For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
My wife is an actor. She recently finished a production playing the mother of a 15 year-old boy who is very special. Christopher lives with autism spectrum disorder, and the Tony award winning play is told from his perspective. Though the story moves through the difficult relational complexities that emerge due to Christopher’s uniqueness, it’s not ultimately a story about autism. The play is about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing new way, thanks to our opportunity to enter into Christopher’s reality and experience life has he does.
Christopher is quite brilliant, and his mind never stops working. He remembers facts and figures meticulously and is rigid in his understanding of truth and lies. But his commentary about noticing things in ways that others do not is truly profound. He makes this clear during a monologue on a train, when the audience is able to hear his thoughts...
"I see everything. Most other people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called “glancing,” which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction. And the information in their head is really simple. For example, if they are on a train looking out of a window at the country side it might be:
'There are some cows in the field’ […] And then they would stop noticing anything because they would be thinking something else like: ‘I wonder if Julie has given birth yet.’
But if I am sitting looking out of the window of a train onto the countryside, I notice everything. Like: There are 19 cows in the field. 15 of which are black and white and 4 of which are brown and white…"
Christopher makes note of all that he is seeing, rather than simply taking a glance and moving on. It got me thinking about a life of glancing from one thing to another.
Regardless of if we should know better or not, we are constantly drawn into frenetic ways of thinking and doing. We can have 17 different thoughts race through our heads in just a few minutes. Our attention bounces off of one thing to the next and we don’t even notice who we're walking past. And often, at the end of the day, we haven’t really thought about anything because we’ve thought about so many things.
Are you with me?
In the passage above, James is urging his ancient readers to hear what God has said (through Jesus) and sit with it long enough to be changed, rather than hearing and simply moving on to the next thing. He follows his comment by challenging his readers to use words to bless and not curse, and to use energy to care for widows and orphans rather than acting religious in a superficial way. They had already heard those teachings of Jesus before, but they had glanced off of them without changing direction toward loving action.
If the central gift of life with Jesus comes from loving God and loving others, we need to do more than glance. Perhaps our lives should be described as people who are always taking notice of God and others in new ways.
Take a long look at Jesus this week. Read his teachings. Let them change the direction you’re traveling. Be filled with hope and love and purpose as you rest in the your identity as a dearly loved child of God.
And take a long look at others today. Don’t just glance (but don’t actually stare either because that just freaks people out, and I think you might be missing the point). Notice the people around you long enough to consider what they might be going through. Let God’s love fill you with love for them. Notice them long enough to be aware of what’s beyond the surface, so that you can treat them with the depth and dignity that every human being deserves. Every person is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
It’s easy to go about our world glancing at things and glancing off of things. But be inspired to see things differently. Take notice of details that draw you to love God and love others. And if that means you don't always fit in, remember: that's ok.
Jesus, slow me down enough to really notice.
(photo credit: Scott Serio)