You are what you see
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!-Matthew 6: 22-23
I hear Jesus saying that you are what you see. Or maybe that you become what you look at. Do you think that is the case?
On the one hand, we have the chance to make choices about where we give our attention, about what we see. The wisdom of Albert Einstein comes to mind. He said: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” We can choose, in a way that goes well beyond simply looking at the glass half full or half empty.
A friend attended a conference where the leader offered this exercise: Write the story of your life from three perspectives, as hero, victim and learner. Every one of us has the raw material to see our lives in these three ways. We all, at some point, fancy ourselves hero. The world and the Lord are lucky to have us on the team. We all, at some point, have been injured by someone (and we’re pretty good at remembering those). We all, at all times, have opportunity to learn something new. It depends on how we see things, how we see ourselves. In many ways, we become what we see.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he talks about choosing where we give our attention. (See verses above.) Earlier in the letter, he tells this community to let the mind of Christ rule in their hearts. That strikes me as another way of saying that we can choose the way we look at life. As you think about where you get your news, your entertainment, your updates on friends, your advice, what are you choosing to see, to look at, to watch? Those choices shape us. Are those choices healthy?
Truth be told, some of us with unhealthy vision feel powerless to do anything about it. Our blindness does not feel like a choice. We need help from a power greater than ourselves. Think of the number of times Jesus addressed blindness, granting vision for the first time to those stuck in darkness. One of the lengthiest of these stories is told in John 9, where Jesus heals a man born blind. Disciples want to know what the man did wrong to be blind. Jesus says that is the wrong question.
From that encounter, we hear Jesus say: “I am the light of the world.” That says to me that healthy vision will come as we tap into relationship with him. He will show us the way, giving grace to help in time of need. As the psalmist said: “Your word is a lantern to my feet, a light along my path.” In our tradition, Jesus is that light-giving, life-giving word made flesh.
John 9 also tells us that there are those of us who may just prefer blindness. Jesus comes under criticism from religious leaders. He uses that encounter to make the point that some of the most religious people of his day were blind guides. It’s just one of the several places where he comes down on folks who pretend that they see but really don’t see much at all.
Such willful blindness is not limited to biblical times. Just think about the news since last Monday, revealing the darkness in our body politic. With the heaviness on all of our hearts in the wake of another senseless shooting, some leaders turn blind eye to the woefully exceptional American experience of mass shootings, more than 220 this year, way more than any other nation on the globe. Religious leaders in the largest Protestant denomination in the country have turned a blind eye to sexual abuse for decades. Every week, we collectively turn blind eye to divisions caused by persistent systemic racism and widening economic disparity. This kind of blindness is not just a communal experience. With blinders on, we practice it as individuals, with indifference to needs around us in our families, neighborhoods, churches, communities.
Jesus calls us to look at life another way, expressed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as he concluded his communication to the church after the shooting in Buffalo two weeks ago: “Even amid tragedy, even when manifestations of evil threaten to overwhelm, let us hold fast to the good. It is the only way that leads to life. As you gather with friends and family, and in worship on Sunday, pray for the strength to hold fast to the good. Yet we must also strive for good, and as citizens demand that more can be done to protect our elders, our young people, and our children from such horror.”
I am grateful for his vision. It’s healthy and healing. We sure do need it now.