What we see, we value.
In a sense, this is a truism. Certainly, if you include the widest sense of “seeing” – seeing of the mind’s eye, as well as the physical one. What we don’t perceive, arguably, we are not conscious of, so how can we possibly ascribe conscious value to it?
In the first chapter of “Dethroning Mammon – Making Money Serve Grace”, Justin Welby addresses this problem of “seeing”, recognising that our “sight” (both physical and metaphorical) is often conditioned in such a way that, effectively, we miss the wood for the trees. He reminds us that, “Jesus spent much of his ministry sorting out the mis-seeing of others.” (p12) And, of course, that’s true. Jesus’ teaching is often about getting people to look at things from unusual angles so that they notice entirely different things about what is in front of their noses. Even though nothing apparently may have changed, suddenly, the world seems, or feels, quite different under his tutoring.
I think this is the reason that Jesus teaches in parables. Parables invite us to approach the familiar and the matter-of-fact, from an unexpected angle that has the capacity to change not what we see, but what we register and how we respond to that. It’s all about what we notice, what we pick out, from what is already there in front of us.
The poem, “The Bright Field”, by RS Thomas, the Welsh poet, makes this point perfectly:
“I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.”
The difficulty is how to develop our capacity to notice and to recognise things for what they are. So often we don’t. As Elizabeth Barrett-Browning puts it, in her long poem, Aurora Leigh,
“Earth’s cramm’d with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God:
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
Some things to ponder this week:
- What things help you to notice more in the world around you?
- How do you think we can train ourselves to “see” more truthfully?
- Expectation has a great deal to do with what we perceive, both in a mundane sense and in a theological one. What are your levels of expectation like?