Saturday, January 16, 2016

learning to see

Two events, miles apart and so very different, linked hands in plain view, inviting me to consider them side by side.

The first, a memorial service. I had only met the man once in church before a dreadful disease took hold of his mind and dragged him on a downward spiral that ended this New Year's Day. I knew only the severity of his illness and saw the sorrow and courage of his wife as she came alone on Sundays. We connected briefly, the day I learned of his condition, and I held her in my heart for the ensuing weeks. When I heard of his death, I had to be there. For Char.

... for Dear Life (Photo: C Imes)
In that hour I learned volumes about the man whose rich life was cut short. An optometrist by profession, Don spent decades helping others to see. And on weekends? He explored the outdoors — camping, fishing, hunting, hiking — toting heavy camera lenses everywhere he went. Before the service started we were treated to a sampling of his award-winning work. He had such an eye for beauty! Butterflies up close, wildebeests crossing muddy rivers, birds in flight. Anyone can whip out a cell phone and snap a picture of nice scenery. It takes a special "eye" (and sophisticated equipment) to get the angle and the lighting and the aperture just right so that the picture comes alive. Don possessed that special sight.

From the service I headed directly to Newberg to teach my class on Wisdom Literature. The order of the day was understanding how Hebrew poetry works, especially proverbs. We began by discussing a chapter from Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. One student spoke up, "I really like how he related proverbs to photography. That's such an interesting way of thinking about it." Aha! Indeed, Ryken refers to these "wisdom teachers" as "the photographers of the Bible" (316, paraphrasing Robert Short, A Time to Be Born—A Time to Die).

And it's true, isn't it? The writers of proverbs have an extraordinary eye for ordinary things. They look at the same ship, the same busy street, the same plants, but they see beyond the surface, making connections that enlighten our minds and dazzle our ears. Here's a glimpse through the eyes of a sage:
"The LORD tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow's boundary stones in place." (Proverbs 15:25)
The images evoked by this proverb, chosen at random, are so vivid! See Yahweh himself, muscles gleaming in the hot Mediterranean sun, as he demolishes a stone house. See him cross the field with stone after plaster-crusted stone and place each deliberately as a boundary, while the grateful widow looks on, tears streaming down her face. See the proud man with arms crossed and furrowed brow, sputtering frustration, but unable to defend himself.

The sage could have said, "It is inadvisable to be proud" and "You should not take advantage of the poor." But here instead we have a living image, painted in words, that joins both ideas. Yahweh himself takes action. We watch him at work. We stand at the sidelines feeling chastened or grateful or energized -- depending on the state of our own hearts.

Captured Alive (Photo: C Imes)
And as we seek to understand this picture in words, we begin to see what the wise one sees. We are overtaken by wonder.

More than one person at the memorial service told us that they had one of Don's stunning pictures on display at home. They were grateful to have been given his eyes, to experience his love of creation, and to have had their own wonder awakened. Don, a modern sage, helped others to see the wisdom and beauty of God's handiwork.

Ironically, in the final months of his life, Don's eyesight faded until he was completely blind. His caregiver spoke about the doctor's blindness. As he lost physical sight, he began to experience vivid visions of glory. He would take the hands of those around him and ask, "Do you see it? Do you see Jesus in all of his glory?" Don was learning to see in other dimensions, and his faith grew in leaps and bounds over those dark weeks and months. The eye doctor who possessed such extraordinary vision in this life far preferred his new-found spiritual sight.

May we, too, learn to see.

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