“Does not every man feel that he is himself made higher by doing reverence to what is really above him?” (Thomas Carlyle).
IS THERE ANYTHING “ABOVE” US? Are we answerable or accountable to any power or personal supremacy that it would be right for us to give “reverence” to? Historically, most human beings have thought so, but it’s not a question that ought to be answered on the basis of tradition alone. It’s an issue for each individual to confront, and it’s the most crucial question, by far, that anybody ever asks.
The fact that we have the capacity for reverence is an interesting thing in itself. No other flesh-and-blood creatures have this power. Only we can admire and be in awe, or extend honor and esteem. Only we can worship — lovingly and purely. And these qualities are no small gift: of all the things that set us apart from the lesser creatures, the capacity for reverence is the most distinctive. “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish man from beasts?” (Confucius).
If we wish to deepen the quality of reverence in our lives, I would like to suggest that we look first at our speech. Reverence resides principally in the heart, of course, but it’s a fact that we can sometimes encourage our hearts to change by adjusting external things like our words. We live in a time when reverential, or even respectful, speech has become almost old-fashioned, even among religious folks. We’ve become shockingly rude. I believe we’d gain some good things in our lives if we’d recover a certain modesty and reserve when we feel the urge to speak of things above us, and I agree with Nietzsche’s opinion: “Concerning great things one should either be silent or speak loftily.”
Yet in the end, it’s obvious that reverence must be more than words, or even feelings or sentiments. Reverence is a right orientation to, and a real-life relationship with, all that is above us. If, for example, there really is a God, then reverence would be a worshipful manner of actually dealing with that objective reality. So let us reconsider the concept of reverence. Let us learn again the wholeness that can only come from humility toward that which is higher and greater than we are.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before.
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)