Rome did not exist for those people, nor did the man Caesar; there were no temples of pagan gods; there was only Christ, who filled the land, the sea, the heavens, and the world.
Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis
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Distance, we have said, is one of the fundamental values of the Pilgrim life. So is the perspective one gains when distance is successfully achieved.
To a certain extent, this is familiar ground. It’s the old problem of the forest and the trees, the challenge of finding a place to stand. It’s the question of vision – of acquiring and practicing a particular way of seeing. But it’s something else as well.
We might elucidate by saying that perspective is vision turned inside out. If vision is a supernatural gift, a bequest from beyond, then perspective is the inner landscape that takes shape behind the eye as the gift is integrated into the self and begins to weave its spell and work its peculiar magic. It’s the full broad span of the soul’s measureless inward universe sharpened to a point and brought to bear upon the random swirl of disconnected objects that constitute the external world. As it brings these objects into focus, perspective reflects the light of vision back into the outer darkness, gently coaxing meaning out of chaos. The Germans call this phenomenon Weltanschauung, a word which has been rendered into English as worldview and understood as a kind of “philosophy of life.”
The Pilgrim, of course, has no “philosophy of life” in the usual sense of the term. There is no “ism” or “ology” to which he subscribes or owes undying allegiance (“isms” and “ologies” being nothing but manifestations of the kosmos). The Pilgrim has only a Road to travel and a Leader to take him over it. His single task is to keep his eye fixed upon the Guide. To the extent that he does this faithfully and consistently, the Image of his Master swells and grows until it occupies his entire field of vision. And when in time – a year, perhaps, or an entire life-span – he is able to say in sincerity and truth that, for him, there is no other in the whole of earth and heaven, then, in that moment, he finds the Pilgrimage achieved.
In the meantime, what becomes of all those random objects on the outside? What happens to them as Pilgrim Perspective grows and develops and unfolds? What about nations and kingdoms, presidents and premiers, houses, lands, investments, elections, wars and rumors of wars? What about people and possessions and the thousands of little things that make life in this world either a blessed comfort or an everlasting pain? The simple answer is that they change in shape and significance in inverse proportion to the burgeoning of perspective’s spread and span. As the Image of the Leader increases, they decrease and fade. But that’s not the end of the story.
He who has ascended above the heavens must fill and, in filling, engulf and swallow up all things. But in that process, something miraculous occurs. Like the headlands of a strange new shoreline emerging from the mist – strange and new, yet somehow familiar, as if remembered from a dream – all those endlessly varied particulars rise up in perfect order, each one falling naturally into its pre-ordained place. The eye refocuses and – behold! – there is a picture where before were only unconnected dots.
A “vast idea” rolling before the mind’s eye – or, rather, not an idea, but the Ideal of ideals, incarnate in a Person whose expansive presence dominates earth, sky, life, and breath – this, as Keats correctly discerned, is the one thing from which we may rightly expect to “glean our liberty.” This is the world-altering perspective that grows out of Pilgrim vision.