Seeing is Believing

Jun. 14, 2015

1 Sam. 15.34-16.13; 2 Cor. 5.6-10, 14-17; Mk 4.26-34

Isn't it amazing how 12 different artists can look at the same scene and render a dozen different views? It's as if they were describing completely different realities! In the Renaissance when artists were learning how to draw perspective...that is, drawing objects not as flat 2 dimensional constructions, but rather having the appearance of a 3-D object, Leonardo da Vinci, gave would be artists the advice, "Develop your to see." That probably explains why not everyone is a good observer like a Sherlock Holmes. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, "You can learn a lot by just watching." We just don't know how to truly see what we're looking at! Yet, the art and science of seeing is the foundation of modern scientific and cultural achievement.

When Galileo fashioned a telescope and turned it to the stars, he saw evidence that was contrary to the teaching of the Church. He saw that planet Earth was not the center of the universe, but rather, it circled around the sun. Copernicus confirmed this conclusion with mathematical calculations...but as you may know...Galileo had to recant or die, while Copernicus just published his findings after his death so as not to cause his death! Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

But seeing what's there, that's the problem...isn't it? I find sometimes it's difficult to see what's in front of my own face...especially when the print is too small or too close. But since the 13th century, artisans have been making "reading" glasses. These add-ons to our lives have helped us see when our eyes couldn't. The problem is called presbyoptia, which is not an affliction just for Presbyterians, it happens to Episcopalians too, when we can't see close-up. When we're young, the muscles in our eyes squeeze around the lens in our eyes and help us focus...close in. But alas, aging causes most of the things in our bodies to sag, including our ability to see.

In the history of looking at the world around us, some things are evident and obvious...while others...not so much. When we observe things in our world we make judgments about what would be prudent and what wouldn't. I remember when I was with my Boy Scout troop camping on a hot day next to a pristine looking stream and we were all ready to fill our canteens with the stuff until the Scout master found that just passed through a cattle lot--a smart person wouldn't drink that water. There was a lot in the water that we just couldn't see. What you can't see can hurt you! In the mid-1600's when Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek ground a piece of glass so it looked like a clear lentil grain, fat in the middle and thin on the edges (which incidentally is where we get our word "lens"--from the lentil shape). Leeuwenhoek put it inside a tube to make the first "microscope" and looked into a drop of pond water...and saw that it was teeming with miniature creatures bounding across his field of vision--some were like twisted snakes, others, luminous globs like clouds, all kinds of strange beings were there--he called them animucules. Suddenly the unseen was seen. In the same era, other inventions such as the thermometer, barometer, telescope, and the pendulum clock...all extended our apprehension of the world around us.1 Eye of the beholder, Laura Snyder, 2015

Modern science has allowed us to "see" a great deal more than previous generations could "see". Today, we have Cat-scans and PET-scans to help us identify cancers in the body, and X-rays to see broken bones, and ultra-sounds to discover the sex of an unborn child--each device extends our view of the world!

But in one area, we seem completely flummoxed and uncertain about what's what...and that's in the discernment of character and personality. As Jesus said, "You may look and look and yet, not see." The OT reading today illustrates the point only too well. As the prophet Samuel looked at each of the sons of Jesse...each one possessing outstanding good looks or strength or some other winning characteristic ...Samuel is certain each time, "This is the one..." But God sees into the heart and it was in fact, the young David, who possessed the qualities necessary to be the King over Israel. Even today, personnel directors will tell you that filling a key position in their company isn't rocket's much harder! It's been estimated that making a poor choice in hiring an employee can cost as much as $100,000 or more.2 The chances of choosing the right person are about a 50-50 chance much of the time! I know I've counseled with couples who have decided to marry (because clergy are required by canon law to do pre-marriage counseling)...but even after hours and hours of meetings, and personality tests, and exploring the challenges of being together, the marriage failure rate is still...about 50%. (2Internet article)

Why can't we see our way toward making right decisions in issues involving personal behavior and behavior towards others? Perhaps it's as simple as just learning how to see--from a Godly perspective. I recently read the account of a WWI pilot, who was flying over a battle zone just after aviation had been invented... and, the pilot flew just out of the range of the rifles below. It was a Sunday morning and he flew over the trenches of the opposing combatants and the no-man's-land that separated them. In a single frame he could see that on the German side they were gathered for worship at the same time that just a couple of hundred yards away...the Allied soldiers were doing exactly the same thing. They were like mirror images of each other, yet they were engaged in the killing those on the other side. But seeing everything from a higher perspective has a way of showing us how petty and trivial so many of the conflicts that consume us actually are. Seeing the Kingdom of God in a mustard to grasp that singular vision that God is all in all. Prayer, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control open our eyes. Perhaps the greatest thing we can accomplish in our lives is learning how to see, as our God sees...and that is not a collection of billions of different pictures, but it is a single Godly picture. Look and look and learn to see. AMEN.

The Reverend WA Ray

St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS