at the House of Bishops'
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
[Episcopal News Service]
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Homily for Closing Eucharist
House of Bishops' Meeting
Camp Allen, Texas
March 21, 2007
I look around here and see lots of folks with glasses. And some of us who don't obviously wear them have contacts or have had our eyes adjusted surgically. Most of us have had our eyes change over the years.
When I first learned to fly, my vision tested as 20/10 in one eye and 20/15 in the other. I could see farther and more accurately at a distance than the norm. But in the last few years I've been wrestling with the changes 35 years have made in my eyes. I can see just fine up close - to read or have an intimate conversation - but I can no longer see the nuance of emotion on a face at 50 feet. I have to use other lenses to do that, and it can be both frustrating and annoying. That shift in focus doesn't happen automatically anymore - it takes conscious effort, and outside assistance.
In some ways I think our church has presbyopia as well. I don't just mean "old eyes," which we certainly need if we're serious about valuing our tradition. Our tired and aging eyes mean that we don't have the ability to rapidly change focus, to look both back and forward, near and far away, in the space of a few instants. Our eyes have grown accustomed either to looking at the world over our shoulder, or toward the future, and we've lost some of our Anglican ability to look in both directions, to hold both perspectives in tension.
Our current struggle gives evidence of a competition between perspectives or worldviews. One of them looks at the world through an Enlightenment lens and expects to see predictability, understandability, and definability. Another view of the world comes through a postmodern lens, one that sees constant change and a significant degree of unpredictability as intrinsic to creation.
Those two worldviews seem to many people to be incapable of being used together or even held in tension. To many people, they feel fundamentally distinct and irreconcilable. The two worldviews may also lead to different understandings of our lives as Christians, but before we go there let's consider what a Godly worldview might look like.
Recall Rublev's great icon of the Trinity, and the way in which each of the members of the Trinity looks in a different direction. They are not gazing out into space, however, but at another being, at another of those present around the circle. If we are created in the image of that social God, we too are invited to look as God does, toward another image of God, to turn our eyes upon Jesus - and also on the many images of God all around us.
The ability and willingness to focus on those many images of God around us is fundamental to our lives as Christians. God has the ability to hold all of us together in one field of view, affirming each one as child and beloved. Our baptism into the life of God is about seeing as God sees, with integrity.
We're celebrating the feast of Thomas Ken today. His biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts begins like this: "Thomas Ken was born in 1637. Throughout his life he was both rewarded and punished for his integrity." The examples cited are about his persistence in advocating a particular and centered moral position wherever he looked, even in the face of potential or real royal wrath.
There may be some parallel with our current situation in this church. Thomas Ken was not loath to publicly rebuke his king or to refuse a royal order. He understood that a personal oath made to one king was not transferable to another, which cost him his post as Bishop of Bath and Wells. And despite his trials ecclesiastical and political, Thomas Ken kept on singing. He was able to bless even that which the world thought of as wretched, demeaning, and hopeless.
Integrity means soundness and wholeness, being undivided. It implies that ability to look in more than one direction, or to focus on more than one object, yet see only oneness. It is a Godly view of things.
That Godly view of things underlies the apparently different worldviews of today's gospel. The story is set in the midst of a crowd, all of whom are seeking healing, trying to touch Jesus, looking for hope and help. And then it says, "Jesus looked up" at his disciples. He looks up from the crowd around him, sees that motley crew of misfits and begins to pronounce blessing. He sets together ailing crowd and failing disciples, poverty and blessing, hunger and blessing, grief and blessing, persecution and blessing, hate and joy. How can he look at the abject absence of abundance in the midst of that crowd and find hope, joy, and blessing?
That divine vision sees beneath the surface, beyond what the world sees as loss or death or rejection. That vision of blessing sees the fundamentally gracious nature of reality, it sees the ground of loving being that continues to arc toward justice in spite of the emptiness or evil of the world's current reality.
To envision poverty as blessedness sees potential, sees the fulfillment - the filling full of empty bellies and sightless eyes - that God expects and hopes for and encourages this world to make real. Seeing the blessing comes from the ability to see both lack and possibility in a kind of multilayered reality. That multiple reality is present - the kingdom of God is all around you - but it takes eyes that can see at multiple focal lengths.
It is the same kind of seeing that has begun to understand light and all electromagnetic radiation as both particle and wave. There are occasions when it makes more sense to treat light as a wave, and other times when using particle physics is more fruitful. Both are accurate, neither is sufficient.
The MDGs are about that kind of multifocal vision. They announce prophetic judgment on the world's need, but they also announce prophetic possibility - yes, the hungry can be filled, and the ill healed, and the rejected restored to community.
Living in community also requires multifocal lenses, and we've had some small experience here in doing that. We've looked beyond ourselves to the Anglican Communion, and internally toward our varied members. We are trying to see with others' perspectives, and sometimes it can be both painful and annoying. We don't see as clearly or easily when we gaze on unfamiliar depths, when we are invited to hold together both Radner and Grieb, both unchanging truth and continuing revelation.
There are some kinds of fish and other aquatic animals that actually have bipartite eyes - they see at the same time both above and below the surface of the water, and their brains figure out how to interpret those quite different images and make a coherent whole.
As a body, we are wrestling with a collection of images - perhaps even more like the eye of a social insect, with multiple facets - but most of us assume that the image we form most easily is the only right and true one. The blesser of the gospel, however, sees more than that one, easy image. The blesser of all invites us into that deeper seeing as well - stretch, strain, imagine, and you, too, can begin to see like the Three do, like the One does.
When we have seen that blessing, however briefly, it begins to rise into more easily visible depths, it comes more clearly into focus and into what we call "normal reality." To see as God sees is to begin to make real, whether it is the work of the MDGs, the work going on now in Louisiana and Mississippi, caring for the homecoming soldier, or liberating those in chains. To see as God sees is to bless what is into the reality of the God's reign.
One of the curiosities of very small particle physics is that measuring the position or speed of a particle changes it. Seeing the particle changes it to something else or somewhere else. Seeing with the eyes of God, or blessing another, changes or moves both the blessed and the blesser.
Thomas Ken sang praises to the God of blessing. May we bless with the eyes of God, bless the world into greater reality, more closely into the reign of God.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.