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.
Christmas 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
- “Listen to your… (radiatingblossom.wordpress.com)
- And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . Part Three (writingsistersblog.wordpress.com)
- 10 Great Quotes from Frederick Buechner (born4rthis.wordpress.com)