Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 32, “Signs”

Dear friend,*

Jesus walking on water. It’s one of the best-known “signs” (or miracles) in the Gospels and one of the easiest to dismiss: Symbolism! The imaginary flight of a crackpot Evangelist!

Or else we reduce the whole thing to self-suggestion. Is walking on water any bigger deal than walking on fire, like Japanese Buddhists, like Tony Robbins?!

The beauty of Romano Guardini’s book The Lord is that it invites the reader to contemplate again these old familiar “Bible stories”—not only for their literal truth (there is that) but also for their deeper, overlooked significance.

The thing I forget about the water-walking night scene in Matthew 14 is that Peter did it too! It’s here—on Peter’s walking and then sinking and then being held up again by the Lord—that RG shines a new light.

Before going there, please note that I am not going to write anything tonight about our experiences at boarding school. I know that I’ve tried so far to link each chapter in The Lord with an experience you and I shared in common over forty years ago. I’ve had my reasons, and I’ve been enjoying the exercise.

But I cannot do that here because I can’t find a single analog in our Exeter experience. Where was faith to be found there? Where was “That great, undaunted will to union with Christ which is [Peter’s] profoundest trait”? Was there one teacher, one class, one experience that elicited such faith, that encouraged us to walk on water? I don’t think so.

Let me tell you simply what Guardini says about Peter’s water walk: “What happens to Peter in that hour happens daily in every Christian life.” So it’s symbolism then, RG? Is that it? Well, not exactly:

“To count for nothing the things the world holds dear, and for all-important what the world counts for nothing—simply on the word of Christ; to be contradicted again and again by those around us and by our own hearts within us, yet to stand fast, that is no easier than Peter’s walking on the waves.”

That is what any Catholic Christian must do today, when all the winds from science and postmodern society are blowing in the opposite direction, to stand fast. “Living in faith, working in faith, practicing faith—that is what counts,” Guardini writes. “Daily, earnest exercise of faith is what alters our sense of reality. Experience of genuine reality must be our aim.

“But that is auto-suggestion, someone objects. To this there is not much that can be said, little more than: You say that because you stand outside the experience. . . .

“Enter into faith, and you will see clearly what it is we are striving for.”

Best always,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 33.

* This post continues a series of open letters about Romano Guardini’s The Lord to a very real and still valued friend from my days at boarding school over forty years ago.

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