Seeing along the beam…

Part of the ongoing prayerful focus on Sight…

A thousand thought-prayers a day, I inhale and exhale, “Lord, I want to see.” But more, I do not know.

If the cry of a heart is to see— to see Jesus now, to see the holy in the common, to see the sacred in the everyday, to see joy’s well in our dry places—- how does one have sight restored? How do blind ones come to see? Is there a way to learn to see?

I do not know these things when the newsprint flyer with continuing education classes falls open to a course on photography, but I feel His kind prodding and nervously copy down the email address. I wonder if learning about the art of seeing, composition and light, framing and exposure, might wake me up to wonder and to wells of water that I yet cannot see.

Camera and notepad in my bag, I drive down backroads through a gentle October rain to my first class. My stomach winds and turns too. I, obviously, am not a photographer, I rarely leave home, and I knot into merciless tangles over new situations, new faces, new experiences. I grip the steering wheel. What was I thinking?

I don’t hear a voice, just feel a nudging: But what do you want? Yes, I remember, I remember. And I want it so bad, I am willing to tiptoe out of my comfort zone. I smooth out the fraying nerves with the reassurance: What is the worst that can happen? They’ll laugh at how blind you are? Well, surely you can just humbly agree. Humility leaves for only a small fall.

Four women and an older gentleman are taking notes when I slip into the classroom, the photographer reading through the course syllabus. I take a backseat, and the room falls dark. A slideshow commences of the photographer’s most recent work, plunging us into seeing. Burnt oranges and blazing yellows fill the screen with brilliance, the freshly dyed, autumn hills of Gatineau, Quebec. Ethereal mist rises off curving rivers in soft, early morning light. Rose-brushed sunsets reflect off mountain rimmed lakes. The world looks perfect on this screen. Not like the messy scenes of my life.

Then an image flashes of gold leaves falling off silver birches, framing a plain picnic table. The class quietly gazes at the color, shadows, lines, before the photographer breaks the silence.

“Absolutely any item you come across carries with it story and mystery and beauty. If you can see it at the right angle, in the right light.”

A bulb turns on inside somewhere. I have been here before. But, again, had forgotten the way. But it is all familiar now, all coming back to me again: If I consecrate the dirty pans and the bathtub rings as onto God, they too have story, mystery, beauty. His.

The picnic table, scarred with graffiti and weathered with winds and rain, is exalted to grandeur, there in a kingdom of fluttering gold leaves. I look and wonder: What am I missing in my branded and worn days that if I but shifted my perspective, might yield up hallowed beauty? Might give me a glimpse of Jesus here, in this ordinary, tarnished place? Christ’s sacrifice has definitively ended the dichotomy of sacred, that freighted with meaning, and that of the common, insignificant and worthless. The veil has been ripped in two. The Holy of Holies has spilled into our dirty world. All now is holy. Entering into the presence of God is now open to anyone who believes, who has eyes to see Him here.

Like Elisha’s servant, I too often miss it. From his line of sight, things looked grim: all he could see was an army of horses and chariots circling the city. “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” I understand. I too am earthbound. Earthblind.
Elisha could see all in the right light, for he could see reality of a God-bathed world: “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. Elisha prays, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”
How does God respond to prayers begging for sight?

And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

The servant had been blind to the overwhelming spiritual reality that surrounded him. But one on his knees, one in communion with Father, ushered him into the true beauty, mystery, wonder of the moment. Into the presence of God in the place.

If I have eyes to see, that which is ordinary, common, even grimy, steps into the light and becomes sacred gifts of unique beauty, bestowed from the very hand of God.
I begin to think of plain things, a spoon in oatmeal, an open book, knitting needles on the rocking chair, as holy, worthy of capturing on film. Is this a bit of what it means when we read, “They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God” ? Do I not profane God’s name when I dismiss all as commonplace instead of sacred? When we choose to be blind to the mystery in the everyday, do we not profane the name of our God, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things?

As I prayerfully purpose to look at my routines of bedmaking and clothesfolding and babyloving with eyes to see the story, mystery, and beauty, my mind’s eye often rests on C.S. Lewis, in the dim of a cobwebbed shed, seeing the right angle and light:

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch black. I was seeing the beam, no t seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular carry at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”

Is this what artists do? Those who live life as art, as glorious gift? Do they look along the brilliance of the beam instead of glancing simply at the beam? Looking at the beam, the mundane scrubbing of floors, the stirring of pots on the stove, one sees only flakes of dust falling. But to look along the beam while wiping off the tables, while ordering the pantry, purposing to “do all to the glory of God,” making every common act as giving glory of God, one sees the outside dance of creation and beyond, to the face of God. When we consecrate simple acts to God, when we believe that He is the common, we come to see Him in all things. Looking along the beam and looking at the beam are indeed different experiences. The difference between sight and blindness.
One of the most attuned, thoughtful and respected artist the world has ever known, Vincent Van Gogh, wrote of his own experiences of seeing, really seeing:

“It is looking at things for a long time that ripens and gives you a deeper understanding… Everything that is really good and beautiful, of inward moral, spiritual and sublime beauty, in human beings and in their works, comes from God.”

Van Gogh looked along the beam to its Source, Beauty Himself and truly had eyes to see. Looking along the beam, he was the first painter to give a canvas over to the beauty of stubble, hedgerows and cornfields … to paint humble, peaceful and homely things such as a bed, a chair, a bowl, dish, spoon, which no master had ever considered being worthy of the artist’s attention.

In my own very simple way, I too look along the beam, attending to the common by capturing it in the 1000 gift list. The daily discipline of enumerating small gifts, recording humble extraordinary gifts that would most often be missed, blithely taken for granted, not deemed worthy of any attention, this 1000 Gift List is the discipline of looking along the beam to see. To see that the everyday comes from the everywhere God.

As I go about an ordinary day, messy and tattered with the wear and tear of this world, I think I hear the seraphim singing. Do you hear their song, full and soaring, too? Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

And, when I see, so it is.
Lord? Might You give me eyes today to see…along the beam. To You.