We need holy sight to see ourselves, each other

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How do we see each other? I’ve been pondering this, in view of the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector, who were praying in the same place, but not together.

You may know the story. The tax collector beat his chest, confessing his sins, while the Pharisee gave thanks that, unlike the sinful tax collector, he was an upright religious man.

Obviously the Pharisee could see the tax collector kneeling in prayer, but he could not see him in the fullness of his humanity or his dignity as a child of God.

Within the context of the parable, he could not even see himself in any truthful way, through the veil of his prideful religiosity.

As for the tax collector, he could more honestly see himself as an unworthy and sinful man. Perhaps, through the act of being in conversation with God, he might also become more open to seeing himself as one created and loved by God. We don’t know.

I wonder if he could see himself more fully if he could also see the Pharisee in the fullness of his humanity and dignity as a child of God?

Maybe, but did he even know he was there?

It brings up the question of how well you and I see ourselves or the other, and whether, for those of us who claim to be Christian, it’s an important ingredient of our faith?

How well do we see ourselves? How well do we see the other?

How well do we see us in our relationships with each other?

I suspect not very well, because the discipline of seeing the other through eyes that have been fearlessly honest is hard work. We need help.

Consider the healing stories in which Jesus restores sight to the blind. In all but one, the newly sighted person can immediately see with full understanding.

Persons long blind who recover their sight have a hard time doing that. The visual image of something as simple as a chair may be incomprehensible to one who has never seen a chair, but has learned its use through other senses. How much more difficult to comprehend a crowd of people?

Yet those healed by Jesus could see with understanding, and I think that’s important.

When Jesus heals our blindness, we are able to see both ourselves and others with understanding.

I call it holy sight. However, we are reluctant to receive that kind of healing, mostly because we don’t think we are blind.

We are like the blind man in Mark’s gospel who was taken to Jesus for healing, but on the first try could only see things that looked like trees walking.

Jesus had to take another shot at it.

I was struck by that in recent meditations on St. Teresa and John Calvin.

To oversimplify, Teresa’s lifelong search for holy sight discovered an essentially good self, which contrasts with Calvin’s lifelong search for holy sight that discovered an essentially corrupt self.

Each could see, but not clearly. Perhaps an unlikely marriage of Teresa and Calvin would bring them closer to the restoration of holy sight.

The Episcopal baptismal covenant takes me in that direction by asking me to affirm that I will, by word and example, proclaim the good news of God in Christ, and that I will respect the dignity of every human being.

I’m not very good at doing that, but the more intentional I am at engaging in that work brings me a little closer to the restoration of holy sight.

In like manner, during the general confession each Sunday, we admit that we have not loved God or our neighbor in the right way.

In other words, we have not seen with holy sight either ourselves or the other. I regret that I too often mumble the confession out of rote memory without pausing to consider the depth of what I have said.

Like the man with restored but fuzzy, out of focus sight, I need Jesus to take another shot at it.

It’s what we all need. I’m not very good at it. How about you?

The Rev. Steven Woolley is retired rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. He serves at Grace Church in Dayton as well as chaplain of the Walla Walla Fire Department. Contact him at sewoolley@mac.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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