The Heart of Incarnational Seeing

My dear friend Frank Rahm posted this video on Facebook this morning, and it got me thinking…

We preacher-types visit hospitals quite a lot. If we’re paying attention, they can be excellent places to practice paying close attention. All around you, every day at the hospital, the little dramas in this video are unfolding. When I’m visiting a hospital, I always try to keep that in mind, and I find that it adds immeasurably to the holiness of those moments.

But the broader truth is that this dynamic is happening everywhere. Yes, hospitals are especially poignant in terms of the weighty life-stories that unfold there every day. But everywhere you go, these same kinds of little dramas are unfolding all around you. You could go, right now, to the park, mall, and movie theater near your house, and the same kind of video could be shot at each of those places too.

For those who are practiced in seeing, the world is always teeming with stories.

Frederick Buechner was the one who taught me how to “see” this way. For reason that escape me, I can no longer put my hands on the exact quote from him.(1)  But here’s the gist…

Buechner once wrote of how to more fully see God in others by playing a little game when you’re at the shopping mall. For every person that passes you, he said, just look at them and say silently inside your soul, “You are a child of God.”

Eighty-year-old couple, slowly shuffling hand in hand, and getting angry glares from those in a hurry…

You are a child of God.”

Snot-nosed kid, screaming his head off in the stroller, and frazzled Mom desperately hoping nobody sees…

“You are a child of God.”

Bored and posturing teenagers, walking ten-feet ahead of their family, as if nobody will notice that they’re related…

“You are a child of God.”

Buechner says if you do this enough, you begin to see the world as God sees it. You see God in the incredible beauty and diversity of God’s children. It can literally help you to develop your sense of compassion toward others.

Like I said, I can’t put my hands on that quote. But I did find this mighty nice one by Buechner, on artistic seeing:

“Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.”

Which makes me think of the great song, “See Myself In You,” written by my friend Tom Prasada-Rao and Tom Kimmel. Here’s a version of the song, with Tom telling how it was written:

Not only are places like hospitals and parks good times to practice our seeing, but seasons are too.

poster84224514Christmas season definitely is. The metaphor of the Christmas story is God come to earth as a human being. The “Good tidings of great joy” are that God takes human form, born into a smelly, dirty stable in a tiny backwoods nation.

The meaning of that metaphor seems to be that our human forms are not separate from God’s self, but a part of God’s good creation too…that incarnation happens all around us, all the time, if only we have eyes to see it.

Christmas means that the phrase “God forsaken” is meaningless. There is no such place in God’s good earth. Because “God so loved the world” that God lived in the world too.

Incarnation, then, is earthy…messy…sensual…human.

Incarnation, then, is holy…sacred…blessed…divine.

The paradox of these two polarities are at the heart of the Christmas metaphor.

Buechner, an artist and a preacher, reminds us that the kind of seeing artists do is also at the heart of theology too…

“Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

That’s the way God sees God’s beautiful world. May God give us the grace to see and love our neighbors with “our imaginations as well as our eyes.” That’s the heart of incarnational seeing.

It’s the way God calls us to see, not just during this holy season, but each and every day.

1) If anyone recalls the citation for this story, please contact me, or leave a comment below…EF

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

7 thoughts on “The Heart of Incarnational Seeing

  1. So I have read a fair amount of your blog posts. And I see lots of words, in one post you used the very churchy word of sanctification. But in all the words about reconciling, healing of UMC, keeping the UMC being relevant, I can’t find the path to sanctification. Are these not all the words that we seek more. How to better find the path to the foot of cross of Jesus? One of my friends once said he had to turn buddhism and a couple other religions to find a path with him integrating the Truths of Jesus to complete the path. Are the social agenda words diluting what people are truly needing in their lives? Who does not want to be the Shepherds in the field looking for a path. Yes! And they respond with “Let us Go and see” The did not create a council of voters, write a blog, make a mission statement. No they responded to the Holy Spirit and “Hurried off and found May and Joseph” Let everyone find the Christ child this season and follow Him to the foot of the cross.

    1. Interestingly, I am actually preaching about this topic this morning.
      Jesus not only offered salvation and sanctification through the cross, but also through his life and ministry too. His teaching, preaching, healing for the people he came into contact with was also a saving act. So, yes, the cross is important.
      But if it was ALL that was important, then why do we have the Gospels, the stories, the teachings at all?
      Surely they are not just window dressing, or precursing.
      No. Jesus was saving people through all all those encounters and stories and healings. That means the incarnation of Christmas as important as the cross. One can’t happen without the other. There can be no “saving” of the world, unless God comes into the world and is present.

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