Without Reverence There is No Sense of Presence

Functionalism is lethal when it is not balanced by a sense of reverence.  Without reverence, there is no sense of wonder.  Functionalism eats into this necessary respect for otherness, which makes us human.  The functionalist mind is skilled in the art of using people and Nature for its own projects and achievements.  In contrast, the reverential mind is respectful of the presence and difference of each person and thing.  This does not imply that the reverential mind stagnates in passive attention towards life.  It is well able to engage and tussle with the world, but it continues to relate to life with a sense of mystery and respect.  To engage life in a reverential way is to maintain a sense of proportion and balance.  You acknowledge that there is a depth of presence in every person that should never be reduced in order to satisfy your own selfishness and greed.  You cannot have a personal integrity of presence without recognizing and revering the presence of others.  There is some strange, hidden symmetry in the soul.  When you diminish another person, you diminish your self.  When you diminish your self, you diminish others.

There is something deeply sacred about every presence.  When we become blind to this, we violate Nature and turn our beautiful world into a wasteland.  We treat people as if they were disposable objects.  We lament today the absence of God and the demise of the sacred.  Yet it is ourselves who have killed God.  The world today is just as full of sacred presence as it was centuries ago.  With the hardening of our minds we are no longer able to feel and sense the ever-present-sacred the way our ancestors did.  Our arrogance and greed have killed the gods.  Unknown to us, the suppression of Divine Presence exacts a terrible price, because Nature and person lose their inner divinity when the gods depart.  Past generations were often victims of a bleak, monolithic god who suppressed all creativity; we recognize the authority of no god and much of our creativity is monstrous.  Dostoyevsky said, ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted.’  All the horizons become flattened and the wells dry up.  We no longer walk the earth with wonder.  We have purchased the fatal ticket.  Instead of being guests of the earth, we are now crowded passengers on the runaway train of progress and productivity; the windows are darkened and we can no longer see out.  The gadgets and games in each compartment are quite fascinating.  There is constant theatre.  Public relations experts offer sensational help in manicuring the image and searching out the best sound-bite.  Even if we wanted to alight, no one seems able to stop the train.

We desperately need to retrieve our capacity for reverence.  Each day that is given to you is full of the shy graciousness of divine tenderness.  It is a lovely practice at night to spend a little while revisiting the invisible sanctuaries of your lived day.  Each day is a secret story woven around the radiant heart of wonder.  We let our days fall away like empty shells and miss all the treasure.

-John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes, “Without Reverence There is No Sense of Presence,” pp 76-77