seeing me more clearly

Several years ago, about this time, I went to Paris. The City of Light. And sights. So much, too much to see.

LouvreOf all places, as an art lover, the Louvre. Larger than I imagined, I couldn’t take it all in. A wonderful, yet unsatisfying experience. I wanted less, but more. More, but less.

Musee D'OrsayA friend suggested Musée d’Orsay. An old converted railway station, it had charm. And it was smaller and filled with the seascapes and portraits of Monet and Renoir. These impressionists, who with deft, small strokes of primary color simulated reflected light, enthralled me. Yet as I drew near, I lost sight of the impression. In order to see, I had to turn aside and stand back.

Moses & burning bushMoses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight”.

Moses, in righteous anger, slew an Egyptian overseer who was beating a slave. In fear, he fled. A safe distance removed, he remembered his people in bondage. Drawing near a mountain, he turned aside to see a bush that was aflame, yet not burned.

Like an impressionist painting, had Moses looked too closely would he have seen this great sight? I also wonder. Was the bush on fire in an objective, physical way? Or is this the poetic language of Hebrew narrative to be read with imagination, for what it conveys is beyond the power of the most precise prose?

I think so. Moses experienced God. Fire. An ancient symbol of divine presence. Then turning aside to see, he heard God’s voice calling, “Moses, Moses!”, summoning him to his life’s calling to be a liberator.

In some religious traditions, the highest human aspiration is to be lifted above sense experience, beyond time and space into immediate union with infinite reality, where one’s individuality, as a drop of water in an ocean, is immersed completely in the divine. (However benevolent this cosmic act of absorption might be, it is, I think, the ultimate boundary violation.) Not here. Moses turned aside to see. In seeing, he heard. In hearing, he saw himself more clearly.

Reflecting on my often dizzyingly busy life, I understand why I, at times, try not to take time to turn aside. For what I often see and hear is the sight and sound of my own frailties. Among them, my insecurity about my identity as I strive to maintain who I am amid life’s always pulls and pushes to be otherwise. My admitted occasional envies of those I perceive as more fortunate. My anxiety about trying something new and failing or succeeding, which always raises the stakes as “they” (even I) will expect a similar or greater result the next time.

A cross that hangs in St. Mark’s Church, Capitol Hill, where I live and work, is made of broken mirrors. Every time I turn aside to look at it, the images, my images are fragmented. Together they constitute a truer representation of who I am than my “integrated” reflection from an unbroken mirror (the way I’d like to think of myself). But at best I appear as a solid image of a fractured inner reality. In turning aside, I honestly, humbly can see myself as I am. In that seeing, I hear a call no less awesome, fearsome than God’s word to Moses.

Turning aside to see myself is an act of liberation, freeing me from my practiced pretenses by which I try to impress others and to justify myself. In seeing myself as I am, I am free to hear the gospel message that God loves me just as I am and calls me to become who I was created to be, telling me that my freedom already is, always has been in my hands.

Long ago, I recognized that I was, I am a prisoner of myself, indeed, my prison was, is myself. Whenever I come afresh to acknowledge this truth, I hear a Voice telling me:

Open the door, your door and come out.
Why do you choose to remain captive to yourself?
Come out. Turn aside. See and be who you already are in me. Free.

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2 thoughts on “seeing me more clearly

  1. Paul, this is a great post, which forced me to process “turning aside to see” overnight. I loved your example of viewing art in museums as part of turning aside to see…. And standing back! To both see and hear more clearly. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to really understand and process it, and thus we need to step back and look at it from a totally different view.

    I’m hopeful that as you retire, you’ll have more time to “work on you”, to continue to become who you are meant to be, free from yourself and your prison. I believe you’ll have much success in retirement in both your business and your personal lives. I say that because in SC you allow yourself to see anew, to embrace the grounds and the beauty of them, and to be more free. And YEP success can be scary, because as you pointed out it creates the expectation and desire for more success. But I have faith that you’ll enjoy the “free Paul” and do great things.

    Your story of the mirror cross at St. Mark’s showing fragmented pieces of you as you look into it. It reminds me of the time as s little girl I accidentally broke my Aunt Frannie’s favorite hand mirror. I was mortified as I held it and looked at my tearful face in the cracked mirror. My face appeared to be in many different pieces and I felt as if I was in many pieces too. I apologized over and over and won’t ever forget what Frannie said to me. She dried my tears and said “I forgive you, and that makes you whole again, as beautiful as you were before”. We hugged and I felt totally restored. My mom and I purchased a new hand mirror for Frannie and before she even looked at it, she handed it to me so I could see myself as “whole” as she saw me. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. Thanks for this post and the great reminder of my mirror memory.

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  2. Loretta, I thank you for your good, no, grand wishes for me and my retirement. I hope even half of them come to pass! AND thank you for so beautiful a family story of brokenness (literally with a mirror) and forgiveness (Frannie drying your eyes and not holding fast, indeed, at all to the mistake) and wholeness (that forgiveness given and received can make manifest). A wondrous, gorgeous story! Again, thank you.

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