Sight Limits

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“I love the fog,” a friend was saying on a recent morning. He said it reminds us of how little we can really see—until God lifts us up to himself.
    Some researchers are now saying that our non-visual senses (touch, smell, hearing, tasting) have withered on account of the prevalence of artificial light. If you were a retailer of meat or vegetables in a city, say, 200 years ago, you would be at a wholesale market every day long before dawn, obtaining your goods to sell later that day. There was no artificial light to help you (candles would have been far to expensive, and not a lot of good anyway). You would touch and smell the goods on offer and be able, through those other senses, to pick out which products were the best quality.
    We are almost never in the dark anymore, so we don’t know how to use the non-visual senses.
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    The Bible carries on an extended polemic against trusting in our sight. Vision is what leads people to turn away from God to the idols. So it starts in Genesis: God creates light on the first day, but he doesn’t create sun and moon until the fourth day. And even then, the text refrains from calling them by those names, “sun” and “moon,” perhaps on account of the pagans worshiping sun and moon as gods. Rather, Genesis demotes them further, not only down to the fourth day, but also calling them merely “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” The message for the careful reader is clear: these “lights” are not divine and are not the most trustworthy things.
    When Samuel is looking over the sons of Jesse, trying to discern which one God wants to be king, Samuel is impressed by their looks. But God tells him that he, God, does not see as man sees; he does not look on the outward appearance, but on what is interior.
    So—clinching the point, in my view—when God reveals himself to the latter prophets, he does so by his Word. “The Word of the Lord came to me,” a prophet may say: it is a word that comes, and thus precisely something that must be listened to.
    Of course, there are visions, such as the famous one of Isaiah 6 from which we get the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”). God still uses vision to reach us. And we are promised that, someday, the blessed will see him face to face. May we be in their number! And in the meantime, may we learn the lesson of the fog.
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    Out & about. “Strange but True Things about God” is my current class at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. This week’s topic is freedom, namely, how God causes our free actions without thereby making them any less free. The class meets at 10:20 a.m. on Sundays in the education building, room 119, through February 5. 
    You may listen to last week’s class here.
    On Tuesday, January 24, I will be speaking at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo, N.Y., on Losing Susan. The event begins at 7 p.m. More info here. 

    And speaking of Losing Susan, the paperback edition is to be released next month.

If it Weren't Attached

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One might think that yours truly keeps trying to lose his hat. I left it in a taxi, but fortunately remembered it before the cab drove away; the black cap was tucked in a crack in the back seat. I dropped it in a Starbucks, but a helpful fellow patron (this is Dallas after all) noticed it and brought it to me.

In a conference hotel, at the end of the business meeting, I looked around me and realized I didn’t have it. I retraced my steps, checked at a couple of places — no hat. Then to the front desk. The clerk phoned a staff room, she said, in the basement. Immediate response: yes, the hat was there. She told me to stay at the desk and they’d bring it up immediately. 

From one point of view, I should get a new one. This one is five years old and showing its age. On the other hand, its predecessor was lost on a bus in New York City. I remember the evening: I was going to the hospital to see my wife. So I’m glad to have this old, comfortable hat, even though I keep forgetting it.

It’s like they say of the head, or more precisely what I should say of my own head: If it weren’t attached, I’d be forgetting it all the time. 

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God has attached himself to us. Sacramentally in baptism, by figure in his election of the people Israel, the Spirit of God has laid hold of us and won’t let us go. The Psalmist marvels at how he cannot escape God. “Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.” (BCP Ps 139:6-9)

I might forget God, like I keep forgetting my hat. But his Spirit is attached to me, even more firmly than my own head. For better for worse, I cannot get away from him.

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Out & About. This Sunday, January 15, I’ll start a four-week class, “Strange but True Things about God.” This week’s topic is the deep strangeness of being creator. Every human being can deduce that God exists, but the very proof of his existence also tells us that we cannot know what God is. As Aquinas says, we can only know what God is not. I say, it’s strange. Join me at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas, Sunday at 10:20. The class is in room 119 of the education building.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."