To See or Not to See…

To see or not to see....jpg

We’ve all heard the old adage, “one only sees what they want to see.” We easily and quickly make judgements on our perceptions of things, not always on the truth of things. It’s always been that way. I’m guessing it will always be so to some degree.

Some will see only a page full of black dots. Others see the number hidden in the middle (they kinda piss me off!) Some see the brown barrenness of parched desert. Others see the miracle of life which is possible even in austerity. What is to one a beautiful optical illusion is to another a confusing mess of nothing at all. One sees thirst and death. Another sees possibility and survival.

It is a remarkable feature of human nature that, on the basis of perceptions and in the interest of either self-preservation or the pursuit of fulfillment, we succumb to the process of other-worldly fabrications. Given our predisposition to see only selectively, we sometimes live our lives labouring under misapprehensions.

For my part, I have often built an enormous mental-emotional web of shadows and half-truths and desires and make-believe. A construct on whatever I think is true. It is mental, because so much of who I am and how I behave is conceived and constructed in my mind. Emotional, because, just like yours, my head and my heart are inextricably linked.

To think something is true is, correspondingly, to feel something as well. If I think a loved one is still alive after some long absence, it creates hope, expectation. To believe that same person to be dead is to create despair and hopelessness. If we believe the person to whom we’ve been communicating is still on the other end of the phone, we’ll happily blether on until the bleak reality dawns!

Conversely, to experience an inexplicable hope, is to believe all to be well in our little world. In the world at large. If we feel weighted down, we either have a need for companionship, a change of scenery, or mood-altering substances (my preferred M.O.!) Moreover, we will believe it to be so because, in such moments, the universe may appear to us at the time, a toxic and malignant place, unfit for habitation.

Our brains are a complex lump indeed! From the minutiae in our head comes the fodder for our palaces or prisons. All is either benign, malevolent or benevolent on the basis of what we believe to be true or false.

Perhaps the entire goal of grace, and with it, the contemplative enterprise, is constructed to help us monitor, manage, even master the cognitive dissonance we experience – the chasm between what we observe, what we know (or think we know), with what we experience?

It seems that God’s intention in the Gospel is to gift us with a mental-emotional equilibrium in a universe that, to our physical eyes at least, makes little sense. God seems to be trying to get our attention focused away from what we see and onto what we have yet to see. Or, better, what God sees.

For example, if I see endless amounts of unpromising, fruitless work – God sees a garden. If I see endless hours of frustration, ignorant bumbling and non-Sunday school language – God sees the end product of my labour – a new staircase, or a table. If I see fatigue, poverty, and unpredictability – God sees relationships, children, and the warmth of family.

To say then, “I see,” is no longer just a physical act – observations in time and space of what is immediately before me. In the infinitely broader perspective of God, contextualized in the Gospel, “to see” is simultaneously to hope, to rejoice, to weep with joy.

For, to see as God sees, is to inhabit all things at all times at one time. Things are not only as they appear to me now. They are shown to be what they will be then.

It is there, in that place of seeing through God’s kaleidoscopic eyes, that a universe –  sometimes tasteless, flat and hopeless – becomes a sumptuous feast of possibility. Only then do I experience something counter-intuitive to what I “should” under my limited experience. My heart and head agree because God has introduced them to the broad spacious land – the realm of God. My earth and God’s heaven, kiss.

And I am reborn.

Seeing is believing, say the scientists. Believing is seeing, say the theologians. Being is both seeing and believing, say the mystics. Some cannot believe unless they see. Others claim to see and not believe. Still others claim to see what they don’t believe. Others will not believe whether they see or not. Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

God’s deepest reality? All of us belong in some way along the continuum of belief, sight and experience. God journeys with us wherever and whenever that is.

All that to say this: one’s emancipation comes most readily not from a change in circumstances, but in the readiness, and ability, to see. To awaken. I have often said that, behind and beneath and around everything we see with our physical eyes, is a pervasive spirit of glory.

The light and beauty and truth of God subsumes all things into itself. And, from time to time, there come moments of lucidity, of universal benevolence, when one becomes aware of the overwhelming perfection of it all. A built-in beauty not always immediately apparent.

But such moments are frightfully rare. They are gifts, shards of translucence and splendour, reserved for the unasked-for moments of clarity; when the paleness of our present reality, gives way to something else entirely. When it does, simply observe.

