On Seeing the World and Holiness

Another great insight from Moby Dick (this one from ch. 16, “The Ship”):

Captain Peleg asks Ishmael why he wants to go sailing. Ishmael’s answer is that he wants to see the world. Cap’n Peleg tells him to “take a peep over the weather bow.” What did Ishmael see over the weather bow?

“Not much,” I replied – “nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there’s a squall coming up, I think.”

“Well, what dost thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can’t ye see the world where you stand?”

I suppose the same could be said for holiness. During Lent don’t we all want to be holy? But what’s to see in being holy? The mystery – and the glory – of holiness (I suspect anyway) is not in the seeing, but in the doing, not in the end product, but the process. Could it be that holiness is “nothing but water and considerable horizon”? Could it be that the proper goal is not to be holy, but rather to be becoming holy? (If you will excuse a rather odd – and very improper – double verb construction.)

I ought not want to be holy, rather, I ought to desire the the doing, the thinking, and the being (which might ultimately lead to holiness) as things desirable in themselves, not as means to an end.

Or I might be completely off base on this thought. My source is Herman Melville, after all (who definitely ought not be confused with St Herman of Alaska!).


6 thoughts on “On Seeing the World and Holiness

    1. justanotherjim

      Ah yes, that’s correct indeed. But it’s such an un-western conception of things it sounds vaguely wrong from my rationalist evangelical viewpoint that still rears its head now and again.

      Thank you, David.

  1. Fr. Paul

    Sounds like sound doctrine! St. Gregory — can’t remember if it’s Nazianzen or Nyssa — considers that even the holiest of holy ones continue to deepen in their knowledge of God even in eternity. They keep becoming saints! “Epektasis” I think he called it. It seems that in the endless mystery of partaking of the supra-infinitude of divine nature through the Cross of self-emptying, being and becoming are identical (if that makes any sense). Good insight. Thanks.

    And, … a little off the subject, here’s another literary passage you’ve put me in mind of. It has more pathos than the Melville citation, but I believe it speaks of that same surrender to the journey as the end in itself, no matter the outcome. Sam is carrying his master, Frodo, bearer of the Ring of Doom, up the mountain to the only place where the Ring’s evil can be unbound and dispersed again. Sam’s goal is more proximate than the final triumph of good over evil, though. He seeks only the goods of faithfulness and loyalty to his good master, to serve until the end, whatever that may be.

    “Frodo did not speak, and so Sam struggled on as best he could, having no guidance but the will to climb as high as might be before his strength gave out and his will broke. On he toiled, up and up, turning this way and that to lessen the slope, often stumbling forward, and at the last crawling like a snail with a heavy burden on its back. When his will could drive him no further, and his limbs gave way, he stopped and laid his master gently down.
    “Frodo opened his eyes and drew a breath. It was easier to breathe up here above the reeks that coiled and drifted down below. ‘Thank you Sam,’ he said in a cracked whisper. ‘How far is there to go?’
    “‘I don’t know,’ said Sam, ‘because I don’t know where we’re going.'”

    — The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter 3 “Mount Doom.”

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