What does it take for us to relearn something? I have begun--just begun reading ‘Now You See It’ by Cathy Davidson. This is the bishop’s book for Lenten reading. As I was reading the introduction, I realized it applied to today’s stories. All of them are about relearning how we live in the world in some form. Each represents a paradigm shift in its own right.
Dr. Davidson first reminds the reader of a video that has circulated on the internet. Before the video starts the viewer is asked to focus on counting the number of times that the people wearing white shirts pass the ball to one another while playing a sort of passing the ball game with another team in different colored shirts. The film was developed by a team of people who study brain science. They wondered if it was true that most people who are focusing on a task at hand will miss other things that are going on around them. During the film the ball is passed by the white shirt team 15 times. If you are good at taking tests, you probably saw all of those passes when you watched the film. We have trained ourselves to focus on the task at hand.
Then the next question is asked, “Who saw the gorilla?” Generally, less than half the people who view the film see the gorilla. So, you go back and watch the film again, and there is the gorilla passing directly through the players and stopping to wave and then moving on out of the field of view. It is astonishing! And, I hope it makes us wonder what we are missing merely because we are focused on what we are doing such that we see what we EXPECT to see. Just how many gorillas are we missing! I still can’t believe I didn’t see it and I had to play the whole thing again to make sure they hadn’t inserted it on a second film.
Dr. Davidson has ADD, so she gave up on counting the passes right away and she saw the gorilla! It begs the question, “Whose perspective are we discounting?” If we work together, perhaps we can come up with a more complete picture of the world--actually expand our viewpoint. Maybe we can even relearn how to see what we are looking at.
And that is what our stories could be telling us about--relearning how to look at the world. I admire Elisha’s persistence in the Kings story. He is determined to stay with Elijah to the end and he probably has a set idea about what that end will be. Elijah will die like everyone else dies--he will stop breathing, his heart will stop beating, and his body will be lovingly collected by Elisha and placed in a tomb. After a period of time, his bones will be collected together and everyone will remember and somewhat revere the place where they are laid--for generations.
Elisha KNEW what was going to happen and he had plans, I’m sure. Perhaps this is why Elijah keeps moving to a new place, to help dissuade this way of thinking. Or maybe Elijah was just as startled as Elisha when this horse and chariot of fire passes between them and Elijah is taken up in it. All those synapses in Elisha’s brain are firing and it takes him a while to absorb what has just happened. His brain is trying to decide if this was a one-off or if this is a new or very old way of leaving life behind. Maybe, just maybe the chariots of fire have always been there and no one has seen them--or no one was willing to SAY they had seen them. Elisha and others relearned the possibilities of the end of life. And this particular event left the impression in the minds of those who saw it that Elijah could return to them. Or maybe the real new thought was that there is SOMEWHERE to go when we die. A new idea. A new way of looking at the world.
Then we have Paul writing to the Corinthians. He is telling them the Gospel can’t be seen by some people. People who are perishing are perhaps focusing on other things so they can’t see Christ for what he is. Some people have seen the light shining out of the darkness and others just see the darkness. Some people can see and understand how remarkable Jesus was and others see a criminal executed for sedition. Some see the value of the early church by providing for the poor and the sick and some see them as undesirables, riffraff, and derelicts. Some see the value of giving up wealth to provide for others and some see it as irresponsible. Paul tells the Corinthian church that they are doing what they do because of Jesus and some will not see the value of that. Some see Jesus as the image of God and others just can’t see it because the darkness is all they can see. Those who believe in Jesus in Corinth have relearned how to live. Their brains are now wired differently and they can see what others cannot. They can see the gorilla waving to them and moonwalking out of view. Jesus gives them a view of God’s glory.
Mark further blows our minds. Jesus was fully human, as were Elijah and Moses. Yet, Elijah could return because of the way he left and Moses- well, he died alone and no one collected his body. In the minds of Peter, James and John; it was possible that Elijah and Moses could return. Yet, I’m sure they weren’t expecting anything remarkable to happen when they ascended the mountain with Jesus.
They weren’t expecting to see what they saw. Like Elisha, they probably had preconceived ideas about the trip up and down the mountain. Jesus had told them he was going to be executed and I am sure that was on their minds. They were probably thinking about the other disciples who had been left behind to minister to the people who had followed them. And, they were probably just as glad as Jesus to get away from the crowd for some peace and quiet. A chance to strategize their next steps and maybe convince Jesus NOT to go to Jerusalem. They weren’t expecting God’s glory, they weren’t expecting Moses and Elijah. Yet, they SAW God’s glory--centered on Jesus. And, they saw Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus. Peter rushes in with the idea of creating a shrine so these three can stay there always and perhaps pilgrims would come to visit and see how wonderful the Glory of God was. And God spoke to them telling them that Jesus was his son and they needed to listen to him. And then everything was back to normal. Rocks, dirt, and four sweaty, dusty guys who had quite the hike ahead of them to return to the base of the mountain. Yet, like Elisha, they couldn’t unsee what they had seen. Their brains had to relearn how they looked at Jesus. They had seen the light shining from the darkness and they knew that eventually Jesus would ask them to tell others about it. Synapses firing and retraining the brain how to understand and speak about what was seen.
Collaboration. Elisha had the 50 prophets who could see what he saw and if he listened to them, they might have had a different perspective. Maybe some of them didn’t see the fiery chariot and horses at all because they were far enough away to have focused on something else. Maybe a hyrax was scampering up to the Jordan River for a drink or someone blinked at the wrong time or….
Collaboration. Paul told the people at Corinth the stories he had heard about Jesus, he told them about his direct experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus where Paul relearned how to look at the world, and he told them stories about the people he had met everywhere he had gone who were able to see the glory of God in Jesus though they had never met him in person.
Collaboration. Peter, James and John would have compared what each of them saw and thought during those moments of the transfiguration. Such fear they fell to the ground, awe to see Jesus transformed by the Glory of God and at the same level of Elijah and Moses. They relearned how to look at Jesus. He was more than he first appeared.
How can we relearn how we look at the world? Letting others talk about their viewpoint and really listening and absorbing what they are saying. Taking opportunities to experience new ideas and places and new people. Think how Sarah’s perspective of the world has changed our own.
My ideas about how the world works and how I am to live in it have changed drastically over the decades. Some things have been constants: my concern to conserve the Earth, concern for those who are powerless, that family is important, learning is important, and getting along with others. Yet, I have relearned how to do all these things. My original practices and ideas about how all these are done have all changed. I hope I can continue with that. I hope I can still work to see and understand that there are moonwalking gorillas everywhere and while I am counting ball passes, they are waving to me and I am not seeing them. The Glory of God can be seen in the faces of many and I am missing it 98% of the time.