I was buying some new sunglasses this summer while our son Ben was visiting, and he said, “Mum, try these,” and handed me his pair. I put them on and they had a sort of tint that made everything seem warm and yellow and clear. “Aren’t they great?” Ben said. “When I wear them the whole world looks happy.”
What kind of lens do you typically see the world through, and what difference does it make?
I stopped to chat with a neighbour yesterday, while we were both walking our dogs, and he told me it was the 29th anniversary of his diagnosis with an incurable disease. Initially he didn’t expect to see even a few months, but remarkably he has survived. And I wonder if the gift of these extra weeks and months and years is what’s made him the gentle, calm soul he is, who lives a very simple life but with what seems to be a peaceful equanimity.
If you were seeing through the lens of each day of life being a surprising bonus gift, how would that make a difference?
I have a friend I’ll call Maria. I met her in C. America, and she opened my eyes to seeing the world through the lens of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. She made me recognize my privilege and ease, and she constantly challenges me to play my part – no matter how small – in the great project of working for justice and struggling to make the world a fairer place. It’s often an uncomfortable lens to see through, from my bubble of privilege, and I’m always aware of how much I still have to learn and change. But it’s a lens I cannot down because it’s also a lens I find in the Bible, in Jesus and the prophets.
The readings today are about how we see the world and our lives. In the Wisdom of Solomon the world as seen through the lens of “the ungodly” is described as a place where you strive to acquire for yourself what you can while you can, regardless of the needs of others. Life is seen as meaningless and uncertain, so you indulge yourself in the transitory pleasures of life, and you shut out the voices of those annoying bores “the righteous,” with their talk about God and sin and wisdom.
But, says the writer, these people are blind to the deeper reality of how God is at work in the world. And he ends this way: “For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity [or nature].”
What would it be like, how would we live our lives, if we truly believed that we are made in the image of God, as Genesis 1 says in the creation story? That life is full of God’s meaning and purpose, not just a scrabble to get by in a meaningless universe?
My spiritual director is fond of saying that we all live in the divine milieu, we’re all made in God’s image and suffused with God’s grace, so we can relax a bit, and know that ultimately there’s nothing to prove and nothing to fear. Our true selves are already at home with God: it’s the fragile ego that imagines it’s separate and threatened and has to constantly prove itself and defend itself.
That lens of seeing the divine milieu all around us all the time enabled some of the great figures in our faith history to sacrifice their lives, knowing that even death can’t separate us from God’s grace and love.
And that, surely, was the lens Jesus saw the world and his life through. He knew that the path he had chosen would inevitably lead to suffering and death, and he tried to prepare his disciples for that by speaking to them of it, as he does in today’s gospel. And he also knew that his death wouldn’t be the end, so he spoke of resurrection, too.
But the disciples have an entirely different lens at this point: they’re busy arguing with each other about which of them is the greatest. They’re seeing through the lens of competition and self-aggrandizement and ego. They have a sort of Teflon coating on their minds, so that Jesus’ repeated words about taking up the cross, about the first becoming last, about a seed having to die before it can grow – all those words and teachings just slide right off them, and they bicker about who’s the best. They seem incredibly childish.
But I’m not doing children justice, because Jesus actually uses a little child as a role model for them, to try to teach them what it means to trust, to be humble and vulnerable, to see through a lens that isn’t clouded with self-important ego. Little children know they’re powerless; they know they depend on the kindness of others and the community around them to flourish. They sometimes speak the truth with astonishing clarity, when adults fudge and dodge around it. We have a lot to learn from seeing through the lens of a child.
What sort of lens do you tend to see the world through?
A sunny tint that sees joy everywhere?
A lens of gratitude for the gift of life?
A lens of passion for justice or a lens of cynicism?
A lens of scarcity and worry or a lens of trust and vulnerability?
Our faith is a lens, and perhaps when we gather together as a community it’s a bit like a visit to the optometrist so that we can see more clearly: see that life is an extraordinary gift; that God is with us; that we can trust ourselves to the divine milieu, and see more and more who we truly are. Amen.