I knew the title of the book, and I was certain it had a red cover—so I searched my bookshelves for that red cover. As I began to think that I must have loaned it to someone or lost it, there it was—right at eye level with the title printed boldly . . . on the blue cover. I had seen the book when I scanned that shelf earlier, but I had not seen it as the book I needed because I was looking for the wrong color.
Seeing is different from perceiving something with all its attributes and qualities. We can see something with our eyes but still have some measure of selective blindness when it comes to understanding it in its fullness.
This selective blindness can affect our interactions with people. Our hurried lives can limit our ability to see people in all their complexity and beauty. Instead, we look for what we expect or need from another person. Most of the time we are not being mean-spirited; this habit is simply a way of organizing our world. But this practice does not deepen our understanding of ourselves, others, or God.
In Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV), God invites us to see differently: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God invites us to see with a spirit of patient curiosity.
I recently read that judgment and curiosity cannot coexist. The more I play with this concept, the more I find it to be true. When I judge people, I may see them, but I see them with blinders on. I see what I am looking for, with few exceptions. This kind of seeing can be hurtful to others and can inhibit my ability to be a transforming expression of God’s love to them. It can also inhibit my ability to be transformed by God through other people.
When I make assumptions about people, I limit them and limit the way God might be active in the relationship. On the other hand, if I can be curious about people, I am much more likely to engage them with questions, sensitivity, and understanding. Being curious helps us to see people, but it also frees us to see the movement of God in their lives and in our own.
Steve Matthews was a youth minister for over 15 years. He is now a spiritual director, a coach working with redeveloping churches, and Executive Director of the South Coast Mission Hub, a collaborative of churches sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
MAY 13, 2018
NEXT DAY STRETCH
Many Christian contemplatives talk about awareness as one of the key components of prayer. They encourage us to slow down, to let go of our agendas and judgments, and to notice God in the world around us.
Consider doing that this week. Try spending five minutes a day practicing awareness, but focus your attention on the people in your life. The people might be strangers in a park or in line in front of you. See them with curious eyes. What do you notice? Look beyond their clothes or social status. What do you see?
Now try this with someone you know. Check your judgment at the door, and invite a loving awareness into this spiritual practice. God says, “I am about to do a new thing; . . . do you not perceive it?” What is God’s invitation to you in this moment with this person?