The lamp of the body is the eye. ~ Luke 11:34
I was blind but now I see. ~ John Newton, “Amazing Grace”
Last week I called an old friend to touch base and catch up on our families, friends, and spiritual matters. We had a good flowing conversation. My friend has a strong faith and as a person of color she is navigating her way through the complex and difficult waters of race in America.
She shared some of her concerns and struggles. I listened and then she paused on the phone line… a long silence. “Craig, I have never asked you, but how do you think of yourself as a white man?” How do I see myself as a fairly healthy, middle class, white male in our country? How do I see myself within the history of white male power and control? It was a particularly good, critical question and I tried to answer it the best I could, and I’m still pondering it today.
Spirituality is all about seeing with new eyes. How do we see ourselves, our relationships, our church, our communities, our nation, our world, and our God? Do we see only light, or do we see darkness as well? Do they coexist with one another? Do we see “America the Beautiful,” and do we see deep flaws and wounds in need of healing? Do we see in whole or in part?
Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Luke 11:34). Rohr adds, “Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing. Full seeing seems to take a lifetime.”
The author Megan Chance writes, “Imagine you come upon a house painted brown. What color would you say the house was?” “Why, brown of course.” “But what if I came upon it from the other side, and found it to be white?” “That would be absurd. Who would paint a house two colors?” She ignored my question. “You say it’s brown and I say it’s white. Who’s right?” “We’re both right.” “No,” she said. “We’re both wrong. The house isn’t brown or white. It’s both. You and I only see one side, but that doesn’t mean the other side does not exist. To not see the whole is to not see the truth.”
Mature faith or “contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness,” writes Rohr. We might call this the third eye, the third way, or seeing with the eyes of God. We begin to see different sides of a house, an issue, a person. We see our own beauty and our flaws. We begin to recognize the complexity of a situation, of people, and we are compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity.
Difference does not seem to bother God or Jesus nearly as much as it bothers us. The stained glass window in our church of Jesus and the children is wonderful and holy. Jesus is brown; the children are brown, black, and white. Their garments flow loosely, and it’s hard to tell where one person ends and the other begins.
We like to put people and things in square boxes. Categories and labels: male or female, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, red or blue, black or white, rich or poor, good or bad, in or out. Do we or anyone else ever fit neatly into a box? Contemplation changes the way we see. We begin to see ourselves, people, and things in their wholeness. Perhaps Paul says it best, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).
Jesus is fully human and fully divine. How is that possible? We need new eyes to truly see Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. Are we gracious, kind, and generous; and are we impatient and petty at the same time? We need new eyes to see people and things in their entirety.
So, I wonder…how do I see myself as a white male? My father held my life in his hands, and he allowed me to fail and to succeed. He did not say much, but I knew I could always come home and that made all the difference. I am grateful for his patience with me. I appreciate the minister who continued to love me and Jennifer when we left his church for “higher ground.” He welcomed us home with open arms when we came back limping and wounded.
I also grew up in Central Texas with many good people. I heard my hometown, which I love, once had a sign on the outskirts of town that said, “If you’re black, don’t let the sun go down on your back in this town.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do know the culture ingrained in me a certain way to see white and non-white. The scales covered my eyes.
“We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. Think about that,” writes Rohr. My upbringing was full of grace, beauty, and wisdom and violent intolerance. I am very thankful for the gift of contemplation. Through grace, silence, and introspection we start to see with new eyes. The scales of fear and ignorance begin to fall off. As John Newton, a former slave trader, wrote in his enduring song, “I once was blind but now I see.”
“The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold,” says Rohr.
May the scales continue to fall from our eyes, so we can see in whole with the eyes of God.
May we see that we are all one in Christ.
Blessings and peace,