Thursday, May 19, 2011

The tallest building in the city

We left the pub that night and made our way to the cars, stopping in front of my car on the street.

“Is that the tallest building in the city?” my visiting friend said with a chuckle, pointing to a laughably short version of a skyscraper. I smiled and shrugged, the handful of tallish buildings not having merited my close attention in the months I had lived in the little Midwestern city.

“No,” another friend mused, cocking his head awkwardly at the other buildings in sight, “it’s not that one. I forget which one of these it is.”

“Is it that one?” I asked, pointing to another of approximately similar height to the last, suddenly engaged in the scavenger hunt now that I didn’t have to be the authority.

“No,” he hesitated, turning to scan the horizon the other direction. “The tallest building is obvious when you see it. I don’t see it.”

“Well,” I challenged, “it’s gotta be right around here. The city’s not big enough to have its skyscrapers distributed beyond a couple blocks.”

He turned his body in one final 360 around the city. “I don’t know why I can’t see it, but it’s not any of those.”

After the failed attempt to find the building, the three of us said our goodbyes and the skyscraper-authority walked toward his car, leaving the visitor and me to climb into my vehicle. Suddenly, from where he stood a half-block away from us, our friend shouted, “Come ‘ere, ya’ll! It’s right above you!”

Sure enough, we walked out to where he was standing and saw the skyscraper above us, obviously taller than any of the others we had been assessing. The five-story lobby attached to it had prevented us from seeing it as we stood directly next to it. As it turned out, we could not see it because we were so close, not because we were far away.

“It’s like the tallest building in the city,” my visiting friend said a few nights later in a conversation about the presence of God amidst our doubts, about his presence in the Church and the world and the sacraments, about Mary and other sticky theological points for me and my friends who grew up in a church tradition that made his theology seem so foreign, about the kingdom that was apparently in the already-but-not-yet as if the “not yet” did not nullify the “already.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“Really, Em,” he insisted. “We couldn’t see it because we were so close to it, not because we were far away. I think you are much closer than you realize.”

“You really think so?” I challenged flatly, absolutely skeptical about the dubious suggestion that I was missing so many things my friends of greater faith were seeing because I was just so “close” to them.

“I do,” I said unblinkingly. His faith seemed firm enough for the two of us.

1 comment:

Christian H said...

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis suggests that in a world in which minds could directly interact without a medium, no one could distinguish their own thoughts and emotions from another's. Thus, we need an external world, obeying predictable laws, to act as a medium of communication if we want to experience another while remaining aware that they /are/ other. He then writes, "You may reply, as a Christian, that God (and Satan) do, in fact, affect my consciousness in this direct way without signs of 'externality'. Yes: and the result is that most people remain ignorant of the existence of both."

I wouldn't ever diagnose yourself with being too close to see it, though; that's a diagnosis that needs to come from another, like your friend.