“On Getting About” by Karl Rahner

Karl RahnerGetting about is one of our most common everyday activities, so common that we never give it a thought until something turns up which restricts or prohibits the use of our legs.  Then the ability to get about suddenly becomes a wonderful boon, a heaven-sent blessing.  Human beings, unlike plants, are not tied to a circumscribed environment.  They can seek out an environment for themselves, decide to change it, choose another and – off they go.  The feeling of freedom that this ability to get about gives us is evident even as we go on our daily round, despite the fact that the direction of our steps is dictated by the demands of the job.  All this going about breeds in us the spirit of the roamer, the seeker, who does not know where he is going, much less when he will get there.  A time comes, however, when we feel we want to make for a definite goal and not just wander about aimlessly.

We sometimes speak of a “walk” or “way” of life.  Now we find in scripture that the Christians were at first known as those “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2).   When the Bible wishes to impress on us that we should not only listen to the word of God but practice it, it tells us that we must not only live in the Spirit, but “walk” in the Spirit.  Again, one of the most time-honored elements in public celebration, secular as well as religious, is a procession.  Human life, too, is often described as a pilgrimage, and a pilgrimage certainly connotes an uncommon amount of getting about.

These are a few indications (there are many more) that our lives have long been likened to the primitive, natural, everyday phenomenon of getting about.  And this purely physical activity of continually moving from one place to another warns us that we have here no sure abode.  We are still wayfarers heading for a destination but uncertain of the way, pilgrims, wanderers between two worlds, beings in transition, borne along by some external power, but retaining the ability to guide and direct our course.  We do not always succeed, however, in reaching the destinations we plan for ourselves.

We see, therefore, that the progress of a free and responsible human being as he goes on his everyday round typifies the person’s whole existence.  His faith reveals to the Christian the goal of his existence and assures him he will reach it.  He is borne along incessantly by some power conscious of itself and of not having fulfilled its purpose, a power ever seeking, ever believing it will find its goal in the end, because (and how could it be otherwise?) that goal is God himself toward whose second coming, in the person of Christ, our own future moves inexorably.

So we have to keep on getting about, to keep on seeking our goal.  The holy one, for his part, will come and look for us if we only go toward him, walk in his way.  When we have found him – or rather when he has found us – we shall learn that our meeting had already been determined by the power that bore us on towards God, and that the stirring of that power within us was the sign that God had come to meet us.  And that power is what we call God’s grace.

© Karl Rahner (1967), Belief Today, pp. 20-22

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