“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
Not as man sees does God see
In today’s first reading Samuel is by God sent to anoint the new king of Israel. Looking at Jesse’s sons, he is certain that Eliab must be the chosen one because he is so tall and strong and handsome. But God tells him,
”Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”
I’ve been thinking about that challenge recently: how to see as God sees. How to look past appearances and to see to the heart of things.
A man who was less willing to listen to God than Samuel was, who was more set on following his own plans, might have ignored the voice of God and anointed the wrong son. How often do we even ask God which is the right choice to make? How often do we try to look past the surface and to see into the heart?
Of course, not being God, we cannot look into the hearts of men. We can barely see into our own hearts, much less know the hearts of others. But we can at least begin by paying attention to others, by giving them the benefit of the doubt and not assuming the worst, by listening, really listening to what other people have to say and not pushing them into our preconceived boxes.
I’m thinking of the series of blog posts that Bearing has been writing about civility, about paying attention and acknowledging others; and about thinking the best and listening and being inclusive. Though the book and ideas are explicitly Christian, I think they are implicitly so because it strikes me that all of these rules for civility move us closer to seeing others as God sees them and as loving them as God loves them, as unique and beloved individual persons. The rules of civility aren’t a formula for loving others, but they are guideposts as to how to manifest love for others in our daily interactions. Love begins with deeds, with treating people with respect and dignity and care.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord
The second reading continues the theme of seeing with God’s eyes and learning what is pleasing to God: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
The imagery of moving from darkness to light anticipates the cure of the man born blind in the Gospel. But the admonition to learn what is pleasing to God, echoes God’s reproach to Samuel. This week I had reason to recollect a book that I read quite a few years ago, He Leadeth Me by Fr Walter Ciszek, SJ. What I particularly remember from that book, which recounts Fr. Ciszek’s experience of being in a Soviet prison and work camp, is his learning how to discern the will of God. He discovers that the will of God is embodied very simply in the people and challenged he encounters as he goes through each day:
We had accepted them as abstract principles of the spiritual life, but they had not become part of our daily lives. At least they had not so far been operative in our approach to life and our dilemma at Teplaya-Gora.
If they had been, we would have understood much earlier that our sale purpose at Teplaya-Gora—as indeed in our whole lives—was to do the will of God. Not the will of God as we might wish it, or as we might have envisioned it, or as we thought in our poor human wisdom it ought to be. But rather the will of God as God envisioned it and revealed it to us each day in the created situations with which he presented us. His will for us was the twenty-four hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time. Those were the things God knew were important to him and to us at that moment, and those were the things upon which he wanted us to act, not out of any abstract principle or out of any subjective desire to “do the will of God.” No, these things, the twenty-four hours of this day, were his will; we had to learn to recognize his will in the reality of the situation and to act accordingly. We had to learn to look at our daily lives, at everything that crossed our path each day, with the eyes of God; learning to see his estimate of things, places, and above all people, recognizing that he had a goal and a purpose in bringing us into contact with these things and these people, and striving always to do that will—his will—every hour of every day in the situations in which he had placed us. For to what other purpose had we been created? For what other reason had he so arranged it that we should be here, now, this hour, among these people? To what other end had he ordained our being here, if not to see his will in these situations and to strive to do always what he wanted, the way he wanted it, as he would have done it, for his sake, that he might have the fruit and the glory?
Our dilemma at Teplaya-Gora came from our frustration at not being able to do what we thought the will of God ought to be in this situation, at our inability to work as we thought God would surely want us to work, instead of accepting the situation itself as his will. It is a mistake easily made by every man, saint or scholar, Church leader or day laborer. Ultimately, we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and to help us fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.
The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. To predict what God’s will is going to be, to rationalize about what his will must be, is at once a work of human folly and yet the subtlest of all temptations. The plain and simple truth is that his will is what he actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people, and problems. The trick is to learn to see that—not just in theory, or not just occasionally in a flash of insight granted by God’s grace, but every day. Each of us has no need to wonder about what God’s will must be for us; his will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as he sees them and sends them to us.
(You can read a longer excerpt here: Knowing and Doing the Will of God)
Of all the spiritual books I’ve read, this one has made one of the most profound impressions on me. This vision of knowing God’s will as bodied forth in the particular”circumstances, places, people, and problems” of daily life is so simple and so vastly different than anything I’d encountered before.
So that the works of God might be made visible
In his homily this morning Father pointed out that so often even today we get stuck in thinking that suffering is a result of sin. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Surely if I’m suffering I must have displeased God. I must be doing something wrong. God is trying to teach me something.
But Jesus turns that idea on its head:
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Instead of asking why I suffer, perhaps I ought to ask, How ought I to suffer? How can my suffering make the works of God visible through me? How can I live today so as to be the light of God shining in the world, even when I am in pain? Or, as one long-ago homily that is seared into my memory suggested, quoting Pope John Paul II: “Do not let your suffering go to waste.”
Jesus cures the blind man and his cure isn’t only a restoration of his physical sight. Rather, he also comes to see and recognize who Jesus is. At first he identifies Jesus as, “The man.” Then he begins to see more clearly: “He is a prophet,” he attests. And in the end, “He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.”
What is it that the blind man comes to see? Jesus. He encounters the Lord, the light. It is when we are struggling in the dark that it is hardest to see Jesus. We think we cannot know his will or do his will because we are crippled by our pain, or by our sins. And yet, if Fr Ciszek is right, then all that we need to do God’s will in the midst of the darkness of sin and suffering is to see that his will is here and now, in the mess of the present moment.
Now is the acceptable time, this present moment is his moment. How can his light shine in this present darkness? How can I see with God’s eyes, to the heart of the matter? It seems impossible.
O Lord my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms,
even so my soul.
To find rest in his will, not not seek too much for the meaning of things, but to set myself instead like a child, trusting in the Father to carry me to where I need to be. Or, in the words of the Anima Christi: “Within your wounds hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from you.” When suffering is immense it’s tempting to look for reasons, to make it make sense. But perhaps to look at it from God’s perspective is to let go of the need for making sense of it and instead to give it meaning by what I do with it. Do I let my suffering consume me, make me bitter and blind to everyone and everything around me? Or do I surrender to living today as a child of the Light, content merely to be in His presence and to strive make Him present to others?
What is it that God wants me to see right here and right now? What am I blind to? Or perhaps it’s not a what but a who? Who is it that I need to see? Who is it that am I not seeing? Am I missing the person before me, so caught up in my pain that I ignore the pains and needs of others? Am I missing a chance to love and to be loved? Or am I neglecting to ask for help, to allow someone else to be Christ to me, to mediate his love by tending to my wounds? Am I too proud to be vulnerable, to ask for help?
Seek His face. Isolated and alone, blind and in pain, there is one option always open to me, to look for the light.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.