I like looking at people. There are all kinds of good places to do thisâ€”at the airport, on a train, from a shop window...
Sometimes Iâ€™ll look at a young child and think, what will this boy look like when heâ€™s an old man? I can almost see that ancient face amid childhoodâ€™s bloom. Other times, I look at the old. Their faces are often so tired and sad. But if I look closelyâ€”in their eyes, the curves and planes of their bonesâ€”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?
Nowadays such occasions are rare. Mostly, I simply see what I want to see in other people. Itâ€™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. â€œThough 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).
Letâ€™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 uncleanness.
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 Peterâ€™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 around us.
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.