Seeing and Knowing
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongues fail for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41.17-20 KJV)
And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. (Luke 21.29-33 KJV)
Both of these passages speak of seeing. What does it mean to see? The passages associate seeing with knowledge.
Of course this is true in more ways than one. And that, is what this reflection is all about.
Take, for example, the situation in which you are attempting to explain something to someone and you end by saying, “See what I mean?”
What does it mean to speak? I think it means to portray what we see.
The question in is, “Do we see?” The pun is intended.
We may accurately (truly) depict/speak what we see. But, DO WE SEE?? Is what we see (perceive/know) truly what is?
Therein lies the rub. We believe that what we see and understand (our perception and the convictions that accompany it) is the fullness of truth.
Such a conclusion is the epitome of pride and narcissism. It is also, in my estimation, a good definition of delusion.
St. Paul famously said,
For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (1 Corinthians 13.9-12 RSV)
St. Paul did not say he did not know. He said he knew and part of his knowing is that he did not know fully. He, of course, uses the word “see”.
[Jesus said,] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5.8 RSV)
“Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10.23-24 RSV)
Both my mom and dad were artists. I grew up with the aroma of linseed oil, the sight of sketch pads, charcoal pencils, and painted canvasses here are there. I am not an artist. At least I don’t think I am. My mom and my dad would consistently argue that that was not true. They would say I am an artist but that artistic ability must be developed (emerge). “Artists are born, but, it takes – practice. Lots and lots of practice,” they would say.
I have come to believe that the journey of salvation is the journey into artistry. We are born again as artists and we grow up in our artistic identity. It is, from time to time easy or incredibly difficult to live into, what I would call, our artistic identity in Christ. The saints, like my mom and dad, say to us, “Christians are born, but it takes – practice. Lots and lots of practice.”
The important thing I want to make sure I emphasize is the practice does not make us artists or Christians. Both are born. Practice nurtures and nourishes the emergence of the artist (Christian) we are already by baptism. It is about growth and maturity.
Fr. Stephen Freeman, reflected on this a while back and it meant a lot to me in light of the fact that I grew up in an artistic home.
He says the following:
But what I have learned about drawing is that it requires you to actually draw what you see. And that’s the strange wonder of it. For I think that the artist must be seeing something that I don’t – when, in fact, they are simply seeing what they see. It is the non-artist (most of us) who is blind to the world as it is….Our perception of the world is equally abstracted – we do not see what we see – but what we think we see – and we constantly misrepresent the world to ourselves…
This abuse and loss of our eyesight also alienates us from God. For the God who is everywhere present, does not exist in the abstract. He makes Himself present. And we see that Presence more clearly when we actually see what we see. Our modern habit makes us do quite the opposite – we think about what we see – and, in order to see God – we think even harder about what we see – failing to realize that our very abstraction pushes us ever more distant…
I recently translated all of this into something of a space/time consideration. For Modern man is also Historical man. More than at any time in history, we are aware of history. It is Modern man who created terms such as “Ancient, Medieval, Dark Ages,” etc. No one in the Dark Ages ever thought to himself, “I live in the Dark Ages.” Indeed, he never thought much at all about “time in history.” That’s a particularly modern habit. And it is an abstraction.
My observation is that, rather than being present to things-as-they-are, we are often present to things-in-abstraction. We go to the mall, and come away thinking about how our culture is in steep decline (or something similar). We experience weather, but consider it under the heading of Climate Change. Abstraction on top of abstraction and we wonder why our lives are filled with anxiety and anger!
We live our lives one moment at a time. We cannot live in a period of history. The self-awareness created by such abstractions is not actually a self-awareness, but a false consciousness in which we actually perceive ourselves to be living in an ideological construct and never actually in the world.
The Liturgy of the Church demands that we ignore such distractions. “Now lay aside all earthly cares,” we sing. This is not a call to think abstractly, but to pay attention (“Let us attend!”). For the Kingdom of God is come. (Source)
To stay true to my analogy. The world is full of the enemies of art and the artist. The world is full of the enemies of the gospel (art) and the disciples of Christ (the artists).
I am not an expert on the terminology but, as I understand it from those who are much more competent that me, the enemies of all of this are rationalism, secularism, and materialism. While the Enlightenment can be used as a handle for such convictions, the tendency predates the Enlightenment because the very scriptural passages used to articulate the horrible consequences of the Enlightenment obviously predate it!
No, the predisposition is as old as sin and death itself. For, the tendency is synonymous with sin and death.
Elder Paisios said,
Today, increased knowledge and trust in logic has unfortunately, shaken our faith to its foundations and filled our souls with question marks and doubts. This is why we don’t have miracles anymore, because a miracle cannot be explained logically, it can only be experienced. But faith in God will bring down divine power and overturn all human expectations. It will perform miracles, resurrect the dead and astonish science. From the outside, all things pertaining to the spiritual life seem upside down.
Indeed, the mysteries of God will be impossible to know and will appear strange and contrary to nature as long as we don’t overturn our secular mindset and see everything with spiritual eyes. Those who believe that they can come to know God’s mysteries through mere scientific theory, without a spiritual life, resemble a fool who thinks he can look through a telescope and see Paradise.
I love the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52). It is a story about a blind man. But, it is more than that. It is about a blind man who knows his blindness and seeks to see. The fact that he seeks to see means that his blindness is already being healed. Bartimaeus writes and icon with his words and actions. It is the Holy Spirit’s work of art AND that of Bartimaeus. The Holy Spirit is already at work. Jesus cooperates with the Holy Spirit and calls forth Bartimaeus’ sight.
Our name is Bartimaeus. Our name is artist. Thanks Jesus. Thanks mom and dad.