In this life we are constant victims of the inverse proportion between distance and intensity. While the conflicts, strife, and sufferings on the other side of the world, though no less real, are of little or no importance to us, the pain and conflict we experience closer to ourselves is of much greater impact. This notion of intensity increasing with proximity peaks at the point nearest to our interior self. Our most intense concerns, then, deal first with what affects our personal self; and next, those closest to us and their worlds; and next, our neighbor and so on in ever-widening and more distant concentric circles. Even the magnitude of a far-distant catastrophe pales in the face of a bothersome but tiny mishap in our own home. Closeness magnifies seriousness.
If, in the interior life, we consider ourselves and our God the unequivocal definition of closeness, then cosmic chaos is as nothing compared to the bumpy road of distractions, temptations, and sufferings of the spiritual life. The quest for You travels along a highway that bristles with potholes, barricades and orange barrels that touch deeply our intimate selves – more than a distant war, more than natural disasters, more than terrorism, more than losing the world-series, more than a house fire on the next street. If I was a person directly involved in any one of these “calamities” their intensity and effect would be hugely magnified, but, in perspective, not even then should they be as intense or important as even the smallest feeling of failing You.
The irony here is that You are at once the closest and the farthest. You live and move and have Your being in Your people, but Your people remain far from You. It is we who put distance between God and ourselves. In doing so we correlate Your impact on us with Your distance – a distance we create – a “comfortable” distance. Thomas Merton has said that the spiritual life is dialectic between idealism and realism. Ideally we walk in a continuous present with You, but the reality is that, more often than not, we place You “out there” at some distance. If we are serious about disposing ourselves to be found by You then we must work at a consciousness of Your continuing proximity, all the while understanding that our failures to do this are the most devastating and proximate disasters of our lives.