Advent and clear-sightedness

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of a kind of seeing that is not seeing, or hearing that is not hearing. We human beings often fail to see and fail to hear, even when we think that we are seeing and hearing. For example, we might hear the words that another person speaks to us, but misinterpret their meaning. Such misunderstandings are common and natural, because we always interpret whatever we encounter in the world in light of our own cognitive, emotional, and spiritual frameworks. For example, we might interpret the sad or angry words of a friend, or a friend’s silence, on the basis of past experiences of what sadness, anger, or silence “mean.” Or we can be fearful of refugees because we do not really understand enough about their experiences and backgrounds. Our own interpretive frameworks can get in the way of really hearing and receiving another person—and human beings very much want to be received and known as they are.

The same can be true for our images of God. Some people understand the image of God as a father in terms of anger or judgment, because when they were growing up, their fathers were angry, and so the image of God becomes distorted . Or the idea of God as a mother may be inaccessible, despite Biblical images of God as mother (Deut 32:11-12 or Isaiah 66:13), because our own cultural forces have shaped us to think of God as like a man. (And the Catholic Catechism says “God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes”(370)). To some extent, we are always projecting onto God our images of God. That projection is not necessarily a bad thing—when we need comfort, the image of God as a loving shepherd holding a lamb is an image of comfort that we need. God truly is like a shepherd to us in our need. Analogies for what God is like do communicate a certain truth about God, and the Bible is full of many images to help us to understand who God is with us. However, every image has its limits, and part of spiritual growth is to allow God to dismantle some of our images of God (and images of others), so that we can see more clearly.  Resting in silent prayer can help to cultivate clear sightedness.

Advent is a time of the purification of our hearts to get ready for the Lord. One way that we can prepare for the Lord is to consider where our images of God help us to see, and where they limit us—and also where our ideas about others are our own constructions, and so get in the way of truly seeing and loving another. Jesus promises his disciples that they will come to see and to hear what they do not see and hear accurately right now. In Advent, we can pray for the grace to see the Lord and one another more clearly, for a gift of greater clear sightedness, so that in seeing and hearing, we can be better able to receive.