On Seeing

How does one never not see something? Because let’s be honest, there is so much beauty to see in this world and I don’t want to miss a drop of it.

But sometimes we ignore it, or even maybe even worse– fail to see it. Maybe we aren’t looking in the right place to begin with.

Today I spoke to my brother who is on the other side of the world.

I keep hoping he will send me photographs of this otherworld where I’ve yet to venture, but of course he states there is nothing to see. How does one not see something, anything?

Flannery O’Connor, one of our country’s finest writers, deals with this in her novel Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. In one anecdote, O’Connor describes a telephone technician who came to her yard. The man insisted a particular, ornery bird unleash the panache of brilliant feathers for his observation. O’Connor writes, “The display was perfect. The bird turned slightly to the right and the little planets above him hung in bronze, and he turned slightly to the left and they were hung in green. I went up to the truck to see how the man was affected by the sight” (11). The man’s reaction, however, must have been disappointing to O’Connor, since he simply commented on the bird’s gangly and unattractive legs (12). If a person fails to see the beauty around him, naturally his life will not be enhanced by the joy and truth it can bring.

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I remember when I was first changed– and charged– by beauty. Looking out at the majestic peaks of Yosemite National Park–looking into the shimmery veil of rain over the Grand Canyon– I remember thinking: these could only be created by the Hand of God. And slowly I remember watching the shadows shift to dusk over both landscapes until He hung the stars in the sky, one by one.

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Suddenly I felt as if I was not at the center of the universe, that there was One who surely created it all: beautiful objects are the subtle fingerprints that God lays upon the earth, nudging humans to believe that He is the creator of them.

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As Lucy Shaw, an essayist in The Christian Imagination, writes:

“Beauty is perhaps one of the few things that constantly calls us back to God, that reminds us of a standard of goodness, vitality, and reality that embodies the beautiful. The Benedictines hold that beauty is ‘truth shining into being,’ a principle adopted by John Keats in his famous line ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty” (82).

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God scatters beauty throughout the world:  gilded, crispy autumn leaves, the majestic ice glazed mountains, or the furiously stern grays and purples of a winter storm. When people perceive such natural splendor, they have no excuse to refute the truth of a creator.

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So how can we see this beauty, anywhere, everywhere?  Slow down. Go to the thrift store, the park, the zoo. Take a walk.  Open your eyes to the wonder around. You might be surprised to find a rainbow of tulips dancing in the center of a Wal Mart aisle, a tiny lady bug cloaked in scarlet sitting on your finger, a flash of cobalt bluebird hiding in the tree beside your house, and– perhaps most importantly of all– the smile lines and and kind eyes of strangers living this peculiar and wonderful life right beside you.

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Truly, as the ever popular instagram hashtag proclaims, “nothing is ordinary.”

So in this world, let us learn to see anew.

2 thoughts on “On Seeing

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