Looking until you see

Is it true that seeing is believing? We have to see evidence with your own eyes before we can believe anything. After all, we are in an age of enlightenment when facts rule.

Or do our eyes play tricks on us?

Have you ever lost your keys and looked and looked for them, only to realise they were right in front of you! Hiding in plain sight. We didn’t see them because we didn’t expect them to be THERE.

Or have we ever seen someone and made a quick judgement about them only to realise we were completely wrong when we get to know them?

The trouble is that we usually look but don’t see. We scan, flip, scroll across images and through documents, skimming over the surface, picking up impressions but failing to grasp the depth and richness of content.

Part of my training to be a spiritual director was to learn to see deeply – to hold a space, a moment, a story, giving it time to unfold. Waiting for what is hidden to come to the surface. Watching and listening for what is truly there.

One challenging exercise was to choose something, anything, and simply give it my attention silently for 20 minutes. And then report back on what happened!

What happened was profound and memorable. Each of us in the group had a similar experience despite focussing on completely different things.

I chose a rose from the vase in my kitchen – a beautiful pink rose in its youthful beauty, erect and firm. I sat and looked, admired and enjoyed. It was easy to delight in its colour and its familiar, graceful shape. The queen of flowers!

Looking became seeing – the detail of its beautiful design and exquisite elegance.

Seeing became thinking about how this rose grew from a gnarled woody plant. How it produced such vibrant colour. How its life was short, and yet new flowers would grow to replace it.

Thinking became wonder at the fragility and complexity of something so beautiful and yet so short lived.

Wonder became a search for meaning. Why is there such fragile, vulnerable, recurring beauty? I felt hope in the cycle of life, death and resurrection in all nature.

That hope became an encounter with the creator and designer.

Einstein is supposed to have said that there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle and the other is as though everything is a miracle. In that 20 minutes I was in no doubt that the rose in front of me was a stunning miracle. It was a humbling awakening moment for me.

Jesus didn’t mince his words in condemning those who were so blinded by their antagonistic beliefs about him that they couldn’t see the truth of what was in front of them. You blind fools! he called them (Matthew 23:17). He told stories about everyday things – a farmer, a father, a businessman. Each to show us what God is like and that he is here with us in the everyday things of life.

Can we dare to let go of beliefs about God that stop us from seeing him right in front of our eyes?

Sometimes you have to believe to see.

Try this:

Is there someone or something that you could give your attention to for just 20 minutes? Who knows what beauty and vulnerability and hope you might discover?

We all need a mentor

We all need a mentor. Someone we can trust who knows the path we are walking, who understands our struggles and who can help us find our way through the maze of life.

A mentor gives us hope when our thoughts and emotions are spiralling out of control. When we feel lost, or stuck, or don’t know what to do. When we lose faith and fear creeps over us.

Perhaps the archetypal mentor is Yoda, the small green person who guided Obi-Wan Kenobi and the young Luke Skywalker throughout the terrifying intergalactic battles at the core of the Star Wars movies. He opened their eyes and their minds to new ways of seeing, believing and doing, helping them to fulfil their full potential.

For most of us, our mentors are much more recognisable. They are the people we meet along the way through life – parents, teachers, friends.

And yet we do have access to a whole host of other mentors through their writing and speaking.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist (Benedictine) Monk who committed most of his adult life to silence, solitude and service. In his inner life he developed a deep knowledge and experience of his christian faith, while engaging fully in his outer life with the challenges of being human in this complex and unfair world. He wrote more than 50 books on spirituality and social justice, giving us the opportunity to benefit from his great mind. He died in 1968 and yet his writing continues to inspire, challenge and encourage us.

One of his prayers is particularly well known as a prayer that anyone can pray. It is commonly known simply as The Thomas Merton Prayer.

Read the prayer slowly. Take time for the words to move from your head to your heart.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean
that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear,
for you are ever near me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton
1915 – 1968

Reflect on the wisdom, faith and experience of the man who wrote these words. Imagine who God is for him. Listen to what he is thinking and believing and trusting.

And listen carefully for any words that speak directly into your life and your situation.

Thomas Merton’s prayer can become your prayer. It can guide you and give you hope as it has done for countless others before you.

Prayer: keeping the appointment

Prayer is difficult.  Who doesn’t carry a burden of guilt or shame that their prayer life could be a lot better?

The simple prayers that served us well as a child don’t fit with the complexity of the issues we face as an adult.  Life around us changes, we change and our understanding of God changes.  How we pray and relate to God has to change too.  And yet, for all the teaching we might receive on how to live the christian life, practical teaching on how to pray does not figure in the list often enough.

time-72371_960_720 In my late teens I remember a powerful feeling of anger rise unexpectedly within me when a friend commented she was going home to have her ‘quiet time’. Her words cut to my heart.  They felt self-righteous of her and challenged me deeply because praying alone was something I found profoundly difficult. My mind wandered uncontrollably.  I found prayer lists and prayer mnemonics empty and unhelpful. I didn’t have the emotional maturity at that point to explore my anger, nor the experience to recognise we were operating as different people with different personalities and each with a different understanding of God and prayer.  Looking back we probably both felt insecure in our faith and were struggling to find a way to grow our relationship with God. Continue reading “Prayer: keeping the appointment”

Pushing through hopelessness

She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.     Luke 8:44

One of the biggest problems we face when suffering seems endless is that we give up hope. Because nothing has changed we believe nothing can change and nothing ever will change.

But some people find a way to keep moving forward.  We can learn from them.  Look at the woman who was isolated because of her suffering.

She has been bleeding for 12 years.  That is bad enough to endure, but on top of that the law says women are unclean while they bleed and until 7 days after the bleeding has stopped. She must keep separate from others to avoid making them unclean too.  But she seldom manages 7 bleed-free days.  And so the law makes her suffering worse.

She has no tampons or disposable pads with wings.  No FaceTime, Facebook or texting.  No iron tablets to top up her haemoglobin.

This woman is suffering, lonely and exhausted. Healers take her money but nothing changes.  She has good reason to slip into hopelessness and helplessness.

But she doesn’t.

Jesus approaches and a crowd gathers.  He is different from other healers.  People tell of his teaching and his miracles and his curious band of helpers – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna.  These women were truly mad and diseased until they met Jesus.  He not only healed them, he gave them a new purpose in life.  Jesus honours women.

touchThe woman pushes through the crowd and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak.  Immediately she knows her bleeding is healed and Jesus knows that someone has touched him.  He asks who touched him.  Her shame, disobedience and defiance are exposed.

Trembling, she tells Jesus why she touched him.

I never noticed that part of the story before.  She tells her story and Jesus listens. I wonder how much she tells him?  Yes, she will tell of her suffering and isolation.  She will also tell Jesus what she heard about him and why she wanted to touch him.  Perhaps she will mention how his attitude to women gives her courage.

Jesus hears more than the detail of her story.  He hears what she does not say and he understands her heart.  She is a woman who knows that her life has value; that she contributes to the lives of others; that life is a precious gift and can be lived well.

Most of all Jesus sees her trust in him.  As she reaches out to him to make her life better, he looks on her with the love of a father and says “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

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A prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, that you know us and you love us.  You see behind the outer shell of our lives to our deepest longings.   Help us to reach out to you, believing that you can bring healing and peace.  Amen