Saturday, January 16, 2010

As Through Glasses Darkly

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
--1 Corinthians 13.1 (The Message)
I got new eyeglasses in the mail today. This is the first time I've worn glasses since I was about five years old, when I had a pair to correct a lazy eye. In the eye doctor's examination room, peering at the letter chart through that large optical machine, I saw the blurry black letters become sharp and crisp as the doctor flipped through lenses to come to the right prescription strength. I eagerly anticipated seeing a bright crisp new world as well. I had to wait a week or two, though, for them to be shipped. (For anyone interested, Zenni Optical sells prescription glasses from $8. I got two pairs for $31, including shipping.)

I realized that I might need glasses a few months ago, when the things I put on the projection screen in the front of my classroom looked blurry to me when I stood in the back. Just to make sure, I asked a few students sitting in the back, "Can you read that?" They answered casually: "Oh yeah." Another sign I had was that I couldn't read street signs until I came right up on them, particularly at night. Through all of my teenage years, I had "20-20" vision, and was quite proud of it then (as if I had anything to do with it). Thankfully, since then, I've gained the ounce of wisdom necessary to know that "perfect sight" is temporary, so I accepted my need for glasses gracefully. (In fact, displaying less spiritual maturity, I was even excited, since I knew they could complement my beard and tweed jacket in my "professor costume.")

When the glasses arrived  today, I put them on and could indeed see things at a distance much more clearly. Right away, I could see the leaves on trees across the lake behind our apartment. And a little later in the day when I drove to the store, I could definitely read street signs more clearly and from farther away. But . . . that was about it. The glasses did a pretty good job, but still . . . I was a bit disappointed. I was disappointed that the glasses did not make a radical difference in my ability to see the world, which, for some reason, I had been expecting. I was even more disappointed with the thought that, since these glasses were my prescription, then I would never see the world any more crisply or sharply or clearly than this.

We live in this world with physical bodies that, for many of us, mostly work most of the time, though decreasingly so day by day. Accepting and even embracing our physical limitations, even minor limitations, which are the only ones I can personally speak about yet, can be an act of spiritual grace. So too, I am coming to realize, with our spiritual limitations. As little as we see with our physical eyes of what is out there, even of what ought to be visible, we see even less with our spiritual eyes. Coming to the end of his most famous discussion on love, St. Paul connects seeing, knowing, and loving in a spiritual metaphor. We can only "see" (or "know" or "love"), he says, as one seeing "through a glass darkly." In The Message Eugene Peterson puts in "fog" and "mist" for "glass." Gregory of Nyssa echoes St. Paul in this way: "The true vision of what we seek consists precisely in this--in not seeing . . ."

The promise, of course, is that eventually we will know (or see) in full "even as we are fully known." The promise is that "it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!" And I do long for such perfection of sight and knowledge and love. But in the meantime, it is also an act of grace to accept with humility--to embrace even--our limitations, our shortcomings, our dim and blurry vision.


living stones said...

Paul,thanks for this thoughtful post about accepting our limitations with grace and humility. I'm certainly getting more practice with every birthday. (First it was needing glasses, then needing drops for extra dryness in my eyes, and now I'm needing to rest my eyes before I'm ready to close them for the night--mercy, mercy.) Gradually, I'm learning God is giving me these opportunities to learn to let go of expectations. In the meantime, it's good to know God sees me and is with me. Thanks again for sharing. Blessings--Anna

RC said...

Paul, I'm grateful this humble and insightful posting. And grateful, too, that our community is "seeing" and engaging these kinds of spiritual dynamics. Your post encourages me and helps me persevere in the path of humility and the call to accept and welcome everyday reality with its diminishments as well as its joys. Thank you!

Bill said...

Paul, Obviously God is trying to get my attention since I just had my bi-annual eye exam and need a new scrip. Then you remind me to connect everything with what God is doing in, through and around me, including getting my eyeglasses updated.

Like Rickey, I am reminded to consider humility and not to assume that how I think I am seeing something or understanding something is the totality of what is real. What I am perceiving is only a part, maybe even a distorted part.

Another connection is that this week one group I meet with is using breathe prayers and the one I am working with is "Jesus, be light" which fits well with be able to discern and see clearly.

Your sharing has really struck several chords in my life today and I will sit and let God tune the melodies for awhile,

RC said...

Bill, several points you made in your comment above on Paul's post struck me. I really liked the way you expressed this need: "...connect everything with what God is doing in, through and around me, including getting my eyeglasses updated." And how important for all of us, I think, to remember this point: "What I am perceiving is only a part, maybe even a distorted part." Thank you for investing in this kind of mutual reflection!

living stones said...

I've always found this paradox very interesting. On a separate (kind of related) note, it reminded me of Shakespeare: he often uses this theme of blindness or not seeing leading to clarity. King Lear comes to mind right now.

Thanks for this post and also for the link to the eyeglasses website- that is a great deal!


Joy said...

Thank you so much for this post; it resonated so deeply with me, as I've been confronting, as of late, my many weakness and limitations - physical, emotional, and spiritual - learning to acknowledge them, accept them, and then surrender them to God. Since I arrived in Korea over a month ago, it seems that everything I once prided myself on has been stripped, little by little, until I see that I can do nothing on my own. This is a major reason God brought me here: to teach me humility and blind faith (pardon the shameless pun).

Truly, I am nothing. But how beautiful: our Savior became nothing, obedient to death on a cross (Phil 2:7). Someday, we will arise from our hiding place and appear with Him in complete glory (Col 3:3-4) when "the weather clears and the sun shines brightly," but until that day, I want to bear His image by sharing in His nothingness, by considering everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him (Phil 3:7).

Lord, help us surrender not just our riches and our gifts to You, but our weaknesses and frailties, becoming like you in death and humility. Thank You for the grace of revealing Yourself to us even through our failing sight, aching bones, and helpless sighs.

In His love,

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