How the Ultimate Questions Arise

From L. Giussani, The Religious Sense, translated by J. Zucchi, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal 1997, pp. 100-101, 105-107
Luigi Giussani

Picture yourself being born, coming out of your mother’s womb at the age you are now at this very moment in terms of your development and consciousness. What would be the first, absolutely your initial reaction? If I were to open my eyes for the first time in this instant, emerging from my mother’s womb, I would be overpowered by the wonder and awe of things as a “presence.” I would be bowled over and amazed by the stupefying repercussion of a presence which is expressed in current language by the word “thing.” Things! That’s “something!” “Thing,” which is a concrete and, if you please, banal version of the word “being.” Being: not as some abstract entity, but as presence, a presence which I do not myself make, which I find. A presence which imposes itself upon me.
He who does not believe in God is inexcusable, says St Paul in his letter to the Romans (Rom 1:19-21), because that person must deny this original phenomenon, this original experience of the “other.” A baby lives this experience without being aware of it, because he is not yet completely conscious. But the adult who does not live it or does not consciously perceive it, is less than a baby. That person is atrophied. The awe, the marvel of this reality which imposes itself upon me, of this presence which reaches me is at the origin of the awakening of human consciousness.
(…) At this moment, if I am attentive, that is, if I am mature, then I cannot deny that the greatest and most profound evidence is that I do not make myself, I am not making myself. I do not give myself being, or the reality which I am. I am “given.” This is the moment of maturity when I discover myself to be dependent upon something else.
If I descend to my very depths, where do I spring from? Not from myself: from something else. This is the perception of myself as a gushing stream born from a spring, from something else, more than me, and by which I am made. If a stream rushing forth from a spring could think, it would perceive, at the bottom of its fresh surging, an origin it does not know, which is other than itself.
Here we are speaking of the intuition, which, in every period of history, the more intelligent human spirits have had. It is an intuition of this mysterious presence, which endows the instant, the “I” with substance (solidity, density, foundation). I am you-who-make-me–except that this you is absolutely faceless. I use this word you because it is the least inadequate in my experience as a human being to indicate that unknown presence which is beyond comparison, more than my experience as a human being. What other word could I, on the other hand, use?
When I examine myself and notice that I am not making myself by myself, then I–with the full and conscious vibration of affection which this word I exudes–turn to the Thing that makes me, to the source that causes me to be in this instant, and I can only address it using the word you. You-who-make-me is, therefore, what religious tradition calls God–it is that which is more than I, more “I” than I myself. It is that by means of which I am.
For this reason, the Bible says of God: “tam pater nemo,” (cf. Dt 32,16; Is 63,16; 64,7; Mt 6,9; 1 Cor 8,6; 2 Cor 6,18; Gal 4:6) or, no one is as much a father, because, in our experience, a father gives life its beginning which, from the first fraction of the first instant of being, detaches itself and goes off on its own. A woman expressed this to me in a most surprising way. When I was still a very young priest, this woman would come regularly for confession. For some time I did not see her anymore, and, when she returned, she said to me: “I had a second baby girl.” Before I could reply, she added: “I was truly surprised! Just as I became aware that she had been born, I did not think of whether it was a boy or a girl, whether it was healthy or not. No, the first idea that came to mind was this: ‘Look here, it is starting to go on its own.’”
Whereas God, Father in every instant, is conceiving me now. No one is so much a father: he who generates.
To be conscious of oneself right to the core is to perceive, at the depths of the self, an Other. This is prayer: to be conscious of oneself to the very centre, to the point of meeting an Other. Thus prayer is the only human gesture which totally realizes the human being’s stature.
The “I,” the human being, is that level of nature in which nature becomes aware of not being made by itself. In this way, the entire cosmos is like the continuation of my body. But one could also say that the human being is that level of nature in which nature experiences its own contingency. Man experiences himself as contingent, subsists by means of something else, because he does not make himself by himself. I stand on my feet because I lean on another. I am because I am made. Like my voice, which is the echo of a vibration, if I cease the vibration, it no longer exists. Like spring water rising up–it is, in its entirety, derived from its source. And like a flower which depends completely upon the support of its roots. So I do not consciously say “I am,” in a sense that captures my entire stature as a human being if I do not mean “I am made.” The ultimate equilibrium of life depends upon this. The human being’s natural truth, as we have seen, is his nature as creation–he exists because he is continually possessed. And, when he recognizes this, then he breathes fully, feels at peace, glad.
True self-consciousness is well portrayed by the baby in the arms of his mother and father–supported like this, he can enter any situation whatsoever, profoundly tranquil, with a promise of peace and joy. No curative system can claim this, without mutilating the person. Often, in order to excise the censure of certain wounds we end up censuring our humanity.
All human actions, therefore, inasmuch as they aim toward peace and joy, seek God, the exhaustive substance of our lives.