh in early April, he could hear the yells of the boys in the wind whistling through the first growth on the trees. The history that he knew so intimately was alive. In some sense he communed with his forbears. How many have felt the same when peering at the crosses overlooking the windy sea at Normandy, or standing in the Gettysburg wheat field, or overlooking Rome from the Palatine Hill, or walking the grounds of Oxford, or a thousand other places including St. Petersburg?
And yet God’s glory, His weight, encompasses and far surpasses all of it combined. Who has known the mind of the Lord? (Rom 11:33-36)