Social media reminded me that, a year ago today, I wrote a post concerning the tragically poetic turn away from immortality to the glorious heft of earthly life (and promptly forgot I even wrote it). With allusions to Tolkien and the Goo Goo Dolls, I wrote there that “embodied existence, for all the awkwardness, breakage and loss, gives us a foretaste of eternity”.
Fast forward a year, and I finally had the chance to crack open my recently acquired second hand copy of Romano Guardini’s The Living God. In a chapter entitled “God Reveals His Face”, Guardini wrote about the relationship between perceptions of the infinite and the growth of a person from childhood to adulthood. Childhood, Guardini says, is the time when one can naturally accept as given the accounts in the Old Testament, of an infinite God that gets into the finite nitty gritty of taking a walk, stooping down, have the feels, and so on. Adolescence is the time when we seek the purity of the infinite, says Guardini. In that time, we generate our own conceptions of that infinite and try to prise the infinity of God from the mutability of history.
Then in a final section of the essay (17) Guardini writes
Later on, though, another change occurs. The youthful sense of infinity abates. Man comes to realise his limitations. He begins to see the clear, hard outlines of things. He sees the illusion in the yearning for the infinite. At the same time, he comes to understand what ‘man’ really is…
Man is so much more than infinity! When one man meets another they understand one another and a communion of experience and honour is born, that is something imcomparably hither than the coldly indifferent “natural law”. When one person cares for another and enters into the other’s troubles as though they were his own, what takes place is deeper than the operation of an abstract ‘moral law’ in a lifeless vacuum…the finiteness that has been accepted and live through, and fought through, is nobler than the illusory infinity of adolescent emotionalism.
As if to demonstrate the point, in the course of thumbing through the pages of the book, a bookmark fell out. It was made of four Soviet-era stamps (dated 1971), which bore images that Matthew Cooper of Heavy Anglo Orthodox advised were exquisite pieces of jewellery from the Kremlin Diamond Fund.
It was looking long and hard at the tactility of the images, the colour and the writing of those artifacts that gave heft to the historical than what the concept of “the historical” can ever transmit. In a similar way, the complex textures of our life here are what we need to discern, here and now, the shape of the life of the world to come.