For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 NRSV)
In 1967, one year before she left the convent that had become too hectic a place for her to take up a quieter life of making art full time, the American artist Sister Corita Kent published a book, Footnotes and Headlines: a play-pray book. The book is an interaction between the typographic poster art of the ordinary, for which she’d become famous, and a playful prayer-poem that runs its length.
Pages 26 & 27 present the image above under which is the following:
evil may be not seeing well enough
so perhaps to become less evil we need only to see more
see what we didn’t see before and here everybody is in the game
things look different to different people depending on where
and if we can share views not convert other to our views
we would get a larger vision
no single group can do it alone the job is too big and we can only make it
if we work it out together
and this is true on a worldwide scale
that if we’re not going to find a way
to work it
the whole thing is going to come apart
we need each person each community giving its gift its vision
and this will result in a dialogic system which is the only system
elastic enough for the whole moving picture
Excerpt From Footnotes and Headlines by Sister Corita Kent, (Herder and Herder) 1967.
The entire book is charming for its earnest playfulness and gravely hopeful tone. These two pages, however, especially leapt out at me because, for several years now, I’ve had Paul’s words about “seeing in a mirror, dimly” lodged in my mind.
Here at Valpo, I’d picked up this familiar phrase as a call to the sort of intellectual humility necessary to navigate an ideologically pluralistic environment. I can’t claim to have everything exactly right, but then, neither can you. This fact obliges us to hold our positions loosely and allow that we might have overlooked something. It also risks a kind of relativism. If neither of us can have it exactly right, who can? Who’s to judge? We’re left, this side of eternity, with our growing list of questions to be resolved on that great day when we “see face to face.”
This summer, I picked up a book that I’d intended to read for a while, Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening. I was attracted to it because it’s a graphic novel and I’d read somewhere that it was Sousanis’ Ph.D. dissertation. Who gets away with submitting a graphic novel as dissertation?
Unflattening is a treatise on the nature of thinking and knowing. Early on, Sousanis employs the metaphor of binocular vision to make an important point. Neither of our eyes sees the full truth. If we look at a distant object, like a light pole, and cover one eye and then the other, we’ll experience the pole moving from side to side. Sousanis’ question is, “Which eye is correct? Where’s the pole?” We need both eyes to have the most accurate perspective.
I find this a helpful and hopeful supplement to my initial reading of Paul. Each of us sees as in a mirror, dimly, all of us need to hold our positions loosely. They are necessarily incomplete, yet, when we meet, it’s not merely mutual toleration of one another’s incomplete knowledge, our conversation has the potential to fill things out to a fuller perspective. Not perfect, but fuller. We’ll not get it absolutely right, but our conversation will go a long way to polishing the mirror.
Finding Corita’s poetic prayer adds to my wonder.
One day we will know fully, even as we are now, by our creator, fully known – known and yet beloved.
Sept. 30, 2020
Image credit: From Footnotes and Headlines by Sister Corita Kent, (Herder and Herder) 1967