Learning to see

Why communities of conviction are important

by Ken Sehested

“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive. . . .”
—Matthew 13:13

        President Barack Obama, speaking at the opening ceremony of the African American Museum in Washington, DC, said: “Hopefully, this museum can help us talk to each other, and more importantly listen to each other, and most importantly see each other.”

        Biblically speaking, seeing is different from looking. To see is to bond. More than curiosity, more than gathering an inventory of interesting sights and experiences, to see is to develop a relationship, to become interdependent, to enter the other’s orbit and become subject to its gravitational force.

        Recall the odd but highly significant greeting made by the fictional Va’vi people in the science fiction move Avatar. In one prominent scene co-star Neytiri, daughter of the clan leader, suddenly encounters the other co-star, Jake Scully, in a whole new light. She conveys this burst of recognition by saying, “I see you.”

            The Spirit’s enlivening impact in our lives involves this kind of seeing, where the indicative (the facts) is organically connected to the imperative (the acts). This is the basis of that mind-bending phrase in John’s Gospel about “doing the truth” (3:21) and James’ injunction to be “doers of the word” and not hearers only (1:22), the latter being narcissists who only gaze in the mirror.

            Of course, in this sense of the word, none of us can see everything. We cannot love everybody. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many dollars in the account, only so much space in the heart. Which is why it is essential to be embedded within a community of seeing. Not just one, but a series of concentric circles of communities, starting with the most immediate, near-to-hand, and extending out in networks and webs of relationships stretching to the farthest corners of the world.

            Jesus’ parable of the sower portrays several scenarios of the seed’s potential: Some are exposed and devoured by predators; some lack sufficiently deep roots and wither in the sun’s scorching rays; some are choked by invasive weeds (Matthew 13:1-9). This, then, is the basis for a strong ecclesiology, of the urgent need to be sheltered in communities of conviction. There are times when we carry our community; and times that our community carries us.

            While none can do everything needed, we do what we can with what we have—it is enough!—and we support, encourage and take inspiration from the larger communities to which we are connected, giving and receiving nourishment, forming an ecology of relationships, weaving a web strong enough to withstand the pounding delivered by the blind and deaf forces of enmity loose in the world.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org