Seeing God from the lookout…and the street

Columbia Center, Seattle
Columbia Center, Seattle

When it comes to skyscrapers, I might as well admit it: I’m a soft touch.

Maybe it’s because of my NYC experience as a four-year-old. My Dad, Mom, my brothers and I headed north from Flemington, New Jersey to Manhattan. From the 80-something floor of the Empire State building, we looked out over the sprawling metropolis. My head poking through the railing, I looked at the vehicles so far below, then exclaimed: “Daddy, look at all those Matchbox cars down there!”

As a student on Boston’s South Shore, I trekked more than once to the Prudential building, in search of the same perched-above-it-all thrill. Then just last week, Seattle’s Columbia Center beckoned. From the 73rd floor of the 76 floor titan – the tallest in the West Coast region of North America – I spied the comings-and-goings of harbor boats in Elliott Bay, elevated highways snaking south toward Normandy Park, and Mt. Rainier foggy through the mist. Even on a cloudy day, it was worth the admission price.

Yet most of our life is lived down on the street. In Seattle, it’s down in Pike Place Market where they throw you the catch of the day…and you drop it. Or back in Boston, when you leave the Prudential building, the same subway that deposited you near tony Beacon Hill takes you back to Eastern Nazarene College winding through hardscrabble neighborhoods like Roxbury. Even the storied Empire State Building that summer day in ’67 sheltered in a stairwell a derelict man, sleeping away his hangover.

There are days when I see God from the lookout. Through prayer, Scripture reading or the well-crafted phrase of a praise song or sermon, I momentarily rise and glimpse the majesty of the vista. Perched above it all, the rays of the sun seem warmer, clearer, more pristine. There, the sweep of God’s plans fit together in unity, a well-choreographed dance scene from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Most days, though, I’m at street level. Instead of pondering the greatness of God, I’m frantically looking for my car keys or fretting about whether the money is going to run out before the month does.

Yet the amazing thing about the God we serve is that God is not confined! At the top of the skyscraper? God is there. Down on the street level where we suffer? God is there, too — Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

John Wesley (1703-91) had no clue what a skyscraper was, but he understood the “lookout/street” principle. As a student at Christ Church (Oxford), he was perched as high as anyone in the “tower” of academia. Once a week, he sought the spiritual solace of Eucharist, catching a glimpse of the One who is Lifted Up by pausing in the pew of the local cathedral. Yet a letter came from his father, Samuel, reminding young John that God was not only in the rarefied atmosphere of university and cathedral, but in the stench of the prisoner’s rags and the soiled bed linens of the sick. With a band of students, they made the weekly rounds, praying, singing, encouraging.

Have you been on the street for too long? It’s time to climb the tower. In my tradition, revival services – now nearly extinct – were times we perched in the lookout. Twice a year, Fall and Spring, a visiting evangelist invited us to scale the heights, to catch once again a glimpse of God by rising above the everyday. In the radiance of God’s glory, our sins came into focus and God’s holy love washed them away. We left the “lookout” to regain the “street” of life, lighter, cleaner, ready once again to make a difference at ground level.

street children in Antananarivo (Madagascar)
street children in Antananarivo (Madagascar)

Have you been in the tower too long? It’s time to get back on the street. There’s a time to pray and a time to put feet to your prayers. Like the epileptic boy at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17), the world awaits the touch of the Savior.

Life has taught me that God is no less present at street level than in the tower. A choice between the two is a false choice. We need both places, and both places need us. May God teach us once again the lookout/street principle.

——————-

Photo credits

Columbia Center — Wikkipedia

Street children — Greg Crofford

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