In Revelation 4, John sees “one” seated upon a throne surrounded by a rainbow and once again the seven lampstands. Around them all is another 24 thrones, upon which are seated elders with golden crowns, and four very strange looking animals each with six wings and eyes all over the place. “Without ceasing” these animals begin to praise the One on the central throne, and every time they do so the 24 elders prostrate themselves and cast off their crowns, proclaiming “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). Endlessly, these elders engage in this act of adoration of the One who thrones. There’s two major things we can gather from this: the importance of adoration and what “life eternal” might actually look like. To get at the latter, we need to dig into the first.
Guardini is careful to make the distinction between adoration and submission. Adoration does involve submission, to be sure, but it is much more than that. If you submit to someone, say to a bully who is stronger than you are, that is merely an acknowledgment of their superior strength. It says nothing of whether or not they are worthy of your praise. “It is one thing to bow, outwardly, to superior force; quite another to do homage to it inwardly, to prostrate my intrinsic personality before it.” In submission, the outer man bows to another. In adoration, the outer man bows because the inner man realizes the worth of the one who is honored. Physically and spiritually, we recognize the worth of God, and that realization causes us to fall on our faces, to cast off our crowns, and to adore Him as the elders do.
There’s a practical element here as well. Adoration is not something we can merely do exactly as we ought whenever we choose. It’s something which must be practiced, regularly, as it is something which springs from the soul. Proper adoration requires a right ordering of the soul so that the worthiness of the One is actually recognized, felt deeply in the heart. As fallen men, mired in concupiscence and disorder, regular prayer and simple acts of adoration work to correct the ordering of our souls (by grace) so that we can adore more perfectly.
Here we see the elders endlessly engaged in adoration. “Day and night without ceasing” they fall on their faces, cast off their crowns, and adore God. Our initial reaction to this is “That sounds pretty boring.” Indeed it must feel that way to us! Ask any person what life is and they will inevitably give you some answer like “the process of working toward some goal” or maybe something along the lines of growth, death, and decay. As beings created in time, the answer will always center around change, as that’s simply how we experience the world. So the thought of life not in time but in the eternal is perplexing, almost incomprehensible. The thought of doing anything “without ceasing” is preposterous.
There’s a lot of ways we can approach this incomprehensibility. For me, thinking about adoration itself is the easiest in order to make the eternal “acceptable,” for lack of a better term. Remember, in order to adore rightly, the inner man must recognize the worth of the subject being adored. Obviously, there is none more worthy than God. God is infinitely worthy. And “infinite” is the key here. Man will never be able to comprehend God, to know God through and through and be able to say, truly, “I know all there is to know about God.” It’s simply beyond the capacity of any created being. And every time we engage in an act of adoration, our souls are “purified,” corrected, becoming more rightly ordered. We begin to recognize worth which wasn’t accessible to us before. In eternity, this adoration “without ceasing” is not merely doing the same thing over and over. It’s constantly learning more and more about God and how worthy He is of our worship.
Joseph Ratzinger uses the image of sinking into an infinitely deep ocean. You will never reach the bottom, but you will forever be going deeper and deeper into this great mystery. That’s what awaits us in the eternal. Not boring repetition, but endlessly diving deeper into the mystery of God Himself, learning, embracing, loving. In the here and now, adoration is a critical part of spiritual life, as it corrects and orders the disordered soul and directs our praise to the One who thrones above and is worthy of it. In the eternal, adoration is the life.
Every day of Lent, I am writing a reflection piece on two chapters of "The Lord" by Romano Guardini. If you'd like to read or follow along, you can find the full calendar of where we're at below, or Click Here for the main landing page.