Losing Height And Depth

Ennui, the sense of the pointlessness and meaninglessness of life, is perhaps the characteristic emotion of the modern age. Medieval man might have starved, or been prey to wandering warbands, or (if all the film treatments of the Middle Ages are to be believed!) lived in a state of perpetually grey, semi-winter, yet he never questioned the point of existence. The sheer struggle to survive would have added a dignity to his everyday bearing, but then of course he lived in a world where the creator and sustainer of the Universe, and its despoiler, were in a life-long struggle for his soul. He mattered, and what’s more, even if the king or the bishop ignored him, God and the devil didn’t.

That belief has leached away in much of the West, and I do wonder how much this flattening out has been caused by the dulling our night-time skies. When you stand beneath a black dome, splattered with stars beyond number and suggesting even in its darkest reaches depths beyond depths beyond depths, there is both a fearful fall into insignificance and a breathtaking plunge into awe. Even if the world has become flat, still the stars shine.

But now we live in a flat world, and the stars have gone out. No wonder we’re bored.


  1. Totally agree…. six years ago I was in Arusha in Northern Tanzania. With a colleague we were meeting all the Jesuit novices from the East African Province for a question and answer. They asked us ‘why do the churches seem empty in Europe?’ I gave them, what I thought was a very sophisticated analysis, answers on different levels, and they politely smiled and nodded – but I knew they weren’t that impressed with my ‘clever answer’. And then my companion, Fr John Moffatt said simply, ‘ we don’t look at the stars anymore’. They seemed much more impressed with that – we have lost the sense of wonder!

  2. Yes. Doesn’t Chesterton say somewhere, our Father is younger than us. That about sums it up – He’s ever young, we’ve grown old. He delights in each new life, be it baby or butterfly, we arrange life and lives for our convenience and then find our existence meaningless.

    Suggestion: send all young Jesuits to spend a month on retreat in a night-dark place, and have them watch the stars.

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