The Hollywood sign never seemed more real.
I’ve lived in southern California for over three years now, and I’ve seen those illustrious blocky white letters on countless treks into Los Angeles. I’ve shown off “Lady Hollywood” to visiting friends and family as if it were my firstborn child, lounging on the side of a mountain beneath that giant antenna friend of hers.
And yet the Hollywood sign always seemed so far away. So untouchable and two-dimensional.
Until this past Thanksgiving, that is.
I suppose I could’ve enjoyed my Thanksgiving with miscellaneous loved ones like my past three Novembers out West, but I opted instead for a different kind of holiday. I drove into Los Angeles early and spent the morning alongside hundreds of other Thanksgiving volunteers blessing the homeless.
Then, I ventured to my favorite location in Los Angeles and all of southern California. One of my favorite spots in all the world.
The Griffith Observatory.
I’ve been to Griffith a dozen times over the last three years, and the grip of that holy hill on my soul is unrelenting with every return visit. With every winding trek up the mountain, I stand awestruck at this building nestled above a massive metropolis of skyscrapers and streets, surrounded by rolling hills like waves of dirt and rock.
Every time I walk the grounds at Griffith, I breathe and exhale and think to myself, over and over:
How. Did. I. Get. Here?
How did I possibly arrive at this moment from that flat flat flattt country town in Georgia? It’s honestly a miracle.
I admire the Hollywood sign every time I visit Griffith, and yet this particular spot at the observatory was always as close as I’d ever gotten to that still so faraway landmark. When I ventured to Griffith on Thanksgiving, however, I suddenly had a thought I’d not thought in over three years here.
Why not hike to the Hollywood sign? Get as close as I can possibly get to her? On Thanksgiving, of all days?
I looked around, and for the first time in three years I noticed the trails leading up and away from Griffith, high into the dusty hills cupping this piece of earth all together. Without giving it much thought, I hiked those trails on Thanksgiving.
Hour after crisp autumn hour, I hiked further and further away from that beloved observatory, trekking deeper and deeper into the dark allure of nature. The more I zig-zagged down trails winding to the Hollywood sign, the many throngs of people hiking those trails thinned out.
I wondered why so few wanted to reach the Hollywood sign as much as I did.
If there’s a hill to climb, why not climb it?
Every once in a while I’d turn a bend and Lady Hollywood would disappear, only to faithfully reemerge somewhere further down the trail. After two long hours into the hills, I started noticing something about that oft-seen, two-dimensional Hollywood sign.
It had a third dimension.
With every passing step, I could suddenly see the width, the siding to those nine iconic letters standing with pride atop the mountain. The closer I got, the realer it got.
As I hiked by myself down dirt roads that turned to asphalt that turned back to dirt again, I started wondering if this is how it will be in our last days, looking up at a massive, often distant God.
For years, He has towered over us like a mountain and we’ve acknowledged His fortuitous base, we’ve cupped our eyes and perhaps made out some shadows of His face, but we’ve really had no concept of the breadth and depth of who He even is.
But maybe, just maybe, we will someday round a bend and suddenly He will emerge from that same glorious mountain we’ve stared at for miles from afar and be altogether more real than we have ever known Him to be.
We will, somehow, articulate more of His goodness, His radiance, His power and might, His wrath, His jealous love, His heart and His face than we’ve ever before seen or known. And we will walk faster toward Him, our feet weary and our hearts desperately afraid yet with renewed vigor to see Him and know Him even more.
When I reached the end of that three-hour trail and got the closest I’ve ever stood to Lady Hollywood, I was within hardly a few hundred yards. I could finally see for myself the white crossbeams holding the letters onto the mountain, and I wondered if people could actually climb atop one of the O’s for one of the best views of humanity.
For one scandalous moment, I had a clandestine thought to trek even higher and climb where I knew not to climb. After all, there was no fence to stop me — there was no trail either, but there was no fence. I suppose the main things stopping me were the expiring sun and a hovering helicopter that held to the Hollywood sign like a moth to light.
I suppose common sense also stopped me from traipsing further upward, but I prefer not to think in such terms. Common sense is so lifeless, after all.
“Common sense” says there cannot be a God because we cannot see Him.
“Common sense” says we are all there is because we are all we see.
“Common sense” says we are all an accident, an unexplained debacle, a hopeless assortment of dirt and bone stretching for miles in every direction.
As painfully slow as the process has been, I can look back on 26 years of winding wearying trails and readily acknowledge having seen more of God’s face the further down this dusty path I’ve ventured.
I have seen more of His love.
I have seen more of His goodness.
I have seen more of His redemptive hand exchanging suffering’s grip.
Two summers ago at Camp Ridgecrest, we sang this chorus all summer before every single lunch:
Farther along, we’ll know more about it; farther along we’ll understand why. So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand this all by and by.
Standing at the base of the Hollywood sign, guys, I tell you: God was so close.
You could almost reach out and touch Him.