June 14, 2018

Seeing Things As They Really Are

James Turrell is perhaps my favorite artist. He uses light and space in new ways to help people see new things. Or, rather, he helps people see things in a new way. During our recent visit to Newfield in Indianapolis, a docent invite my wife and me into a room to see one of his works, Acton. I’ve only ever been to his skyspaces before, so I didn’t know what to expect.

As we stood at the back of the room, we looked ahead at a white wall with a dark painting hung in the center. Or so I thought. Acton is one of his “space division” series, which “consists of a large, horizontal aperture which appears to be a flat painting...but is a light-emitting opening to a seemingly infinite, light filled room beyond.”

In other words, it is an optical illusion, in which what appears to be one thing (a hung painting) is actually another thing (a window into a vast, empty room).

I was mesmerized. When the docent invited us to touch what we assumed was a painting, I thought she was crazy. And then I tentatively reached out to touch it, and my hand kept going, into this new room.

One of the main themes at this year’s Missional Voices National Gathering was that of seeing. Our closing presenter, DeAmon Harges, invited us to look at our neighbor and say, simply, “I see you.”

But...do we see what is really there, or do we see only what we want to see (or, perhaps, what we’ve been conditioned to see)?

When we look at our neighbors, our neighborhoods, and the situations around us, do we see the gifts they offer and the strengths they have? And when we look at ourselves and our parishes, do we see our full complement of gifts and limitations?

Staring at Acton, and finally discovering that there was a whole room beyond what I thought was a simple painting, was eye-opening. If I just stood back from Acton and admired it as a bland, monochromatic canvas, I would have missed it. I needed to engage with it to truly see it.

What would happen if we look beyond what we think we see in others? What would happen if we move in closer to those around us? What would happen if we truly engage with those around us? And what would happen if we attempt to see - truly see - our neighbors?

I think we would discover whole new worlds beyond what our eyes first glimpse.

When have you seen something in your neighborhood that was beyond what you first glimpsed?