Faith & Thought

The World Is Meant To Take Our Breath Away


Though I have previously reread books that I liked, the return usually was done with the hope of experiencing once again something that I liked very much in my first reading. 

The experience rereading Rolheiser’s book has been different. What is happening is that I am finding insights that I must have missed the first time I read the book. 

I want to talk to friends to whom I have recommended the book to discover if their experience is similar to mine. Insights seem to leap off the page at me. 

Also the book is causing me to re-evaluate past positions I held in my own struggles to be human. I don’t know whether I will ever have the opportunity to meet Fr. Rolheiser, but his humanity shines through his books. 

Rolheiser writes the following: 

“For everyone who is emotionally healthy and honest, there will be a lifelong tension between the seductive attractions of this world and the lure of God. 

“The earth, with its beauties, its pleasures and its physicality, can take our breath away and have us believe that this world is all that needs to be. Who needs anything further? Isn’t life here on earth enough? Besides, what proof is there for any reality and meaning beyond our lives here? 

“But even as we are so powerfully, and rightly , drawn to the world and what it offers, another part of us finds itself also caught in the embrace and grip of another reality, the divine, which though more inchoate is not unrelenting. It too tells us that it is real, that its reality ultimately offers life, that it also should be honored, and that it also may not be ignored….We can push it away by distraction or denial, but it stays, always creating a powerful tension inside us: we are irremediably children of both heaven and earth; both God and the world have a right to our attention.” (pp.40-41) 

I confess that for much of my life I did not have the positive view of the world that Rolheiser presents. I think of negative views of the world that were presented to me at times by preachers and teachers. I think of spiritualities that I absorbed through books that encouraged flight from the world. 

Looking back on my life, at times I had such a negative view of the world that I thought of it not as a beautiful reality given to us by God but rather a place that was largely dangerous and primarily a place that was a testing ground on our way to heaven. It is difficult for me to admit just how negative my view of the world was. 

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I claim that a very popular Catholic spirituality was that flight from the world was the best way to become holy. 

Looking back on what I thought of the world, I wonder how much that view, at least implicitly, influenced my view of God. It had to exert some influence even if I was relatively unaware of the influence at the time. 

At that time I would have had a tough time accepting the following statement by Rolheiser: 

“The world is its own mystery and has its own meaning, a God-given one. It’s not simply a stage upon which we, as humans, play out our individual dramas of salvation and then close the curtain. It’s a place for all of us — humans, animals, insects, plants, water, rocks, and soil — to enjoy a home together.”(p. 41) 

I am trying to recall when my view of the world changed. Certainly the change was very much due to my education in the seminary, and in graduate school, to teachers and others who greatly influenced me, to wonderful books that had a huge impact on me, and of course the Second Vatican Council, which I have to think played a unique role in my conversion from one view of the world to a more optimistic, exciting and favorable view of the world. 

Rolheiser expresses my current view better than I can. 

The following is a wonderful summary statement by Rolheiser: 

“My major choices in life incarnate and radiate a great tension because I’ve tried to be true to a double primordial branding inside me, the pagan and the divine. I can’t deny the reality, lure, goodness of either of them. 

“That’s as it should be. The world is meant to take our breath away, even as we genuflect to the author of that breath.” (pp. 42-43) 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.