Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘A Sight for Souls’
When John writes that Jesus saw Nathaniel under the fig tree, I don’t think he merely wants us to be impressed that Jesus as man, but like God, has the power of omniscience. John means to tell us too that Jesus saw down to the core of who Nathaniel was, he knew him. And when Nathaniel approaches Jesus, he does not say, “how did you hear about me, or where have you spotted me before?” He asks, “How do you know me?” The answer to that question is the opening of a channel through which grace runs like a wild and purifying spring.
It is not the fact that God has the power to see everything that is important (or that really inspires faith), it is how God sees us. This is the seeing that brings light to those in darkness. This is the sight that transforms our own seeing, and so too the weary world. God’s knowing of us opens our “imaginations onto eccentric heavens”, encouraging the “self” back into the soul that interfaces with the infinite.1 Who am I? In what does my identity rest?
When I was 15 I was diagnosed with an anorexia that would plague me for more than 10 years. The seed of the disease was a simple thought, somehow confirmed by my surroundings. I must be thin to be loved, almost perfect, pleasingly transparent. It is a disease that changes your brain, and very soon you can’t even remember the reason you started to starve yourself in the first place. Over time it makes you incapable of seeing yourself in reality, but terrifies you at the thought of what others can see of you. One simple sunbeam finally pierced this fog of sadness and death. On another round of hospital admissions, I attended a group therapy session. As I was listening to the young people next to me, I felt an immense outpouring of love for them. I so desperately wanted them to be well, to be free, to see themselves as I saw them-
In our world it is very easy to deflect the Soul into questions about the self. We feel that we are successful when the identity we have constructed, and chosen to project, is ratified by others. Who I am becomes wrapped up in the stories I can tell you about myself. Where I went to Uni, where I was born, what sort of events I attend on facebook and what sort of friends I have. My appearance is partly a thing of my own making too. All these shades are not insignificant, all these bright fabrics are a part of the great wardrobe of my one human life, and they too in their earthiness and intensity are dear to us and to God. But thank goodness I am not just a collection of accomplishments, or my attachments to times I thought myself a victim, or the country of my birth.
Well then again, who are we? In this story we are the Seen, and the one’s with the power to see others. How is Jesus able to know Nathaniel by sight, not as the Son of God but as a man? He is able to see Nathaniel because Jesus knows who He himself is.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. “With every step I do, I go towards you. Because who am I and who are you if we don’t understand one another?”
You are of incorruptible value, and so is your neighbour. In your innermost parts you are in relationship with a mystery circumscribed by love. You are numinous. You are what remains after everything else falls away. You are completely beloved. You are you. And when you know that, you can see me, you can see each and every person.
I like to think about what I call “Grace Glasses”. Divine love offers us different lenses with which to see the world. Weakness become power, those who are imprisoned sing the truest songs of liberation, and even death is transformed under the gaze of love. “Life is not about me, but I am about life.”2 If we are not just these little concrete selves, than all these burdens we carry our not our alone. My story of life and even my death is caught up in a cosmic story of creation, and energy, abundance, and loss.
Its not easy, this seeing. A good example of how are sight becomes blurred is our conservative political stance on immigration. When your immigration policy takes shape around your idea of what is good for your country, when you are fearful about how letting people in will change your life and not how you can change theirs, then you have already made true freedom inscrutable to yourself. A just Immigration policy is about what you can do for those who have lost their home, who have gifts to share, a desire for beauty and peace, and who seek safety in however they imagine that to take shape.
Inevitably are sight will fail sometimes. Our whole lives we will need community, prayer, passion, and suffering to draw us back to this centre.
The most amazing part of all of this: it’s not just that to see ourselves and others truly is the culmination of our whole life’s work (thought it will demand our effort every day anon). When we see ourselves truly and seek to see others, that is when our life, abundant-
“God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made / sing his being simply by being / the thing it is: / stone and tree and sky, man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made, / means a storm of peace. / Think of the atoms inside the stone. / Think of the man who sits alone / trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made / there is given one shade / shaped exactly to the thing itself: / under the tree a darker tree; / under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made / the things that bring him near, / made the mind that makes him go. / A part of what man knows, / apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.” –Christian Wiman
1 Wiman, Christian. “On Being: How does One Remember God?” 5 January 2018
2 Rohr, Richard