In confirmation class last Sunday, I posed a question for Anna, Madelyn and Warren, “If a friend suddenly discovered that you go to church, was terribly surprised, and asked why, how would you explain it?”
I can’t wait for the answers they work out…
This week, Transfiguration Sunday suggests an answer that would work for me: “I go to church because learning to see in new and different ways is one of the first and most difficult tasks of living a better life. But being part of a community of people who are also trying helps.”
Old and bad habits, even of perception, die hard. What deserves our focus? What to overlook? Our selective vision… willful blindness… nearsightedness… Prejudice and self-interest all the way down to the optic nerve.
At home, I have a framed photo a favorite place, a quiet lake in New York’s Harriman State Park. The photographer, Stan Patz took the picture with black and white infrared lens and film, so in the image the sky is deep black and the foliage, almost impossibly glowing. A sunny summer day transformed — quicker than the blink of a shutter — into what looks like an incredibly beautiful, but dangerous ice storm.
Infrared photography blocks out visible light. It records, instead, only higher light waves — every bit as real as what our eyes can see, but in the range just beyond the reds, on the spectrum above our vision.
Philosophically speaking, Berkley’s “a tree falls in the woods” suggests that perception is everything. But Plato suggested millennia earlier that there is a deeper, indeed “more real” reality than appearance. For the latter to trump the former, it seems to me, one has to be able to at least glimpse those hard to see deeper realities — here and there… for a moment… if only through a glass darkly.
I wonder how many of you have seen the National Geographic photograph of the camels walking in the desert, almost black against the sand? The caption reveals that the picture is an ariel view directly over the camels; they are actually these barely discernable, light tan slivers that look more like miniscule crocodiles walking backwards. The images you mistook for the camels are their shadows cast huge by the setting sun.
Or from Marilyne Robinson’s Gilead: “Once when we were boys, my friend and I were down at the river looking around for something or other– tadpoles or crawfish most likely. There we were when my grandfather stalked out of the trees in that furious way he had, scooped his hat full of water, and threw it, so a sheet of water came sailing toward us, billowing in the air like a veil, and fell down over us. Then he put his hat back on his head and stalked off into the trees and left us standing there in the glistening river, amazed at ourselves and the world and shining like the apostles.”
Robinson concludes that transformations just that abrupt do occur in this life. Unsought and unawaited, they beg our hopes and our deserving.
As we finish the season of Epiphany and move into Lent on the journey towards Easter, could we train our eyes — and hearts — to begin seeing ordinary events in extraordinary ways? Like getting our eyes accustomed so we can see in the dark.
Aren’t we as Christians supposed to recognize strangers as our neighbors, enemies as the rightful recipients of our prayers, and Christ in everyone? Faith that can see into people, even tombs, where there seems to be no light or hope.
At its most real, life is imbued with an abundance that usually escapes us. May we be given the capacity for radical, if brief, illuminations, epiphanies wherein we feel our way into how resurrection really is.
See you in church,
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