All We Do Not See
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—7for we walk by faith, not by sight.8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
A week ago Thursday, I got on the Acela train to New York. There weren’t many seats left, so I ended up on the quiet car. I couldn’t make all the phone calls I wanted to make, so I got out my laptop to work on my sermon, hopefully answer some emails. Across the table from me a woman was reading. I wasn’t going to be nosy, just work – but I saw that she was reading my favorite book from last summer’s reading list, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. It’s two World War II narratives in parallel: of Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager who has fled Paris, with her father, carrying what may possibly be France’s most valuable jewel, and Werner, a German orphan and radio prodigy working for the Nazis to ferret out enemies using radio signals. Their stories converge in the walled Breton town of St. Malo days before the American liberation. As the chapters jump back and forth in time and place, the author weaves a mythic tale of what makes for walking by hearing, by touch, by intuition, by loyalty, by greed, by honor – by anything but sight.
This woman couldn’t put the book down. It was a good thing for her that we were on the quiet car, or I would have started talking. The author writes beautifully, but one of the reasons the book captures so many is how he describes the world of blindness. For those of us who live in the world of the visual, I think there is still something that fascinates us about blindness, about not being able to open our eyes and see. I say this as someone who is legally blind. When I go to a new eye doctor, and they know I am not wearing contact lenses, the assistants always ask, “Can you see me?” And they are just a fuzzy blob. I’ve had thick glasses since I was a child. I used to worry that I would lose all my vision, and I would practice walking with my eyes closed, hands out in front, tapping my toes, moving along a wall until I got to the next door or to the stairway, when I would begin to count steps. And inevitably end up with a skinned knee or bruised elbow.
For those of us with the option, it’s hard to imagine not walking by sight. It’s why blind characters are so incredible to us, why a story of a blind girl can draw us in and keep us turning the page. I’ve wondered if it’s why Jesus went to blind people – that when they saw again, it wasn’t that they could see again like you and me, but that some of them were the ones he wanted the rest of us to learn from. They had to learn to see in a new way.
When Paul talks about walking by faith and not by sight, when he refers to all this about being away from the body and at home with the Lord, I don’t think he’s talking about death. I think he’s talking about having a larger frame of reference, feeling at home in way in which we don’t have to rely on our bodies, this way of understanding, through Christ, all the light we cannot see- not just the electromagnetic spectrum, but all the wonder, all the pain, that go into us, that includes our bodies, but that is truly much deeper. That’s where we discover the new creation; that’s where we find the new life, the new way of living.
It’s easy for our modern and post-modern ears to get caught up in this “judgment seat” and “receive recompense” language, though – to hear “fear of the Lord” and think of folks who have used fear of the Lord to manipulate or damage others. How does this possibly help us learn to walk by faith and not by sight?
Series of NPR podcasts called Invisibilia combines research and storytelling to investigate the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. I haven’t listened to all of them; please don’t spoil them for me if you have. One in January was called “How to Become Batman.” They were looking at how perceptions of blindness – how we who depend on our eyesight see people who are blind – actually affects whether they can “see.” The two co-hosts talk to people who have studied blindness, but the focus of their story is a man named Daniel Kish, whose eyes were removed when he was one, who among other things has taught himself how to ride a bike.
Daniel is an echolocator, which means he uses clicks and sound to determine spatial forms – similar to how bats navigate. He taught himself echolocation, as his mother realized that she was not going to be able to protect her active son who climbed everything. He would climb fences, trees, wander off and find his way back again. And one day he found a small bike that he taught himself to ride. Daniel must have fallen several times – but he realized that if he could stay on the bike, he could ride along a wall, using echolocation.
Daniel still climbs trees; he led one of the shows co-hosts to a tree in a dense forest, and they climbed up, maybe sixty feet. He also advocates for those who are blind to learn echolocation, so that they might climb trees – and function without an aid, and hold jobs – so that when the rest of the world says “blind people can’t do that,” they won’t live out of the helplessness that Daniel believes the rest of the world projects on to them.
I should add that a neuroscientist who studies parts of the brain tested those who use echolocation by playing their sounds back to them while they were undergoing an MRI. Their sounds activated parts of the brain we use for spatial recognition, for depth and shape- everything we use for sight except for the areas responsible for light, darkness, and color. She believes that in a sense, they have learned to see, similarly to how we see out of our peripheral vision when looking straight ahead.
Here’s what I learned from Daniel Kish who has learned how to walk by something other than sight: That we have capacities as humans that we don’t even know are there, until we have to use them. That faith may be like echolocation, a way for us to encounter all the things we cannot see that affect us: not just the perceptions of others, or the baggage of our childhoods, but the fear that keeps us from being who we are called to be, the anxiety that our future won’t be secure, as well as the love that is ours from the beginning or the grace that sets us free to love all – even ourselves – as God loves us.
When Paul puts Christ in the judgment seat, it’s not necessarily to condemn us, but so that we have something to learn to bounce our sound off of. Echolocation doesn’t work if there’s nothing else giving a response, and faith isn’t faith if there’s nothing to have faith in. We learn to walk in faith in as much as have someone who is constant, who we may not be able to see with our eyes, “from a human point of view” as Paul says, but whose life and whose ministry, whose own personal faith in God, becomes the point from which all of our clicks of faith – our judgments of right and wrong, love and hate, good and evil (to use Paul’s words) become measured. We learn the equivalent of an echolocative faith the closer we move to Christ…
As with learning to walk, however it’s done, it means some stumbling. You will get bruised, because as Daniel Kish would remind you, those bruises are how you learn. You will have to apologize. You may find yourself angry or frustrated or scared. But as you learn to navigate all of the influences you cannot see, as you learn to walk by faith with Christ as your echolocator, may you discover new creation, in yourself and all around you, in all the light – all the things – you cannot see otherwise.