To See is to Live
The title of this inspirational piece is close to the old saying, “to see is to believe.” There certainly is some truth to this old saying, but that is not quite what I want to give focus. Obviously, believing can be very important. And not believing might be even more important. For example, the people today who do not believe there is a climate challenge are sadly off base. I trust the scientists and, sometimes, I trust my own eyes when I am in a place like Shanghai, Los Angeles or almost any big city on a truly smoggy, bad-air day.
The title of this inspirational message, however, refers to a one-liner I recently encountered again in a reading of Richard Rohr’s book, Everything Belongs. Rohr is a favorite author for me and that means I return to his writings from time to time. His truths speak to me every time I look at one of his books. I had occasion again to read the second chapter of Rohr’s book and that’s when I bumped into this sentence. “Spirituality is about seeing.”
I could be cute and say that reading that sentence opened my eyes! I don’t want to be cute, but in some real way that sentence does open our eyes. I think it is true. Hopefully, my reflections on that passage makes its truth come to be more obvious and clearer. It seems certain to me that the passage cannot be read at the literal level. If spirituality is about seeing---literally speaking---then blind people are literally in trouble. That would mean they never could see! At the literal level, that is true. But at the metaphorical level that obviously is not at all true.
When Rohr says that spirituality is about seeing, we necessarily move to the non-literal level. Early on in elementary school we learn the phrase, “I see.” Seldom does this refer to literal seeing. It means we understand the math problem or the science experiment. It references a move from ignorance to some level of knowledge. Often we use this phrase to express the insight we just gained. Notice that word, “in-sight.”
To have insight means we are able to “look in” something and see things that may have been hidden. Insight is a form of knowing and understanding. It is the springboard to wisdom. We can never have wisdom without insight. And spirituality is the process of gaining this kind of insight, knowledge and wisdom into the way we are living our lives. I realize it is fully possible to live without gaining any insight. It is possible to live life only at the literal seeing level. This is where Rohr’s further words are helpful to us.
Immediately after the initial sentence about seeing leads to living, he adds, “It’s not about earning or achieving.” I wince a little when reading this sentence. So much of American culture is a rewards-based culture. Work hard and reap the benefits. Study hard and you will succeed. Take care of yourself and you will live a long and happy life. Indeed, there are many more of these kinds of platitudes that govern our lives. Of course, most of them contain partial truths and are worthy of being heeded. But life comes with virtually no guarantees.
True “seeing” gives us the clues to authentic living. With this kind of seeing, we are able to live lives of meaning and purpose. Our lives have a point and are worthwhile. We don’t feel like we have wasted or been wasted by life. There is a reason to get out of bed, embrace the day and live fully. We all know people who manage to pull off this kind of life. Too often, it only elicits jealousy. We find reasons to be dismissive of these kinds of folks. They are lucky or privileged in some ways we aren’t. We complain about our own fortunes.
Instead of figuring out how we can come to “see,” we may sulk and grump that life sucks. Complaining usually means I don’t see. And hearing this likely makes me mad or even more grumpy! Rohr adds another helpful thought. Spirituality is about seeing, not earning or achieving. He nails it for me when he comments, “It is about relationship rather than results or requirements.” I could nod my head to this notion, but realize it flies in the face of what I heard---either explicitly or implicitly while growing up in the church.
I am not sure it is fair, but my memory tells me the spirituality I heard while growing up had a great deal to deal with earning and achieving. In this the religious message seemed all too like the school message. Work hard. Be obedient. Be a good boy. Don’t rock the boat. These kinds of phrases and more tumble out of my mind. None of them are bad in their own right. But I am not sure they helped me orient myself in such a way to “see” and to begin to gain some insight.
I am confident my growing up years worried too much about believing and not enough about living. Of course, they wanted me to live rightly. But this often meant following rules and standards, which often looked too much like cultural norms rather than spiritual truths. Rohr and people like him helped me get radical. I did not get radical like some of the others in the 1960s.
I wanted to get radical in the deeper meaning of that word: getting to the root of things. For me that meant getting back to the radical message of Jesus and the women and men of my early Quaker tradition. They could teach me again about life, not just doctrine. I am still learning to see that I might live.