ARWhat Do You See?It's easier to see simply what you want to see in people. It makes the world more manageable. How do you learn to look at others the way God wants you to see them?What would I have to do to see the person in front of me truly, not as a construct of demography but as a child of God? If we are prayerful, if we are attentive to the cues that the Lord gives us, we can change the way we look into the faces of those around us without prejudice of any sort.
I like looking
at people. There are all kinds of good places to do this—at the
airport, on a train, from a shop window...
look at a young child and think, what will this boy look like when he’s
an old man? I can almost see that ancient face amid childhood’s bloom.
Other times, I look at the old. Their faces are often so tired and sad.
But if I look closely—in their eyes, the curves and planes of their
bones—I can sometimes see the faces of kings and queens. Or again,
walking through a sea of faces on a city street, I have the overpowering
feeling that I am about to see someone I know, even though I may be ten
thousand miles from home. So what am I supposed to glean from these
imaginings, these premonitions, these almost-visions? Are these remnants
of an Edenic familiarity that I am called to act upon?
occasions are rare. Mostly, I simply see what I want to see in other
people. It’s too tiring to try to see more. The labels, categories, and
boxes that we put people in, if rarely true, are at least useful in one
respect: to insulate us from each other and to make the world more
manageable. But this insulation is not always a good thing. As I get
older, I feel that I am growing gradually harder and tougher inside. I
have learned to fashion impassable barricades with the raw materials of
past experience, prejudice, and fear.
The Bible, as it so
often does, teaches differently. From reading the Word of God, it seems
that we were meant to follow a reversed developmental process in
one important respect: that we become ever more open, ever more innocent
of the evil of hardened hearts. “Though our outward man is perishing,
yet the inward man is being renewed day by day," Paul says (2Cor 4:16).
We must become like little children to enter the kingdom of God (Mt 18:3).
Let’s also look at
the case of Peter (Acts 10). Here was a man who thought that the gospel
would never move outside of the Jewish circles he knew. But miraculously,
with the urging (nay, prodding) of God, Peter finally took the plunge and
traveled to Caesarea to preach Jesus Christ to a Gentile, to someone whom
he could previously envision only as something akin to a reptile, a
cloven-hoofed animal, or any number of other bestiary symbols of ritual
But when Peter got
to Caesarea, a most wonderful thing happened. God's Spirit, the same
Spirit that moved within Peter, descended upon Cornelius. In wonder, Peter
exclaimed, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized
who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" On that day Peter’s
life changed, for it was on that day that he met his brother in Cornelius.
In the eighties film
Wings of Desire, angels are sent down to earth to watch over the
planet's sad inhabitants. These invisible messengers hear the silent
stories of humans, comforting and holding them in invisible arms as they
cry. We may wonder: Is it only angels who can possess this kind of vision?
What would I have to do to see the person in front of me truly, not as a
construct of demography but as a child of God?
No, we do not have
to be angels. For the story of Peter gives us a very clear message. If we
are prayerful, if we are attentive to the cues, large and small, that the
Lord gives us, we too can change the way we look into the faces of those
Lord, fill us with
your love. Give us new eyes to see with. Help us to see your children, our
brothers and sisters, all around us.