Sometimes you can’t see unless you know to look.
Out the back windows of our new apartment is a great expanse of trees.
For an urban complex, any bit of wilderness nearby is a lucky thing. The swaying trees or purple skyline have swept the breath from my lungs quite a few times as I rounded the corner into the study or looked up from my reading.
The woods are nestled in a deep ravine and they boast an assortment of arboreal varieties. I am barely on the cusp of learning the names of these limbed friends, but I would be abashed not to recognize the three great Birches. Their white trunks stand tall and stark in the midst of the deep greens and browns of the little forest.
Sometimes the brilliant red Cardinals and their sully mates will flit here and there, landing on the glaring Birches and showing off Creation’s glory. They ought to be the ones to do it too, pretty things.
When I was a child I was taught, alongside many North Carolinian schoolchildren, to be on the lookout for the proud Cardinal and to blow him a kiss if he did come our way. Cardinals, you see, are the great State Bird of North Carolina (several other states lay claim to him, too). They are known to grant wishes for kisses.
To me, though, it always felt right to throw a kiss anyway, regardless of the wish. No matter the place or state I have lived, a chance visit with a Cardinal was like a kiss of home. So I look for them.
My youngest brother Adam has eyes for different critters. I was blessed with the fruit of his seeing this past Advent. He and I have birthdays two days apart in the middle of December, so it was our custom as children to celebrate together over a baked bean supper and Mama’s monkey bread crowned with candles.
I could only find pictures of birthday parties in which we had actual birthday cake. Mighty cute anyway.
Last year, at the fresh ages of 26 and 22, we picked up the tradition again. Adam and our mother—who played a significant role in both our birthdays, of course—surprised Aaron and I with a day-long visit complete with yummy tacos, cold beer, a feisty Scrabble match, and plenty of laughs. This year we planned an overnight extravaganza and it was lovely. We ate together, saw the Triad Stage’s “Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity,” munched on homemade Rice Crispy Treats (shaped like Christmas trees!), and worshiped at St. Paul’s.
It was before church Sunday morning that Adam’s Sight caught a bit of grace, though—the movement of at least three deer making their beds down in the wooded ravine.
Adam was so quiet about it, as if he was afraid to scare the does away. It was only when they moved that I saw them, so clever was their furry camouflage.
“How in the world did you find them, brother?” I asked. “I just knew to look, I guess,” he said, “Seemed like a good place for them to be.”
It was so sweet to stare off after the deer. That feeling when others are looking on? I think deer perceive it, too. When I took my turn with the binoculars the she-deer raised her head and looked right at me. She might as well have said hello.
The four of us, crowded together at the window with the binoculars, were given a moment of cross-creature communion and mutual wonder because my gentle brother could see. Because he knew to look.
I have sense thought about sight, or vision, more broadly here in the newness of 2017. The Celtic prayer book (created by the Northumbria Community) we have been using offers meditations on scripture and the old Irish poem-turned-hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” for the month of January.
“Be Thou my vision / O Lord of my heart…”
That we could look for the Divine, I have thought.
Ah, but I am already looking, I have heard.
Yesterday at Greensboro Urban Ministry I gave a chapel message about being present to God, for God is already present to us. As I looked into the faces of the sisters and brothers gathered there, mostly for warmth and shelter from the winter rain, I saw the truth of it more clearly than ever before. These brethren and sistren of my mine, I could see so very clearly, yearned to be seen by God, to be known, cared about, and loved.
To be able to tell them the Truth, that God does see us, our pain and struggle and joys and creativities—that God is present to us, no matter if we are looking or not—was one of the deepest and most terrifying honors of my life.
The invitation is to see. To turn ourselves into the gaze of Love eternal.
To look for and meet God in the stark Birches, the winged Cardinals, the bedding deer, the gentle brothers, and in the faces of those looking to be warmly known.
May we have eyes to see and hearts to understand.
Grace and peace to you in these last days of Christmas and first days of a new year.
Thanks for reading.