Notre Dame looms large. That is not a metaphor. She is monumental, in the most concrete form of the word. Seeing her for the first time illuminated my faith in ways that, as long as I live, I will never have the language to really put into words. But I shall try.
As you make your approach, you cross a long, broad open space, teeming with people taking snapshots, moving in and out and around the elaborately carved entry way into the cathedral. To see all of her at one time, to see her height and breadth without craning your neck up and down and side to side, you have stand a long, long way off. People look so small standing in front of her. And yet, as incredible as she is, standing there and seeing all of her, you begin to strain your eyes to see the detail carved so meticulously and lovingly in her facades. And so you must continue your approach.
When you do, you realize that there is so much detail that you could spend hours just staring at the front, searching the carvings and statues, and you'd still not see it all. It's just too much to take in.
And this is to say nothing of looking straight up at the towers. How tall they are, and how much more detail you cannot see from this far below, even as you stand close enough to feel the air from inside those ancient doorways.
Only when you climb those twisting stairs, as your legs grow tired and your eyes adjust to the dim light, only to be blinded by the sun as you go out on top, can you see the gargoyles overlooking that great city, and stand at eye level with the great spire. And there, though you know the fences are in place to keep you from falling, you wish you could get even closer, even at your own peril, to take in the detail.
How much like the faith it is to stand before Notre Dame. Some people hear of faith with skepticism. They claim to know the shams and controversies of every belief taken in faith. They stand far off to see the big picture, proud to boast that they know all there is to know. Their skepticism allows them to see the whole, but only from a thousand yards away. But they never have approached it to see just how intricate and beautiful faith can be.
Others go the opposite direction; so dogmatic they are in their beliefs, so bogged down and obsessed with the details that they think only they have appreciated, that they have no sense of the scale of the structure where those details reside. They find their corner of the truth, oblivious to how mind-blowingly huge the truth really is.
Faith requires both a sense of awe at the size and scope of the thing, and still a humility to see the myriad of detail that inhabits it. But faith, just like a great and ancient cathedral, requires that you not only observe it from outside, but that you search it within.
Inside that great Lady, she appears even bigger--or perhaps she just makes you feel infinitely small. You see the length of her history; you see people in every walk of life trying desperately to take it all in; you climb forever it seems to look out and down upon those vantagepoints where you once stood and you know not just how enormous she is, but how small you are in comparison.
Faith is not for the weak-minded. Nor is it for the proud. It isn't dismantled so easily if you only see it from afar, nor is it fully understood if you only stand and view it from one place. Faith demands the courage to cross the threshold of an ancient door, and the strength to climb as high as it will take you.
Only then, when you have humbled yourself enough to get close to it, or forgotten yourself enough to look around it, and have made the journey to its precipice, can you see the world from that great height which inspires both fear of the gulf below, and awe for what you can see beyond, a thousand miles to a horizon that you can never view from your comfortable place down there on the ground.