Did you know that nearsightedness is a dominant gene? That means that as the human race continues, fewer and fewer people will go throughout life without needing some sort of corrective lenses, and one day, every human being will need help seeing. I dream of LASIK surgery to correct my own vision, as I have been told my vision is not 100%, 20/20 correctible. I will always see things a little less clearly than is ideal.
I think we face that spiritually too. None of us can see things exactly as they are—only God can do that. All human beings are at least a little spiritually nearsighted. It’s the consequence of living as time-bound creatures, rather than eternal Creators. We just can’t see the whole picture. I like to think that at its best Christianity offers us a pretty good “corrective lens” in Jesus, but I also recognize that over the last two millennia we have too often allowed the glass to get smudged and dirty, making it harder, rather than easier, to see.
Sometimes, we can’t see what is right in front of our eyes because our own expectations get in the way. We don’t see what is because it’s not what we expect.
We see this in today’s Gospel reading. Just before this passage we hear the story of Peter declaring that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and then turning right around and rebuking Jesus when he tries to clarify what that means. Jesus won’t be marching triumphant into Jerusalem and kick the Romans out. He’ll be crucified. He’ll die. He’ll be buried. Not the outcome Peter was hoping for. Not what he was expecting.
You’ll hear how that conversation turns out in a couple of weeks; suffice it to say Jesus decided they needed a little remedial discipleship training. So he takes Peter, James and John—the “inner circle”—with him up the mountain.
And he is transfigured before them. Dazzling white clothes, Elijah and Moses standing there talking with him. It was more than they could take in. I imagine them squinting before the brightness of it, can’t you? Trying to cover their eyes, to not see, because it was too much for them to take in. They couldn’t make sense of it. I believe this is why Jesus tells them not to say anything about it. He knows that their minds have not made sense of what their eyes saw, and if they try to talk about it they’ll get it wrong. They’ll focus on the glory, and forget what he said about what has to come before. Crucifixion, death, burial.
In response, Peter offers to make three dwellings, three boxes. He uses something from his religious tradition to try to make sense of this new thing. This is a normal cognitive process when you see something completely foreign. Find something familiar and put it in the same category. Contain it. Control it. Try to shape it into something familiar. Something like what you expected, or could at least expect in the future.
We have done the same, in trying to make sense of this over the years. Scholars will explain that Moses represents the law and Elijah the prophets, and Jesus speaking with the two of them shows that he is Lord of both. We hear in the voice an echo of what was said in Jesus’ baptism, “Here is my Son, the Beloved” and ignore the “listen to him” part of the sentence. Perhaps because that “listen to” might more accurately be translated “obey.”
This is not a Jesus we can keep in a box, like the baby in the manger. This is a Jesus who has expectations of us. Expectations that we allow our spiritual vision to be corrected as much as is possible, that we keep the lens as clean as possible. That we keep our eyes open, even when we don’t like what we see.
This is the end of the season of Epiphany. That season that begins with the light of a star and ends with the light of the transfigured Christ. On Wednesday we mark the beginning of the season of Lent by smudging ash on our foreheads and reminding ourselves that we have too often tried to put Jesus in a box under the bed. Too often only seen the sweet little baby in the manger and ignored the man on the cross.
So I invite you to a season of seeing and listening, this Lent. Seeing Christ in unexpected people; listening to the voice of God calling you to unexpected places.
Lent can be a time of looking past our own expectations of who God is, of who we are. It can be a time to set aside our assumptions about things, and allow God to speak to us anew. If you don’t already set aside some time each day to connect with God, try it. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. If this is already part of your daily routine, try changing it up a little.
Read a little bit of the Bible each day (Christ in Our Home/Forward Day-by-Day lists the daily lectionary, if you don’t know where to start). Choose one word or image to reflect upon throughout the day. Maybe the Bible has become too familiar, too expected. Try reading something else that feeds your spirit—a devotional, a great, thought-provoking novel, a biography of someone you have always admired.
Check out the options for morning and evening prayer or daily devotions from a tradition you don’t know well—both the Lutheran book of worship and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer have forms you can use. You could also explore what the Roman Catholics or the Methodists have to offer. Pray for the people on the prayer list. Pray for a person you would rather not pray for.
Begin keeping a spiritual journal. Jotting down where you experienced the presence of God that day, or something for which you are grateful.
Take a walk—around the house or around the neighborhood—and see if God draws your attention to something you hadn’t noticed before. Try a new spiritual practice: centering prayer or walking prayer, prayer beads or a rosary; singing or chanting or yoga. There’s a great app called “Insight Timer” you can download for free on your phone, which offers all sorts of resources from many traditions.
If you always find God in words, buy a box of crayons or colored pencils and try drawing your prayer, take up knitting or crocheting or needlework and allow the rhythm of the stitching become a way of meditation. Use the phone on your camera to take a photo every day—maybe even the same photo of something outside, and watch how the coming of spring is revealed in tiny ways every day.
If you are primarily visual, try singing a hymn instead. Even if you think you can’t sing. Especially if you think you can’t sing. Listen to music that feeds your soul—hymns or chants, contemporary Christian music, or even just the sounds of the ocean or rain.
Buy flowers every week and as you look at them, remember that life is short but beautiful.
Learn to bake bread.
Open your heart to people in need, by donating time or money, by praying for them, by setting aside any expectations or assumptions you may have and really seeing them.
Rather than thinking of Lent as a time of penitence and focusing on how you’ve failed to listen, to obey, perhaps you can think of it as a spiritual eye exam to try to address and correct any spiritual nearsightedness you’ve developed over the past year, helping you see more clearly so that you can respond to God’s call to listen, to obey, to follow Christ wherever he leads. To see how he turns an instrument of death into a symbol of new life for all.