A Little Willingness to SeeMay 7, 2015
In Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, the main character, Minister John Ames, tells his young son: “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.” For me that’s probably the best definition of faith – a little willingness to see.
As the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” There is mystery, beauty, wonder, intensity, peace, joy, meaning and inspiration all around us. All we have to do is open our eyes more intentionally, focus our gaze more clearly, remove the blinders of our defenses, and guard against the many distractions competing for our attention. If we would be able to discipline ourselves in this way, we would come to see the many rich and complex layers of meaning that lie beneath the surface of the events and encounters in our lives. And that’s precisely what faith is – discerning a little more clearly how the events of life are connected, sensing the patterns that emerge, helping to find more and deeper hints of meaning.
There is no such thing as coincidence. Every event and encounter has contained within it a virtual treasure-chest of insight and gift that can be accessed by having the willingness, and employing the effort, to see. That effort is what we call “reflection,” replaying the tape of the experience in our mind and unraveling the layers of complexity that lie beneath the surface. Most times we convince ourselves that we are too busy to take time to review the events and circumstances of our days, so we continue to mindlessly roll along from day to day. At other times we are paralyzed by a largely unconscious fear of upsetting our otherwise comfortable illusions about life and purpose.
If we were a little more willing to see, the world moves from a battlefield of competing and contradictory chaos to a magnificent panoramic potential of purpose and connectedness. Distressing and annoying moments can turn into opportunities for insight and virtue as we see, experience and interpret them through a more focused lens. We begin to learn that the emotional negativity we experience in an encounter with another is not due to the meanness of the other, but rather stems from some reminder of our own interior darkness. We begin to understand that those who do not hold our same views and perspectives do not threaten us, but provide us with opportunities to expand our horizons and deepen our understandings. We begin to comprehend that our faults, failures and missteps do not condemn us, but can serve as learnings about how we might improve in the future.
Through the process of regular reflection – deepening our willingness to see – the joys we experience are multiplied in intensity because we begin to experience them as part of the great joy of God. The little acts of kindness we give and receive become deeper and more convincing insights into the pervasive love of God that engulfs us. Simple words of encouragement and gratitude become opportunities to affirm the goodness and self-worth of others. Expending our best efforts to the tasks at hand is understood as participating with God in the unfolding of creation.
If we suspend the usual casualness with which we experience life and take the time and effort to be willing to look more clearly, we will soon be overwhelmed by the fact that, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Jerry Kearney, D.Min.
Vice President, Mission Integration
Saint Thomas Health