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Seeing in a deeper way

March 20, 2015
Father Ron Rolheiser

Sometimes you can see a whole lot of things just by looking. That’s one of Yogi Berra’s infamous aphorisms. It’s a clever expression of course, but, sadly, perhaps mostly, the opposite is truer. Mostly we do a whole lot of looking without really seeing much. Seeing implies more than having good eyesight. Our eyes can be wide open and we can be seeing very little.

I’ve always been intrigued by how scripture describes Paul immediately after his conversion. We always assume that it tells us that Paul was struck blind by his vision, but, I think, the text implies more. It tells us that Paul got up off the ground with his eyes wide open, seeing nothing. That doesn’t necessarily equate with physical blindness. He may well have been seeing physically, but he wasn’t seeing the meaning of what he was getting himself into. Someone had to come and open his eyes, not just so that he could see again physically but especially that he could see more deeply into the mystery of Christ. Seeing, truly seeing, implies more than having eyes that are physically healthy and open. We all see the outer surface of things, but what’s beneath isn’t as automatically seen.

We see this, for instance, in what’s contained inside the healing miracles of Jesus. In the Gospels, we see Jesus perform a number of healings. He heals lame people, deaf people, mute people, people with leprosy, and two women who for different reasons are unable to become pregnant. What’s important to see in these various miracles is that, almost always, there’s more at issue than mere physical healing. Jesus is healing people in a deeper way, that is, he is healing the lame so that they can walk in freedom and in service of God. He is healing the deaf so that they can hear the good news. He is healing the mute so that they can open their mouths in praise. And he is healing those who are hemorrhaging interiorly so that they can bring new life to birth.

We see this most clearly at those times when Jesus heals people who are blind. He’s giving them more than just physical sight; he’s opening their eyes so that that can see more deeply. But that’s only an image. How might it be unpackaged? How can the grace and teachings of Jesus help us to see in a deeper way? Here are some suggestions:

By shifting our eyes from seeing through familiarity to seeing through wonder.

G.K. Chesterton once affirmed that familiarity is the greatest of all illusions and that the secret to life is to learn to look at things familiar until they look unfamiliar again. We open our eyes to depth when we open ourselves to wonder.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through paranoia and self-protection to seeing through metanoia and nurture.

It is not incidental that the first word out of Jesus’ mouth in the synoptic Gospels is the word “metanoia”, a word that opposes itself to “paranoia”. We open our eyes to depth with we shift from a posture of self-protection to a posture of nurture.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through jealousy to seeing through admiration.

Our perception becomes distorted whenever we move from the happy state of admiration to the unhappy state of envy. Our eyesight is clear when we delight in admiration.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through bitterness to seeing through eyes purified and softened by grief.

The root of bitterness is wound and the way out of bitterness is grieving. Tears clear our eyesight because they soften a heart hardened by wound.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through fantasy and auto-eroticism to seeing through appreciation and prayer.

One of the key movements within our spiritual lives is the movement from fantasy to prayer, a movement that ultimately frees us from wanting to press to ourselves all that’s beautiful to appreciating beauty for its own sake. We can only really see and appreciate beauty when we stop lusting for it.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through relevance to seeing through contemplation.

Our longing for relevance makes us look out at the world with restless, dissatisfied eyes. We practice mindfulness and see the richness of the present moment only when our disquiet is stilled by solitude.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through anger to seeing through forgiveness.

Nothing taints our eyesight as much as anger. It’s the most debilitating of all cataracts. And nothing cleanses our vision as much as forgiveness. Nobody holding a grudge sees straight.

By shifting our eyes from seeing through longing and hunger to seeing through gratitude.

Longing and hunger distort our vision. Gratitude restores it. It enables insight. The most grateful person you know has the best eyesight of all the people you know.

Love is the eye! So say the medieval mystics, in wisdom that needs to be added to the medical vocabulary of contemporary optometry. Seeing straight has more dimensions than we normally imagine.

Oblate Father Rolheiser is president of the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas.

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