“…the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.” — John Ruskin
I’ve thought a lot about seeing over the years. Seeing clearly, seeing what’s really there and not what we imagine or only want to see. Seeing other people as whole people apart from us, not as a projection of ourselves. Seeing with compassion and humility, without judgment. Recognizing what we see. Giving the world more than a sideways glance.
I have very poor visual memory (always have had), which comes partly from my innate nature and partly from early childhood experiences that increased my inwardness. Whatever the reason, I lived most of my life focused internally. So I’m trying to notice and to pay more attention to what I see in the world now because I know that the Holy One is winking at me from the very things I tend not to notice. I used to pray always with my eyes closed, finding God in the dark interior and in the spaces between and beyond things and people. Now I pray just as often walking outside among the trees, under the sky, among people. I want to see the outer world more clearly and to appreciate more fully the beauty that is lying in wait in every ordinary thing. Fallen brown winter leaves… the swishing disappearing tail of a squirrel… the child laughing riotously as his mother pushes him on a swing… the moon in the midnight sky… I want to see it all, for I’m discovering that to really see a thing is to love it.
Once Jesus asked his host at dinner, who was scorning him and the woman who wept at his feet, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7.44) … Another time he asked the crowds around him what they had come out to the wilderness to see (Matt. 11.7) …. To his followers he once said: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Matt. 13.16), but on another occasion he asked them, “Do you have eyes and fail to see?” (Mark 8.18).
How we see, and whether we really see the world around us, is important. It’s important for understanding ourselves and others, for the connections we will or will not make with the communities we inhabit, and simply for how we will choose to walk through the world. So I’m trying to train my eyes to see, at least in part, by sketching and painting and reaching for the words to describe each little thing I look at. Each of these things requires not just looking but paying careful attention. That’s the key: the attentiveness with which we choose to live.
When I draw my amateur’s sketch and actually make some connection in it to the creature or thing I’m looking at, or when I find just the right words to describe the peculiar character of a person or a thing that has invited my gaze, I LOVE the feeling that comes to me. Seeing, really seeing, is a gift. In the end, gazing with attention and love is its own reward.
May our eyes and our hearts be wise and wide open today, and may blessings abound to you.