Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my eyes. Design-wise they aren’t so great. I am very near-sighted. I’m fortunate that my vision is easily corrected with glasses or contacts, but without corrective lenses my adult vision has landed somewhere between 20/220 and 20/240. Legal blindness is 20/200 in the better eye. I can’t read normal print more than about 6 inches from my face, and headlines are a strain at arm’s length. Since eyeglasses weren’t invented until the latter half of the 13th century, I am grateful to have been born afterward. In the 12th century, despite a pretty capable brain, my options would have been quite limited by my visual impairment. My potential – maybe my understanding of the world – would probably never have exceeded the length of my arm. Ironically, my inability to see would have rendered others unable to see me for who I truly was.
Do you know how vision works? Light particles – called photons – bounce off objects, enter our eyes through the cornea and lens (which turn the image upside down, by the way), travel through our pupils, pass through fluid called aqueous humor, land on special cells in the retina called rods and cones, and those cells send signals along our optic nerve to our brain which decodes them at a rate roughly equivalent to 60 frames per second, or for most of us (with two eyes) 7200 images a minute. Pretty amazing, right?
Except we never actually “see” anything. Our brain interprets a coded version of an upside down reflection of photons which have bounced off something, and we call it reality. My glasses help me “see” the same reality other people agree on, but whether I can see clearly or not doesn’t change the truth behind the photons.
Our ability to welcome can be similarly limited. Our understanding of the world generally doesn’t extend beyond our own experience. We don’t understand lives we haven’t seen – haven’t lived – ourselves. Other people’s experiences are murky interpretations of what they try to explain to us, but we will never know first hand. If their lives and experiences are too distant, they fade into a gigantic, blurry background of everything beyond our own vision of reality. Even when we can’t see our way clear to welcome someone into our community, it is our perception and not the truth of the person which is deficient.
Our faith teaches us to see others with the eyes of Christ. Like a fish who doesn’t know it’s in water, we don’t even realize how our own experiences and biases distort our understanding of others into a funhouse-mirror reflection of truth. It can take a while to find the right prescription to compensate for our skewed perception. Catholic or Protestant? Progressive or Conservative? Better this way … or better this way?
Christ, on the other hand, sees us clearly. His gaze penetrates past what the world agrees upon as reality, past the distorted reflections that limit us, and sees the beloved children of God we are created to be. Seeing with Christ’s eyes means seeing this truth. And until we find the right prescription, our near-sighted state might require us to invite people closer. As close as the communion table perhaps. Within an arm’s length, near enough to pass the bread and cup.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.