I See People, They Look Like Trees Walking Around

I was 7 when I began my relationship with the vision-care community. I don’t remember my first optometrist, but my first pair of glasses were brown, cat-eye frames, likely one of two choices back then. Those spectacles kicked off the awkward years, to which a whole series of annual grade school pictures will attest. It has been a love/hate relationship with my vision and optometrists and corrective eyewear over nearly 50 years.

It is cliché, but when my newly bespectacled eyes exited the eye doctor’s office and saw trees and grass for the first time, the discovery of distinctive, individual leaves and blades was astounding. I loved seeing with that stunning clarity. It was almost enough to make up for irritating ear pieces, slippery nose pieces, and endless taunts of, “Four-eyes!”

As I reflect on my weak eyes, I am reminded of the healing of the blind man by Jesus. It is an interesting incident; it is only mentioned by Mark, and it is the only progressive healing in the gospels. I don’t know why Jesus does it like that – there are a number of theories regarding his method – but this transitional period resonates with me. The blind man says when asked about his new, improved sight, “I see people, they look like trees walking around.”

Without the miracle of eyewear, that would be my report.

Even with the miracle of eyewear, things can still get a little fuzzy. Recently I had a checkup at the eye doctor and told him I was having problems reading, and perhaps it was time for a new prescription. Instead, I received a surprising diagnosis: cataracts on the inside of my lenses smack dab on the focal point that were not detectable one year ago. I was despondent.

He seemed almost jovial. This can be a good thing. No offense, Janet, but those lenses of yours aren’t so great. Why would you want to hang on to them? You have never seen clearly with them. When they replace them? No more vision woes. The tiniest snip, suck out that cloudy misshapen lens and pop in a brand-new, tailor-made version. Piece of cake. Regular use of glasses may become a thing of your past.

That got me thinking. What about my spiritual vision? Is it a little fuzzy? Do I clearly see the people around me? Do I see all of the people around me? Or do I see some of the people walking around like trees?

Things have never been fuzzy for God. Again, and again we read stories depicting the clarity with which God sees each of us as individuals and recognizes our unique potential. After the Cinderella-esque parade of Jesse’s seven strapping sons before Samuel, the kid brother comes in smelling like sheep and is anointed King of Israel, prompting God’s admonition to Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” There is Moses, a reluctant rescuer at best, commissioned as Israel’s great deliverer. Rahab, the harlot, harbors God’s helpers and lies about it, but joins the genealogy of Jesus. Gideon the wimp, called while cowering in fear, whining in the winepress, becomes Gideon the warrior.

Jesus continues the trend as he sees fishermen and zealots, tax collectors and lepers, women with water jugs and women with perfume jugs, women with accusers and women with uncomfortable health conditions. Beyond simply seeing, he is moved to action; compassion, inclusion, encouragement.
A new lens requires a new life.

My least favorite part of the eye exam is this: One? Or two? Better? Worse? As the doctor nonchalantly flips his magic lenses back and forth, I anxiously strain to discern. I was always afraid I would end up with fuzzy vision if I missed one step on this part of the test. But the doctor assured me it is actually a fine-tuning of the exam. The prescription is almost complete at this point. This is the final adjustment ensuring no people will be mistaken for trees.

Peter has a list of attributes that might work as our fine-tuning mechanism. He urges us to add this list to our life in increasing measure, to avoid being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Jesus. Here is the list: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. Without these, he tells us, we will be nearsighted and blind.

We can work through these steps one right after another and then back over them again, always looking for the right combination and asking ourselves, “Am I better? Am I closer to the vision of Jesus? Or are there still people out there I am just seeing as trees?”

This week, I recited with those around me the Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer, including these words, “We have not been true to the mind of Christ.”

Seeing with his eyes is a start.

Janet MendenhallComment