Toward the end of Helen Keller’s remarkable public career, after a speech at a Midwestern college, a student asked her: “Miss Keller, is there anything that could have been worse than losing your sight?” Helen Keller replied: “Yes, I could have lost my vision.”
Not all of the sighted see, and not all of the blind lack vision.
When it comes to paying attention to what is really going on, there are plenty of people with 20-20 eyesight who cannot see at all. Some of us grope and stumble through our lives as if we were trying to make our way through a strange house in the dark. We’re legally blind in the ways that matter most—unable to see ourselves honestly, or others lovingly, or God truly.
Mark’s Gospel tells us that about a time when Jesus aired-out his frustrations with people, including his close followers, who were so slow to “get it” about the ways of God. He asked: “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”
Jesus’ words jostle and jolt me out of inattentiveness and call me to self-examination. In what ways do I see, but lack vision for what really matters? In what ways do I hear, but fail to listen? In what ways do I not notice the signs and sounds of God, neglect intimations of beauty, truth, and goodness, and fail to hear the sighs of people who yearn for love, hope, and joy?
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Case of Identity,” Watson praised Sherlock Holmes for his observational skills: “You see everything.” Holmes insisted that anyone could do what he did: “I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see.” Watson pointed out that Holmes had an eye for details which were “quite invisible” to ordinary people. Holmes replied: “Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you missed all that was important” (See Stephen Kendrick, The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes. NY: Vintage Books, 1999, p. 32).
If we will let it, great art (whether visual or written or musical) can arrest, focus, and hone our attention. Art can teach us to see more clearly, hear more deeply, and feel more fully. The arts help us to experience life, each other, and God in fresh ways. They teach us to notice what has slipped by us before.
And, I have learned to trust that Jesus is an artistic genius, who shapes human beings toward the glory and radiance God intends us. He guides us to encounter, to notice, and to delight in the wonders and mysteries of life. He shows us depths and heights we would have missed had we not learned from him how to see, hear, and feel.