The artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” This is especially true in the realm of the spiritual life. To develop a relationship with God means that we have to take the time to do so, and this includes pausing to notice His presence in the little things in our daily lives. God is present at all times; it is in our life of prayer that we learn to recognize how He uniquely reveals Himself in our hearts as well as in the wider world. Another way to put this is that our growth in relationship with God is a series of little epiphanies, those ‘aha’ moments in which we gain a little more clarity about who He is, who we are, and who we are in relationship with Him. In keeping with the theme of keeping Epiphany as a season,* let us reflect upon our growth in the spiritual life as a series of moments offered by God which enable us to see something as if for the first time. And let us realize that it is also a choice we make to accept what God offers so that our awareness might be heightened to recognize more of the tiny miracles in our midst. To see a flower, to experience God in our friendships, takes time for growth and development. But if we do not first see, there is nothing to nurture and nothing to develop. To experience an epiphany we need to be seeking, just as the Magi were seekers who wisely learned to see more deeply.
Interestingly, in our current technologically-oriented society we hear a lot of talk about ‘virtual reality’ and ‘augmented reality.’ We accept these notions without hesitating, and yet when we hear the word ‘miracle’ (or other faith language) we may be tempted to scoff or think about it as something that would never happen to us ‘even if miracles did happen.’ Of course, we know that virtual reality is mostly fantasy; however, it can lend itself to reality, such as in the case of medical teams who may use it to aid in surgical skill. But for most people who use it, the point is to enter a reality which augments the one we are in, or which is alternate to what is truly real, such as in a game. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, so long as we do not become addicted to it or use it as a substitute for what is real: if unchecked, virtual reality could become a substitute for actual living and authentic relationships, or it could become an escape from that which we do not want to engage in. If we use it as a tool, or simply for fun, it can help us to see things differently, but there would be danger in lumping all situations of faith and believing in what is unseen, (or not as easily seen), into the same realm along with it.
With this in mind, however, it is important (if not a bit ironic) to note that the entire ministry of Jesus was about augmenting reality, or rather, our perception of it. In fact, the very nature of revelation is to disclose or add to that which we do not readily see; it is about God opening our eyes to the depths of His love. I must repeat the essential distinction: Jesus was not trying to deceive with a false notion of truth, but instead He was opening our eyes to things that we have either lost sight of, or have failed to see in the first place. Everything Jesus said and did was to augment the way we perceive life with God and to help us to see with His eyes of mercy and compassion. The miracles He performed were a way to change the reality of those who were suffering, not simply for alleviation of pain, but so that they would continue to grow in the way they saw God’s hand in their lives and then take that epiphany into the world to affect the lives of others. An example of this was when Jesus encountered a paralytic, a man clearly desiring physical healing; to show that the state of our soul is more important than our physical bodies He said to the man, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” Upon saying this, He was challenged by onlookers for daring to forgive sins; Jesus then healed the man physically, adding to the healing of soul He had previously given. (Matthew 9:2-7) Let us be clear: Jesus intended to heal this man from the start, but as in everything He did, He was also making a point. Surely the healed man had a clearer sense of God’s action in his life. Another example is when Jesus took His closest friends up Mt. Tabor and transfigured before them, allowing them to see Him in an augmented way, (revealing His divinity). Even being mystified at the time by what had happened, they were able to gradually grow in understanding of this event, never seeing Jesus the same way again. And after the His death and resurrection, their eyes were opened in a deeper way, their reality was augmented so that they could look upon others with the eyes of Jesus: everything became a miracle. This new seeing is evident when early in Peter’s ministry he said to a crippled beggar, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you,” healing the man in the name of Jesus. (Acts 3:1-10) Peter clearly understood that faith and love transform our relationships. If we take this to heart, we too can open ourselves to the same gift, transforming our relationship with God and with those we meet. Our love can be healing, changing many lives, including our own.
Rather than to only focus on miracles, (such as those claimed at Lourdes for example), ** our concentration today should be on learning to see the things we sometimes fail to see. There is much beauty in our midst, but because we are not looking for it, or because we are too busy or pre-occupied to notice, we miss the amazing things God does daily. We shouldn’t feel guilty if this is the case; rather we can be as those who experienced the first Epiphany, learning to see a star or a tiny baby as revelations of the love and mercy of God to a world hungering for His presence. And from them, we can learn to be patient with the process, discovering that to truly learn to see, as well as to discern, takes time. But we will also discover that it can become a wondrous experience to learn to see the hand of God in something as simple as a flower and even better, in a friend, (including the stranger, who is simply a friend we have not yet gotten to know.)
