I sat down to read Postsecret last week, and I saw this:
And as soon as I read it, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and thought, Thank God. Someone else is invisible too.
We are seen. Period. At least, according to the bookmark-y things in the hymnals, the banner in the sanctuary, and the weekly temple talks. I feel like I’m always starting conversations one step behind everyone else; are we seen? The implication is that at least we are seen by God. It’s comically hard to argue with.
You are seen.
I am invisible.
You are seen by that divine being over there.
Right there. God.
I don’t see anyone.
Well, yeah, she’s invisible. But she sees you.
In the ever-appropriate words of Rose Crisp, “Um… thank you?” It’s one thing to know intellectually how awesome it is to be seen by God. It’s another thing entirely to feel awesome about it when it seems that God is the only one seeing you. At that point, it feels more like a cruel joke than a blessing, especially if you if you take a deep breath of skepticism and think I am seen only by something that may or may not be entirely in my own head.
What does it mean to be seen by God? I grew up in a faith where God was not entirely distinguishable from Santa Claus in that horribly creepy song about how “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good…” Less we are seen and more we are being watched. Which, when you think about it, is almost a way of not being seen—God too busy policing our necklines to care what was on our minds when we got dressed.
I have one indelible experience of being seen by God. I was in an unpleasant situation, caught between a thousand bad choices and no good ones, so I picked a bad choice and the voice of being watched started up in my head. How dare you? it said. The only thing worse than making a mistake is sinning on purpose and refusing to feel guilty about it. But I stopped the voice, and I quieted my heart, and I listened for the God I actually hope in. And I knew, without question, that God was aching with me. God saw the complications of my entanglement, saw my pain and fear, wanted desperately for my reality to be different—not so that I would be a better person, but so that I could be whole. The power of being seen saved me.
The flip-side of believing we are seen is taking the time to see others. The church (both the institution and the people) tells us, in lots of subtle ways, to check parts of ourselves at the door.
How can we possibly see people who have checked parts of themselves, often the most difficult, relevant, salient parts at the door? Check your skepticism. Check your sexuality. Check your neurodivergence. Check your trauma. Check your anger, especially if you’re angry at the church, because that’s #notourfault.
We (progressive-ish mainline protestants in general, Zioners in particular) don’t do this on purpose. We do it unconsciously, because we’re uncomfortable, because we’re polite, because we’ve checked those parts of ourselves and assume others will too.
How do we stop? How do we invite people to bring it all in with them, even the stuff we can’t see? How do we really start seeing people through God’s lens? I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t think any one person has an answer for that, because there are infinite ways to be invisible, and infinite ways of seeing. I just think it needs to be at the front of our minds, because it is almost always easier not to see.
Someone saw me recently, or, more accurately, someone told me about times that they see me. I’m pretty sure I had an impassive look on my face the entire time, but my soul was on high alert. I understood, however briefly, what it means to be seen by God, through someone else’s eyes. Being seen is like breathing air; I hold onto the moment and wrap myself with it so that it will carry me through to the next moment, so that I don’t suffocate in wide open space.
Blessed are the invisible, for we
will be are seen.