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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wisdom About Eyes

It is always fun to read something that looks intriguing, but you have no idea what’s coming.  That happened to me recently when I saw a title, “We must reclaim today’s ‘custody of the eyes.’  The author, Melissa Musik Nussbaum, was not someone I knew.  I learned she is a Catholic writer who lives in Colorado.  After reading this little reflection, I will be on the lookout for more of her writings.
   
I was not too surprised when she opened her reflections with reference to Matthew 5:29.  That passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount material in Matthew’s gospel.  It reads: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  I have read this passage many times and I think I know what it means.  But it is still a little intimidating.  I was eager to see what Nussbaum would do with it.
   
My intrigue heightened when I read these couple sentences.  She asks, “How could the first-century man Jesus have known how the human eye would surrender to the electronic eye? How could he have known what the eye would become, as not just an avenue for, but a source of disease, disorder and cruelty?”  Cleverly, she was finding a way to link that remote saying to our technological everyday world.  I was ready for more.
   
I like how she personalized the passage, which made it seem relevant to me, too.  She acknowledges, “Because, like most of us, I live in such a way that my "eye," the eye through I which I view and comprehend the world, is a collection of screens.”  Indeed, most of us see the world through our eyes.  Maybe that is even true for blind folks.  The difference is how they come to “see” their world.  I know I am such a visual person, it is unimaginable not to be able to see. 
   
And certainly for me, there are many different screens upon which I focus my eyes.  Through all these screens, our world is presented to us.  There is the computer screen, television, iPhone and all the material I read still in print form.  I know for a fact not everything I see is pure.  I watch violence and mayhem.  I see poverty and injustice.  I see a world that is too often in very sorry form and, sadly, I can ignore it.  I simply turn off a screen.  I can change channels or move on with my surfing.  I can engage with my eyes, but never actually engage.
   
So much of what we see today becomes quite compelling, if not addictive.  I think of the old saying, “he couldn’t tear his eyes away.”  Often our eyes become captive---having been captivated by something on the screen.  This is the point at which Nussbaum’s idea, “custody of the eyes,” comes into play.  I like that phrase.  Surely, those of us who have become addicted have lost custody of our eyes.  Nussabaum puts it poignantly when she describes it: “What relinquishing custody of the eyes may mean is that you can't unsee or erase from your sight or your mind” the things you see.  I like her two verbs here: unsee and erase. 
   
She offers some practical advice about custody of our eyes.  One piece of advice is to be careful about what we choose to look at in the first place.  If we choose wisely, then we have less “unseeing” to do.  We will need less often an eraser for our eyes.  She points to a truth that we do well to remember.  “Custody of the eyes simply means that your eyes are in your care, or custody.  They are not owned and controlled by Facebook or YouTube or any of the thousands of advertisers and Internet sites that sow clickbait, among even stories worth reading or sites worth visiting.”
   
In a few words I hear her, like I heard my mother: be careful.  I like it when she reminds me about our eyes, “We've handed them over and offered them up as we sit watching whatever those who do have custody of our eyes decide to show us.”  In effect, she asks me: who possesses your eyes?  My quick answer is, “I do.”  But that may only mean my eyes are still in my head.  The stuff coming into my eyes I may have abdicated control to some other, even unknown, entity.  My eyes are no longer filters for sin. 
   
Perhaps the central question Nussbaum poses for me is this: who controls your eyes?  Again, I am all too quick to assume I control my eyes.  But maybe I should watch myself for a few days and see all the things to which my eyes are drawn?  Where do I habitually go---without even thinking?  What kind of junk do I allow into my eyes?  Maybe eyes ingest junk food as surely as my mouth!
   
Do I have sound, healthy eyes?  My optometrist is not going to diagnose sinful eyes.  In fact, she never even asks that question!  I wear contacts to see more clearly.  But what I am choosing to see?  Am I even the custodian of my own eyes?  This must be what Jesus is really getting at.
   
I am going to pay attention.  I want to have custody of my eyes.  Thankfully this is wisdom about eyes.

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