Eyes of the Heart

“What do you see?” is the most haunting question of my life. It seems to continually hang suspended in midair just inches from my eyes. I don’t know if God cares what I feel or think. But He continually challenges me to see. Deeper. Clearer.

In Eyes of the Heart, a book about “contemplative photography,” author Christine Paintner calls readers to take the time to really see our world. “Slow down enough to see what is around you, notice the details of things—the many shades of flowers, the texture of tree bark, architectural details on houses, and even the patterns on manhole covers or gutters.”[1]

She keeps reminding us to be patient and wait to receive (not “take”) a photograph.

Then she applies the same kind of patience to being able to see people. “When the stranger arrives—that which is unexpected, strange, and mysterious—we are called to recognize the holy shimmering presence there. This means inviting strangers into our world without imposing our own agenda on them…staying open and curious to what we might discover when we don’t know what to expect, when we make the effort to see beneath the surfaces.”

Right there, she throws the floodlight on one of the biggest frauds of life: the human presumption of making judgments about other people. Look, I simply do not have the skill or enough information to be able to reject another person. I certainly don’t have the authority to reject anyone created and loved by God. Yet I do it regularly.


Lift the Chalice

To reject any human is like despising a gold chalice because it holds cheap wine. Most people are doing the best they can. But they pick up bad stuff – insults, injuries, false measurements, destructive ideologies – as they pass through life. All of that gathers like foul water sloshing around in the bottom of his or her personality. Do you think it may be possible that God can pour it out and clean them up in His own way and time? Is it possible that my only role is to bless and encourage?

And then the Lord God saith, “Is that your role toward Joanne?”

Why is it so easy to understand that a cup’s content has nothing to do with its value, but we reject people because they voted for Donald Trump? Or because they kneel toward Mecca to pray? Or because their cars display confederate flags or Climate Change bumper stickers?

Why is it so difficult we just make eye contact, smile, and stay “open and curious to what we might discover when we don’t know what to expect, when we make the effort to see beneath the surfaces?”


The Grace to See Beneath the Surface

Goethe famously said, “Treat an individual as he is, and he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” That line is one of the pillars of a good life, and I try to do it. But I am not good at it.

I do, however, know what that looks like in a person. Our dear friend, Roberta Roachelle, lives that more fully than anyone I know. When she looks at you and smiles, you suddenly realize that you’re loved, and life is far better than you ever dreamed. In more than a half-century, I’ve seen her unfailingly treat everyone as he or she ought to be. And I’ve watched people become what they “out to be and could be.”

My brother Vernon, the longtime (and recently retired) Sheriff of Pratt County, Kansas, often drove his inmates to the state penitentiary to begin serving their prison time. He had others who could do that, but he saw it as a chance to touch and encourage those headed into a dark place and time. He treated them, not as they were, but as they could be.

My point is not to promote Roberta or Vernon but rather to declare that anyone can do this! But it requires humility, patience, grace, and the time to focus the eyes of the heart.

Photographers may sit in one spot for hours. Waiting for sundown, dawn, cops, or snowfall, they are endlessly patient as they seek to find and focus the eyes of the heart. They carry no judgments; they only want to see.

What if we all did that toward the people we meet every day?

[1] Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2013

16 thoughts on “Eyes of the Heart”

    1. Vernon,
      I appreciate you sharing your memory of your Dad’s words about walking in the shoes of others. Very wise words we need to encourage us in all of our encounters with people we meet. Thanks for sharing them.

  1. Oodles of wisdom, here. Thanks!

    My friend, Robert Benson, said at his father’s funeral, “My Dad always treated me like I was better than I was, so I was.” Brilliant.

  2. Ed,
    Such fine words you have shared with us this day. You continue to peel back layer by layer that which keeps us from seeing the vastness of God’s great love and grace toward us, our families and friends and this world which we live in. You are constantly saving the best wine for the next tasting. Thank you.

  3. Another amazing narrative! It’s not reading, it having a conversation with a friend. You touch my heart. love it!!!

  4. I loved this Ed. I want this to get deeply embedded in my heart mind and soul and learn to really care about people this way. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you so much for this, Ed. I not only loved it, I was touched deeply by reading it.

    I am Roberta Roachelle’s husband. Ed is right about my beloved covenant partner. She looks for the multi-colored stones on the bottom of every person’s river. Their waters may be covered with white caps one day, but like the Prophet Daniel, she keeps on looking until the waters calm and clarify.

    I so want to be like her when I grow up! I want to keep on looking at those who appear undesirable, and look for what God wants them to be. Grace is what my Roberta has in copious amounts. Oh Father in Heaven, let me keep looking through the eyes of grace. I want the photograph that I look for to come to me, so I can see you through it all.

  6. Ed, this is so good! Knowing Roberta & your family (Vernon a little bit), they are definitely examples of seeing as Jesus does. That is my heart but I don’t always live up to it. My God has not died & made me judge & juror. My job/calling is to love. What an encouragement!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top