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Sacred Signs
by Romano Guardini

STEPS



THE more we think about these long-familiar things the clearer

does their meaning grow. Things we have done thousands of times,

if we will only look into them more deeply, will disclose to us

their beauty. If we will listen, they will speak.



After their meaning has been revealed to us, the next step is to

enter upon our inheritance and make what we have long possessed

really our own. We must learn how to see, how to hear, how to do

things the right way. Such a learning-by-looking, growing-by-

learning, is what matters. Regarded any other way these things

keep their secret. They remain dark and mute. Regarded thus, they

yield to us their essential nature, that nature which formed them

to their outward shapes. Make trial for yourself. The most

commonplace everyday objects and actions hide matters of deepest

import. Under the simplest exteriors lie the greatest mysteries.



Steps are an instance. Every one of the innumerable times we go

upstairs a change, though too slight and subtle to be

perceptible, takes place in us. There is something mysterious in

the act of ascending. Our intelligence would be puzzled to

explain it, but instinctively we feel that it is so. We are made

that way.



When the feet mount the steps, the whole man, including his

spiritual substance, goes up with them. All ascension, all going

up, if we will but give it thought, is motion in the direction of

that high place where everything is great, everything made

perfect.



For this sense we have that heaven is "up" rather than "down" we

depend on something in us deeper than our reasoning powers. How

can God be up or down? The only approach to God is by becoming

better morally, and what has spiritual improvement to do with a

material action like going up a pair of stairs? What has pure

being to do with a rise in the position of our bodies? There is

no explanation. Yet the natural figure of speech for what is

morally bad is baseness, and a good and noble action we call a

high action. In our minds we make a connection, unintelligible

but real, between rising up and the spiritual approach to God;

and Him we call the All-Highest.



So the steps that lead from the street to the church remind us

that in going up into the house of prayer we are coming nearer to

God; the steps from the nave to the choir, that we are entering

in before the All-Holy. The steps between the choir and the altar

say to whoever ascends them the same words that God spoke to

Moses on Mount Horeb: "Put your shoes from off your feet, for the

place whereon thou standest is holy ground." The altar is the

threshold of eternity.



It is a great idea that if we go up even a common stairway with

our minds on what we are doing, we really do leave below the base

and trivial, and are in actual fact ascending up on high. Words

are not very adequate; but the Christian knows that when he

ascends it is the Lord that ascends. In him the Lord repeats his

own ascension. That is what steps mean.














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