The greatest things in life are hidden. Not just treasure, passageways, and tracks, but the substantial parts of life: beauty, love, goodness, justice, mercy. Intellectually and experientially, we know them, but the knowledge is partial. We can’t point to one thing and say, “There is beauty itself… love itself… etc.” We can only point to an instance of beauty or a person loving, knowing that there are a hundred other instances. These instances show us something, but at the same time they act as an eclipse, dimming what lies behind. Those things that give zest to life remain obscure, enigmatic, and hidden.
It’s peculiar: what humans love is chiaroscuro, light and dark, hidden and somewhat revealed. Trees love water; their roots find it. Squirrels love acorns; they uncover them. Humans love infinite beauty, goodness, etc, but only find some limited version. We partially sate the insatiable desire. With our hearts hungering for more, we end up walking, bumbling, grabbing, hearing, reading, unveiling what’s underneath.
It requires a lot of effort to find these spiritual things in life, and we end up needing help along the way. There are friends we can walk and talk with, unveiling the hidden things. A good conversation can open up reality before our eyes. In addition to our friends walking and talking, we also need friends who have gone before us. Tallis, Dante, Shakespeare, and Fra Angelico are just a few who help ease the search for the hidden.
Reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, I remember the horizon of my life expanding. How could a 14th-century Florentine, infatuated with a departed ragazza, whom he barely knew, compose an epic that exposes my own humanity, frailty, courage, hopes, and desire for God? He unveiled something hidden, something universal, and something at the deepest and truest part of reality.
Friends from the past become even more paramount if we wish to find the best and most hidden thing, God. Without His own revelation and aid along the way, it’s an impossible task. Graciously God does help and does reveal, but in a paradoxical way. Dom Dysmas de Lassus explains the difficulty,
When the Word is made flesh, he shows himself to our eyes, but by that very fact he veils his divinity. When that divinity speaks with our man-made words, the divine Word is audible to our ears and hidden…The paradox is impressive: God stoops to speak our language, and that makes us deaf to the divine inflections of this all-too-earthly voice.
The words of Jesus—in fact any word in Scripture—come from God through human language. Their profundity and truth are shrouded in the familiar, awaiting a spark of grace to expose what is there, the word of God. Studying and praying over Scripture in lectio divina resembles a hunt for hidden treasure, and the saints love to share the gold they’ve already found.
St. Thomas, a veritable friend, has won many hidden truths for the Church by his study of the Sacred Page. His theology and Scriptural commentary have served many in finding God. But even more helpful than what he unveils in the Sacred Page, is what he unveils in the Blessed Sacrament. The Dumb Ox, unveiling a deep devotion, shows us in this hymn the greatest thing hidden.
|Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans
|I devoutly adore you, O hidden Deity,
Truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to you,
And in contemplating you,
Image: Sassetta, St Thomas Inspired by the Dove of the Holy Ghost.