Peter W. Marty, the publisher of Christian Century, wrote a recent editorial on “Eyes.” Marty reminded us that our eyes “serve as windows into the world.” Of course our eyes take in the sights, the people, and the interactions of our daily lives. Most of us when initially introduced to a new person, or when greeting someone we haven’t seen for a while, tend to look first at their eyes…seeking clues as to a person’s very being, understanding that our eyes regularly communicate something of who we are and what we feel. Our eyes serve as more than simple receptors of what is in front of us…they help us make sense of the world.
Jesus too understood the importance of our eyes. In his lessons to the crowd following his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told them, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6. 22) Later, in the context of explaining why he utilized parables when speaking to crowds, Jesus differentiated between the crowd’s understanding and that of the disciples. Unlike the crowds’ inability to listen and perceive, Jesus acknowledged to his disciples, “…blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13.) Open eyes, full of sight, promise recognition and revelation of the one we call Savior, allowing us then to glimpse him in one another.
Certainly, eyes seem an appropriate focus during this time of masking for safety. Even your clergy remarked recently how difficult it is to recognize folks at church when we can only see their eyes. Eyes, of course, are meant to be seen, and our sight one of the most powerful forces in the world. John O’Donohue, Celtic author, reminds us the way we see things makes them what they are…or at least, what we believe them to be. Our eyes disclose and illuminate all that presents itself before us. Our sight leads us into insights in the world around us.
Note our eyes aren’t restricted only to the physical act of seeing. As Marty said, they themselves communicate with others. One German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, believes all compassion begins in the eyes. Our eyes often share the story within us, whether it be the ability to look at another with compassion or disdain; with love or distaste; with welcome or denial of another’s right to be. Likewise in seeing the world around us, we render judgment; make quick consideration of a situation; or choose to persevere in gathering facts…each of these options made in a cursory moment of vision. Our initial glimpse of life around us leads our minds into decision making.
I happen to be a fan of the unparalleled poet, Mary Oliver (recently deceased). She writes poetry attempting to connect us with the natural world in “all its beauty and terrors and mysteries and consolations.” (Stanley Kunitz) Most of all, Oliver had an extraordinary eye for the intricacies of the world around her, refusing to see the boundaries between nature and herself. In her poem, “Everything,” she writes,
I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.
When we open our eyes widely to God’s glory around us…in people, places, and circumstances…we see most clearly the natural world of Mary Oliver; the depth and singularity of each person we meet; and the opportunities to fill our lives with the light of Christ. May we each find that light burning brightly into our circumstances, even as we isolate at home in hopes of protecting others.
God’s peace and wide-angle vision,