Over the winter break, I spent a few days with my mom in Minnesota. Whenever I am “back home,” I think about the various stories and experiences from my childhood that were formative in my identity, my ways of thinking, and my ways of being. Some of those stories and experiences are rather profound: they actually altered the course of my life. Other such stories and experiences are more of the “everyday” variety, but still they have stuck with me, and they come to mind at various times in my life.
I am not sure why, but my trip home this time caused me to think about stories that my mom told me over the years about her own childhood. Mom is in the season of life in which she is downsizing, going through a lifetime of things, sorting, tossing, and passing on, and while we certainly cannot keep all of the “tangibles” that have been gathered over the decades, we can keep the stories.
One of my favorite stories from my mom’s childhood is about the day that she got her first pair of glasses. Mom was little — early elementary school age — and she remembers that she and her parents had to take quite a lengthy trip from their farm in northern Minnesota to the eye doctor in Duluth.
The day that the glasses arrived in the mail, my grandma brought them to Mom at her one-room country school, and she went out in the entryway to try them on. When Mom turned back toward the classroom, she literally could not believe what she saw. Surprised, she said something like this: “Mom, I can see what people’s faces look like — eyes, and noses, and mouths.” It was an illuminating discovery.
On Mom’s way home from school, her amazement continued. She remembers that it was the first time that she actually saw leaves on the trees. Apparently Mom’s eyesight had been quite poor for longer than anyone was aware, and while she knew that leaves grew on trees, she was so nearsighted that she could not see them. Before she had her glasses, she had no idea what things more than a short distance away, actually looked like. When Mom first put on her glasses as a little girl, it was a moment of revelation. It was an epiphany.
Mom’s glasses helped her see that which had really been there all along, but what her limited vision had obscured. I can understand. I, too, am terribly nearsighted. Without my glasses, nothing looks like it really is. When I try to read an eye chart without my glasses, I cannot even make out the large, bold “E” that I know is on the top of the diagram. When I pay attention, putting on my glasses is sort of an epiphany too. With them, I see differently.
I sometimes think that we go through life, each needing a special pair of glasses, glasses that help us see differently – especially when it comes to seeing one another. It is so easy to look at people and think we know what is going on in their lives. It is so easy to look at someone and form a quick, snap judgment of them, simply because of what we think we see. Likewise, it is so easy to look past people, and not even see them at all.
In the Christian church, we are in the season of Epiphany — the time when we celebrate and reflect upon God’s revelation in Jesus for the whole world, not just for a few. This past Sunday, many Christians around the world heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Mark. In this story, when Jesus is baptized, the heavens are torn apart, the spirit of God comes into Jesus, and a voice from the heavens calls Jesus “beloved.” This story is an epiphany, a moment of revelation. It helps us see Jesus differently.
This story also sets in motion the rest of Jesus’ life. Through Jesus’ words and deeds, through where he goes, what he says and what he does, Jesus wants others to know that they, too, are beloved of God.
Jesus sees people whom others do not see at all. Jesus sees people with love and mercy, where others would see with disdain or malevolence. Jesus sees people with grace and forgiveness where others would see with judgment. Jesus sees others with epiphanic eyesight — vision that sees as God does, not as we often do.
As this new semester begins, not much has changed in the public life of our wider society: There is still much bickering, disagreement, and division. We are still polarized, and we still can easily disappear inside our own little bubbles of like-minded peers, but I wonder what would happen if each of us made an intentional effort to see one another with epiphanic eyesight — to look at one another, and attempt to see each other as God sees us, to look at one another — especially those who are different from ourselves — and see the beloved of God.
It might be an illuminating discovery. A revelation. An epiphany. I invite you to give it a try.
Jan. 10, 2018
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.