What We Do Not See

Sixth Sunday of Easter  |  John 14:15-21

Growing up in the countryside of eastern North Carolina, it is important to learn certain skills. When I was a boy, my father called me over to a pile of pine straw and fallen leaves and asked me what I saw. I knew there was a trick to it, because all I saw was leaves and pine straw.

Wild orchid 021“Step closer,” he said, and I did. I still saw nothing but pine straw.

“Step a little closer, and kneel down,” he said. Pine straw and leaves. Nothing else.

“Now lean forward, and stay there until you see something,” my father said. I did. I looked at the pile of pine straw and wondered what was there that I was not seeing.

That’s when I saw it.

Right in front of me, coiled, unmoving, perfectly blending with the pine straw and the leaves, staring back at me, was a snake, a copperhead. As you might imagine, it formed a powerful childhood memory.

More importantly, having seen that snake for myself that day, I can Green Snakesee them now, even when they are camouflaged in the straw, without having anyone point them out. My mind found the pattern of the snake, and that the pattern was burned into my memory.

As I said, being able to recognize poisonous snakes is a valuable thing when you live near the rivers and swamps of eastern North Carolina, and my father was an excellent teacher. A little scary, perhaps, but good. (Imagine what my childhood would have been like in Australia.)

In this part of the world, the snakes are always there. You may not see them, but they are there, and they can certainly find you.

I am not saying that God is like a snake. It is just that sometimes we notice only the things that we expect to see: sunlight, television shows, the faults of other people, the faults in ourselves. Sometimes we do not see the things that we are not expecting, even when they are right in front of us: a flower on a cactus, the love of a friend, the kindness of a coworker, our own abilities and gifts.

The gospel of John portrays Jesus saying that the world does not receive the Spirit of God because the world does not see God, does not even expect to see God. Those who know God do see the Spirit of God around them, within them, because they are watching. They know for whom they are looking. Having looked for God, they also receive the presence of God.

Maybe that is what the beatitudes mean—blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Maybe a pure heart is simply an expectant one. We see only when we are looking. And we see only what we expect to see.

Faith is sometimes simply a matter of seeing things that we did not expect and of expecting the things that we do not see. It is that simple.

Lean in. Keep looking until you can see it.