It was one of the hardest days of my semester. Everything in my life seemed to be falling into shambles and there wasn’t much I could do about it. So, I hiked up the side of a mountain. When I was nearly halfway up, the wind suddenly became violent. The trees were more shaken up than I was. The might of the forest and the height of the mountains suddenly seemed terrifying. My smallness in the midst of nature’s might held me at a pause. The vastness of the world around me consumed all of my anxieties, replacing them with its goodness. I fell silent. As the silence resounded in my heart, I felt wholly myself for the first time in awhile. Lost in the woods, somehow, my view of my own personhood was restored. The remainder of the semester this resounding silence began to transform me. This was the first time I experienced reverence.
This restoration originates in the fact that reverence is a moral value. According to Hildebrand in The Art of Living, moral values are only presented to the person since it is the person alone who can have consciousness of values. Moral values require an abandonment of self that is pure and unconditional. So, this reverence arises from deep within humanity (2). Reverence is defined and described by Hildebrand in the following ways: “the capacity to grasp values”, “all capacity to be made happy by values”, “all sanctioned abandonment to values”, “that upward look toward that (supernatural) world” (8). These astonishing definitions imply wholeheartedness and a certain humility of the person. But, even more so, Hildebrand connects this notion of reverence as being vital to understanding one’s personhood. “A being who is able and destined to realize in himself a rich world of values, to become a vessel of goodness, purity, and humility — this is a person” (9). Reverence, as a moral value, restores the person by its fundamental requirement of the realization of one’s own personhood.
What made this moment stick out as the moment of encountering reverence was what followed the encounter: my walk with reverence. The rest of the semester began to be exalted by a paradox of abandonment and finding of self. This resounding silence, which is a requirement of reverence that allows values to be grasped, gave the space for values I would encounter to unfold (4). In this silence, I found the opportunity to allow value to speak. What I realized is summed up by Hildebrand in this statement: “This responsive attitude to the value of being is pervaded by the disposition to recognize something superior to one’s arbitrary pleasure and will, and to be ready to subordinate and abandon oneself to it” (7). Reverence taught me to reach beyond myself into what is greater: the beautiful, the good.
If you’re anything like myself, then you’re still thinking this sounds optimistically easy and in no way realistic. But, stay with me. Here is what changed: the deep wonders of the world priorly unknown impelled me towards this abandonment. Hildebrand again and again speaks of this distance between the beholder and the beheld that reverence creates. This distance allows for new depth. Freeing us of a self-centered narrowness, reverence allows for a wonder pervaded by the mysteries of the world around us. The world is suddenly more alive than I could have ever imagined it being. Hildebrand says, “This (irreverent) man suspects nothing of the breadth and depth of the world, of the mysterious depths and the immeasurable fullness of values which are bespoken… The world is flattened before his impertinent and stupid gaze; it becomes limited to one dimension, shallow and mute” (5). Drowning in the immensity of depth provided by reverence, it seems nearly impossible to continue to be narrowly self-centered.
Sure, there are struggles walking with reverence. It is so tempting to get in the way of beauty, to desire the ease of the snap of a picture and be done with it. To actually let it change yourself is more difficult. But, the struggle to try again and again is worth it. Reverence is a beginning point for the value-blind to be awakened to the realm of values. Hildebrand refers to reverence as the “mother of all moral life” (4). Apart from reverence, the other values seem to have no firm foundation. Likewise, reverence nourishes the person to continue to grow in the moral life. One encounter with reverence can nourish the person to walk with value in a life giving and sustainable way.
So here is my challenge to you: give reverence a chance. Dare to walk into beauty. Do not be frightened at what you have to lose. The gain bestowed by reverence is of immeasurable worth. The fullness of life I’ve experienced since that moment on the side of the mountain is one that has to be continually fought for. But, what I can continue to say amid this fight for reverence in a seemingly value-blind culture is this: the joy of reverence is always worth the hike.