Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Having recently experienced a number of challenges related to my eyesight, I want to use visual metaphors in this valedictory column for my service as your priest. The first relates to walking around with the wrong (outdated) eyeglass prescription. I was too cheap to buy new frames, and spent almost two weeks squinting, awaiting new lenses while using old eyeglasses. As you may have experienced yourself, when you squint too long you develop a low grade but persistent headache. The eye strain eventually gives you both a pinched face and the perception of things as presenting some low level sort of problem. What should be beautiful (light, for example) can become an annoyance, and there is a literal strain in the everyday, a strain which is not necessarily anxiety but feels like anxiety is about to begin.
The same things happens—the same “strain” verging on anxiety results—when our spiritual vision is out of focus, except that this spiritual strain manifests less as a headache and more as an ache in the soul. When we look upon the world through worldly eyes the good and truth and beauty and love and being which have their source and find their summation in God are out of focus. Things are both “fuzzy” and threatening. What we see is objects, but in our fellow human beings we must always and in all things see and experience subjects in themselves. We are to see the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.26); we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” (BCP 305), but when we turn inward—away from God and God’s will—we lose the focus which is a part of God’s plan. We forget (to mix in an aural metaphor) that joy is the ongoing echo of God’s love in our lives, God’s love for all the world.
In the practice of the faith, in keeping the promises we have made in our baptismal covenant, our spiritual vision is kept in focus. We can look upon each other and see another for whom Jesus made the supreme sacrifice. We can experience in each other one who is loved by God without reservation. And in looking upon each other “in focus” we can come together to be the Body of Christ we are called to be.
This Body—this incarnation of God’s presence in this place—has many members, each with gifts of the Spirit given to build up the Body (1 Cor. 12.7). And it is in this reality of many members that we encounter a second visual metaphor, that of a stained glass window. Regardless of whether a stained glass window involves representational art or an abstract pattern, what we see is made up from many different pieces, of all shapes, sizes, and colors. And these pieces are by definition broken. But when these pieces are assembled by the artist what we see is an image, an image which involves beauty and which points to a reality beyond image. Broken pieces become something whole and something holy.
What is needed in order for the broken pieces in a stained glass window to project beauty and message? What is needed in light, light which shines through the stained glass. (At the right time of day in this church, if there is any incense in the air you can experience the colors of the windows refracted in the smoke rising in worship, for real holiness involves all of the senses.) The light which shines through the “stained glass” of this Body of Christ—through the broken pieces that God has assembled and arranged and blessed in this place—is the love of God; God’s light; God’s presence. Even that (and those) which was (were) broken are made into something new, something whole, something holy in Christ.
In the days and months to come, you will enter into a period of discernment. This will involve prayerful discernment about who you are and who you are called to be as the Body of Christ in this place. And please remember—when you are tempted to just turn away from the stress attendant on change—that God has placed you in this place. He has made you to be a part of this stained glass window, and in discernment God will provide the lenses through which you may look to focus upon the reality He reveals. If ever the process of change becomes fuzzy or threatening, adjust your lenses in discernment. Put upon yourselves the refraction of prayer to bring into focus yet again what God’s will is. Tune the eyes of your hearts, and God will reveal His will. Tune the ears of your hearts and His love will echo in joy. As the apostle teaches, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4.18).
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg