Posted March 08, 2010:
A New Way of Seeing

by Roman Guardini.

The more we think about long-familiar things, the clearer does their meaning grow. Things we have done thousands of times, if we will only look into them more deeply, will disclose to us their beauty. If we listen, they will speak.

After their meaning has been revealed to us, the next step is to enter into our inheritance and make what we have long possessed really our own.

We must learn how to see, how to hear, how to do things the right way. Such a learning-by-looking, growing-by-learning, is what matters. Regarded any other way these things keep their secret. They remain dark and mute.

Regarded thus, they yield to us their essential nature, that nature which formed them to their outward shapes.

Try it for yourself. The most commonplace everyday objects and actions hide matters of deepest import. Under the simplest exteriors lie the greatest mysteries.

Steps are an example. Every one of the innumerable times we go upstairs, a change, though too slight and subtle to be perceptible, takes place in us.

There is something mysterious in the act of ascending. Our intelligence would be puzzled to explain it, but instinctively we feel that it is so. We are made that way.

When the feet mount the steps, the whole person, including his spiritual substance, goes up with them. All ascension, all going up, if we will but give it a thought, is motion in the direction of that high place where everything is great, everything made perfect.

For in this sense we have that heaven is "up" rather than "down," we depend on something in us deeper than our reasoning powers.

How can God be up or down? The only approach to God is by becoming better morally, and what has spiritual improvement got to do with a material action like going up a set of stairs? What does pure being have to do with a rise in the position of our bodies?

There is no explanation, yet the natural figure of speech for what is morally bad is baseness, and a good and noble action we call a high action. In our minds, we make a connection, unintelligible but real, between rising up and the spiritual approach to God; and him we call the All-Highest.

So the steps that lead from the street to the church remind us that in going up into the house of prayer, we are coming nearer to God. … We are entering in before the All-Holy.

The steps going up to the altar [when there are such steps and in older churches they were more common] says to whoever ascends them the same words that God spoke to Moses on Mount Horeb: Take off your shoes for the place is holy (Exodus 3:5). The altar is the threshold of eternity.

It is a great idea that if we go up even a common stairway with our minds on what we are doing, we really do leave the base and trivial and are in actual fact ascending up on high. Words are not very adequate, but the Christian knows that when he ascends, it is the Lord that ascends. In him the Lord repeats his own ascension.

This is what steps mean.

From Sacred Signs. pp. 33-35, (1955), Pio Decimo Press, out of print.


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