Rub your spiritual eyes and let yourself be roused from slumber. Wachet auf (wake up) as Bach might intone! Awaken to God’s tap on your shoulder. Throw off the covers. Stretch. Say nothing. Speak not a word. Just drink. Drink deeply of this stream. Let it do its work. For, once it’s gone, there is no telling if or when it may come again. But its nourishment is ours to keep.



Amazing image found here



Glimpses V: learning self-love through self-knowledge

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


* * * * * *

The most genuine love we can show those around us is to nurture self-love. If this sounds narcissistic, hold your judgment and read on.

I’ve been forced lately to consider some rather disconcerting truths about myself. I often feel a little squirmy stopping to glance in the soul-mirror longer than the space between songs on my iPod playlist. But, to crack our spiritual eggs, God has to play hardball before we smell the omelette of his presence wafting through our life’s kitchen. And, let’s be honest, we generally don’t learn any other way.

The twelfth century French abbot, Bernard de Clairvaux, believed self-love for the sake of God to be the highest of all since it is the best revelation of God’s fingerprint in us and guarantees we have no projections toward or pretensions against which we might wrongly see God. My point is this: self-love develops from a basis of self-knowledge. Lately, one tool God has been using in this process is the “Enneagram” as developed in two books on the subject, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson and The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert.

For years now friends have suggested, either openly or subliminally, that I take a look.

A close look.

It’s alright, we’ll wait…

Isn’t it funny how those we know best actually know us better than we do ourselves? Nosy buggers. Obviously they’ve seen something I have yet to see or just haven’t turned to face yet.

In recent years I’ve adopted a greater willingness for such loving intrusions into my psychic space. Why not? It’s going to get dealt with one way or another, right? Why not do it through the more supportive way of loving community? As Rohr makes clear in his book, how we interact with others will contribute to and be impacted by those incremental movements toward union with God.

Let me try to unpack this a bit. For those unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is an ancient, pre-Christian tool used by the Desert Fathers, medieval Sufi mystics and a host of others in determining the nine primary “Essences.” In Christian spirituality, it was used to help identify our core sins; those pitfalls in each of us that deny wholeness and integration.

The authors are careful to point out that there are bits of all of these in each of us. The freedom comes however in discovering which number, and its accompanying “capital sin”, that best describes our struggle toward self-awareness and it’s end, self-love.

In my case, not one, but two numbers did a brazen Fosbury Flop off the page and down my throat with hurricane-like insistence. I seem to be both a glittering, off-the-charts FOUR (defined as “the need to be special”, or The Individualist), and a cozy, kumbaya NINE (“the need to avoid pain”, or The Peacemaker). Either way it has forced me to address my overriding need to be everyone’s center of attention but not so much that it messes with my “chi.” Whenever I’m not the dinner table centerpiece I will force my way there or look for better prospects.

The flip side however, or my NINE-ishness, denies me full entrance into that hallowed place since, to be there, means the potential for failure, or worse…success, neither of which I care to deal with. Avoidance is my chosen modus operandi. I am good at it.

Very good.

Want to come live with me? Didn’t think so. I wouldn’t either.

It is particularly challenging for guys like me to be “just a part of the pack” when we crave peaceableness, beauty, balance and blustery goodness everywhere we go. How, then, do I also ensure ample amounts of praise, attention and pats of approval on my needy crown? God forbid that I don’t stand out somehow; that I’m not just a little hipper, a little funnier, a little more talented or good looking or profound than the rest. When that happens I ratchet it up a notch to achieve the desired result, often with disastrous consequences. And, to complicate matters, the peacemaker in me loves to live vicariously through whoever happens to be the most interesting or inspiring person in the room, the very person I’m trying to be! Aah, just the way I like it, a confusing nightmare of complexity!

Thanks to the Enneagram, among other things, I am inching closer toward self-knowledge. The self-love part? Not so easy. People tell me they’re not mutually exclusive. At times I have my doubts however as my eyes open ever wider to my blatant inconsistencies and shameless coverups.

But, there it is, my present journey toward self-love. It is coming with the help of the Enneagram and at the expense of a good spiritual chainsaw. Like the Orcs’ insidious intentions in Fangorn Forest, God and I have together hacked and burned and burned and hacked at the forest in my eyes. It is an unwelcome process however necessary.

As I said at the beginning, I’m slowly understanding what self-love can actually mean; the benefits so to speak. Those with whom we must share this life are best served when we work on our own stuff first. After all, nobody wants to be another’s eye-forest lumberjack.