Is a new age of disrespect upon us? Are we experiencing growing impertinence, insolence and contempt? This leads us to ask what exactly respect is.
Our best answer can be found in the transfiguration of Christ.
To escape the crowds, Christ, Peter, James and John ascend a mountain in search of peace and quiet. Once settled down, Christ suddenly becomes transfigured, his face shines and his clothes become dazzling white. Elijah and Moses appear and converse with Jesus.
Experiencing the awesome moment, Peter exclaims, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”
As they leave the mountain, Christ tells them not to mention the experience to anyone until the “Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
In the transfiguration, we have two essential qualities of respect: awe and reverential space. To be in awe is to realize that I am in the presence of greatness and to whisper, “Lord, it is good to be here!”
When Joshua encountered the commander of God’s army in the Old Testament, he fell facedown to the ground in reverence, acknowledging the awesomeness of the moment and humbly paying it homage. Respect is a bow to awesomeness.
But why are the apostles exhorted to tell no one of the transfiguration?
Theologian Father Romano Guardini states when we are in awe of another, awe “forbids obtrusiveness, keeps one at a distance, does not permit the breath of one’s own being to touch the revered object.”
In other words, one doesn’t go public about reverential moments, nor try to promote the fact of personally being close to an awesome event. Respect stands back, creating reverential space and letting that which is awesome speak.
Poet Maya Angelou wrote, “If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” Her observation raises serious questions about our present age.
Are signs of disrespect outweighing signs of respect?
Is respectful rhetoric dying? Is today’s rhetoric becoming more awful than awesome? Is the desecrated spoken word overshadowing the sacredness of the spoken word?
Politics has always had a dark side, but it also has an awesome side. Is its dark side clouding out its awesomeness, thus creating repugnant politics?
Respect for other cultures is an American virtue. Have we entered an age in which we are demonizing other cultures and losing sight of the rich cultural gifts with which they bless us?
Maya Angelou’s observation about respect is sobering. To the degree that respect exists is the degree to which we live or die.