Monday, March 30, 2009

On Seeing

I've been thinking lately about the faculty of seeing. Ask the question 'what do you see', and you may be surprised at the variety of viewpoints. I'm sure many of you have seen this image before.

Some may see a decrepit, elderly woman with a long face who forlornly looks down in sadness. That long chin, at another glance, becomes the neck of a beautiful woman, the pimple that of a simple nose. Eyes have turned into ears. What do you see? If you say an elderly woman, you are right. If you say a beautiful young woman, you are also right. All, of course, depending on your perspective.

Our perceptions, our lenses through which we see the world, shape how we live and interact in this life. If you primarily see people as Democrats or Republicans, liberal or conservative, then obviously that is the primary way in which you will interact with others. And, that is the primary way in which you will probably judge others. You may see the world with utter paranoia, believing that everyone is out to get you. You may be right. Hence, you will probably be looking at everyone around you with extreme, excessive, even obsessive, suspicion. Perhaps you see everything with great joy. You are not afraid to give a big hello to everyone you see, to have a heart-to-heart even with a stranger on the subway--you are always smiling, always bubbly, and always super sweet. And perhaps you are the one to see those people as obnoxiously happy.

When I was at L'Arche in Tacoma, WA, I lived with a core member named Bobby. He was a few years older than I was, but his mind was as developed as that of a year old toddler. Most things we do for ourselves he cannot do. He cannot walk, he cannot bathe on his own, he cannot take care of his own BM's (a euphemistic way of talking about bodily functions in the medical realm), etc. Yet, he is still the happiest person I have ever met in my entire life. He does not see as 'developed' minds see--he does not think, at least I did not witness it, in our same categories. If you were in range, he would literally reach out to you, regardless of who you were. Sometimes I would wonder what it was like to think like Bobby as I observed him laughing for no apparent reason. What's so funny? Well, probably seeing something I wasn't seeing.

Sometimes I read the news and grow in helplessness and despair--news outlets affecting, one may even say monopolizing, how we see. Do you ever wonder how your thinking would be affected if we did not have news? No one to constantly remind us how messed up some things are? Not necessarily a major critique of news in general, but just to point out how much our thinking, our seeing, is tied to the news outlets. And sometimes what they show us is exactly what we need to see. I don't necessarily envy those who must decide what makes the news and what doesn't. There's a lot of power there...

As a Jesuit scholastic, I am in training to look at the world with a particular viewpoint (in many ways, that training never ceases). We seek, as Jesuits, to think how Christ thinks, to see how Christ sees, to place Him at the center of our lives. The question, then, is how we are to know how Christ thinks and how Christ sees. Well, Sacred Scripture is one indicator. For example, in today's famous Gospel passage, Jesus shows great compassion to the woman caught in adultery. The Scribes and the Pharisees see the law which states that they should stone such a woman. Jesus, though, does not see with condemnation but with charity and love. Christ is the way in which I have freely chosen to orient my life--Christ as the lens from which all else emanates. I do not think I will ever clearly see the world as He sees it, but I can strive towards that end.

All of us clearly have particular ways of seeing the world. But, I think it is important to ask ourselves whether our primary ways of seeing are healthy. How do you see your life? How do you see the world? Are there things in your life in which you need to see in a new light? Do your ways of seeing bring harm and destruction to others? To yourself? If so, how do you wish to see differently?

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