The Risk of Seeing

Hey TD,

Isn’t it weird how we can look at something and just not really see it?  Looking and seeing are two very different things.  As you embark on your summers, we want to see what God wants us to see.  Let’s start the week off by putting ourselves in a position to see life more as He sees life.  This article by our friend, Jill Carattini, at RZIM is a good start.  Enjoy! – Arthur

The Risk of Seeing

Posted by Jill Carattini on June 13, 2016

In an essay titled “Meditation in a Toolshed,” C.S. Lewis describes a scene from within a darkened shed. The sun was brilliantly shining outside, yet from the inside only a small sunbeam could be seen through a crack at the top of the door. Everything was pitch-black except for the prominent beam of light, by which he could see flecks of dust floating about. Writes Lewis:

“I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving in the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”(1)

 

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Each time I come to the gospel accounts of the woman with the alabaster jar, I notice something similar. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks, as if he is speaking as much to me the reader as he is to the guests around the table. With a jar of costly perfume, she had anointed the feet of Christ with fragrance and tears. She risked shame and endured criticism because she alone saw the one in front of them all. While the dinner crowd was sitting in the dark about Jesus, the woman was peering in the light of understanding. What she saw invoked tears of recognition, sacrifice, and love. Gazing along the beam and at the beam are quite different ways of seeing.

The late seventeenth century poet George Herbert once described prayer as “the soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage.” At those words I picture the woman with her broken alabaster jar, wiping the dusty, fragrant feet of Christ with her hair. Pouring out the expensive nard, she seems to pour out her soul. Fittingly, Herbert concludes his grand description of prayer as “something understood.”

The woman with the alabaster jar not only saw the Christ when others did not, Christ saw her when others could not see past her powerless categories. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks while the others were questioning her actions, past and present. “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.”(2) Her soul’s cry was heard; she herself was understood.

There are many ways of looking at Jesus: good man, prophet, historical character, provocative teacher, God in flesh, one who sees, one who hears, one who loves. At any point, we could easily walk away feeling like we have seen everything we need to see, when in fact we may have seen very little. The risk of looking again may well change everything.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212-215.
(2) Luke 7:44-47.

 

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Consider the Lilies

It was a Saturday morning and some of my family were out on a walk around the more secluded parts of the beautiful Orange Grove area of Pasadena, when suddenly Sandra started reading “Consider the Lilies,” written by our friend, Jill Carattini, out loud and without warning.  It spoke to us and graciously but firmly, like an iron hand in a velvet glove, elicited tasteful discomfort in my conscience, knowing full well that I succumb to the “anxious preoccupied life” it seeks to help detour.  Well, it succeeded, and I pray that it would keep succeeding in my life.  If you need a fresh and fragrant rescue from the tyranny of the now, read on. 

And for those of you non-readers (i.e. video watchers), please begin training yourself to be able to read.  It will serve you very well, especially if you are to behold a fuller, more complete expression of the delights of the Word Himself. – Arthur  

Wendell Berry has written a poem that haunts me frequently.  As a creative writer, the act of paying attention is both a spiritual and professional discipline. But far too often my aspirations for paying quality attention to everything dissolves into something more like attention deficit disorder. As it turns out, it is quite possible to see and not really see, to hear and not really hear. And this is all the more ironic when my very attempts to capture what I am seeing and hearing are the thing that prevent me from truly being present. Berry’s poem is about a man on holiday, who, trying to seize the sights and sounds of his vacation by video camera, manages to miss the entire thing.

…he stood with his camera preserving his vacation even as he was having it so that after he had had it he would still have it. It would be there. With a flick of a switch, there it would be. But he would not be in it. He would never be in it.(1)

I sometimes wonder if one of the most quoted sayings of Jesus is not often employed with a similar irony. “Consider the lilies,” Jesus said, “how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you?  Therefore, do not worry” (Matthew 6:28-31). Typically, Jesus is quoted here as giving a helpful word against worry. And he is. But worry is not the only command he articulates. Consider the lilies, he said. We hear the first instruction peripherally, hurriedly, as mere set up for the final instruction of the saying. And in so doing, we miss something great, perhaps even something vital, both in the means and in the end. With our rationalistic sensibilities, we gloss over consideration of the lilies; ironically, in an attempt to consider the real work Jesus is asking us to do.

But what if considering the lilies is the work, the antidote to anxious, preoccupied lives? What if attending to beauty, to the ephemeral, to the fleeting details of a distracted world is a command Jesus wants us to take seriously in and of itself?

It is with such a conviction that artist Makoto Fujimura not only paints, but elsewhere comments on Mary and her costly pouring of perfume on the feet of Jesus. The anger of Judas and the disgust of the others are all given in rational terms, the cacophony of their reaction attempting to drown out her quiet act of attention: That bottle would have cost over a year’s wages. The poor could have used that money. This sinful woman clings to a holy man’s feet. Does he not see who it is who touches him? Their response to her and her act of beauty exposes their own inattention to a world beyond the one they see—to their own peril. As Fujimura writes, “Pragmatism, legalism, and greed cannot comprehend the power of ephemeral beauty. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness; the opposite of beauty is legalism.  Legalism is hard determinism that slowly strangles the soul. Legalism injures by giving pragmatic answers to our suffering.”(2) The corollary, of course, is that beauty can offer healing; that paying attention, even to fleeting glimpses of glory, is deeply restorative.

When Jesus asks the world to consider the lilies, to consider beauty in the midst of all the ashes around us, his request is full of promise, for he is both the Source of beauty and its Subject. Paying attention to the ephemeral, being willing like Mary to risk and to recognize beauty, is in and of itself restorative because it is paying attention to him. Here, both the anxiety-addicted and the attention-overloaded can find solace in a different sort of kingdom: one in which there is room for the paradox of a fleeting world with eternity in its heart.

But perhaps Jesus also instructs the world to consider the lilies because it is characteristic of God’s concern for us. The daily liturgy of lilies comes with unceasing care and attention for all who will see it, the gift of a God who revels in the creation of yet another flower, the details of another sunset, the discovery of even one lost soul. Consider the lilies; how they grow. They neither toil, nor spin. 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. 

(1) Wendell Berry, “The Vacation,” Selected Poems, (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998), 157. (2) Makoto Fujimura, “The Beautiful Tears,” Tabletalk, September, 2010.