Opening ourselves to an epiphany is about letting God transform our hearts and minds to see and hear differently. It is about allowing our awareness to be heightened, or rather, to be transfigured, accepting that it is a process; subtle changes will take place in our vision, so that in an entirely new way we begin to recognize God’s presence within, as well as in others. This process transforms the way we perceive the world, not in a way which denies sin and the suffering which is present, but the temptation to be defeated by that very suffering is diminished, whether it is our own suffering or that which is in the world. Therefore, if we desire to continue our journey in light of Epiphany, we need to make it a daily habit to take the opportunity to see a flower or something seemingly ordinary and let it be transformed by the light of God. We need to allow ourselves the time to nurture our friendships, not simply waiting for the other to do all the work, but to make it a priority to take some time to enjoy the presence of the other, to listen and savor the moments spent together, and to see the presence of God at the heart of the relationship.
As Georgia O’Keeffe implied, we must make it a priority to take the time to develop the ability to see and appreciate the small things, to allow relationships to grow and to flourish, especially the one we have with God. If we are to nurture relationships through our love, we need to develop the eyes to see beauty, even if it is only raw potential, and thus to see others the way Jesus sees. We will find that if we do, our hearts will not only be filled with joy, but also with gratitude for such small, yet priceless, gifts. This is the vision of the ‘season’ of Epiphany, to learn to see with His eyes, to love with His heart, and to welcome with His embrace. We can learn to see, if we but ask.
May we continue to seek whatever epiphany the Lord is offering! May we make it a habit to spend time with the Lord in order to learn to recognize His presence more clearly! May we allow Jesus to open our eyes, to augment our perception of the reality of His love! May we learn to see the presence of God in the beauty of creation, and especially in the heart of a friend! May the Lord help us to overcome the temptation to be defeated by suffering and the effects of sin, that we might become stronger in our faith and perseverance in times of trouble! And may we see with the eyes of Jesus, expanding our reach outward to others in mercy and love! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Notes: Next post, February 25.
A sad irony is that O’Keeffe’s eyesight failed later in her life. Perhaps the loss enhanced her deep valuing of the gift of seeing. The opening quote is found at https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/georgia_okeeffe_134583
For more on Georgia O’Keeffe go to: https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe/
* See my last two blog entries to understand what I mean here. You can find them in the Archives located in the right margin of this page.
** This post was inspired by the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes which is celebrated on February 11. For more on Our Lady of Lourdes, go to https://marypages.com/lourdes-(frankrijk)/
1. This is a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe called Pansy. It made sense to pick one of her paintings of a flower for the first image. And (full disclosure) my favorite flower is the pansy, so there was no way I was going to lead with anything else! But know that she has many magnificent paintings of landscapes and other subjects, too. You can find more by doing a Google search for Georgia O'Keeffe and then clicking on images on the top of the page.
2. I took this photo while in Ireland a number of years ago. It was taken on the west coast. I chose it because when one is at the seacoast, there is so much to see that glorifies God.
3. This is a painting by James Tissot called The Transfiguration. (1886-96) I chose this particular depiction of the Transfiguration because it captures the apostles as overwhelmed by what they were experiencing. It underscores the idea that it takes time for more complete understanding, whether what we see is 'big' or is something which at first seems not to be extraordinary at all. You can find a bit more at https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4516
4. I took this photo when on pilgrimage at Lourdes, in France. This is the grotto: the statue was placed at the spot where St. Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary.
5. Another of my photos, taken in Rockport, Texas: this bird was in a wooded area which is part of a wildlife preserve. I chose this because of the detail one can see in this close up. I had to be very still to get the photo.
6. The Starry Night is one of Vincent van Gogh's most famous paintings. (1889) I chose this to be in keeping with the theme of the Epiphany. First, the magi followed a star, so symbolically this connects. But I also think that truly seeing stars is something we rarely afford ourselves. It is an easy pleasure to partake in, weather permitting. Go look at some stars! To aid in my last statement, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA54NBtPKdI&fbclid=IwAR2iSjl3kGrt-Sz2E8mxSROimP11jnj5jcnC8YT_vPfr_5ZIFTQjX9PP2r0www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA54NBtPKdI&fbclid=IwAR2iSjl3kGrt-Sz2E8mxSROimP11jnj5jcnC8YT_vPfr_5ZIFTQjX9PP2r0
Heartfelt thanks to a friend, Joe OHaire, for sharing this video with me and then encouraging me to share it in this piece.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart