Creatures have been gifted with different kinds of sight. In addition to seeing blue, green, and red in the color spectrum, birds can also see UV light invisible to humans, giving them another whole range of beauty we can’t perceive. Humans are among other species with a highly developed ability to see fine details, but we only have about half the field of vision compared to chameleons who can switch between monocular and binocular vision to see almost 360-degrees, a complete circle around them.
Human vision also changes with time. My first eyesight correction occurred with glasses when my 3rd grade teacher noticed me struggling to read the chalkboard. Starting high school I switched to contacts, and commemorated the new millennium with Lasik surgery, correcting both severe near-sightedness and astigmatism. With each new prescription I regained clarity. Colors seemed more vibrant and alive. Age eventually caught up with my eyes, requiring reading glasses, then progressives to deal with middle distances.
So far I’ve been able to keep up with vision changes through the years, though I suspect my future will involve cataract removal. For many other people, there is no remedy. Whether blind from birth, accident, or macular degeneration, their eyes don’t function or become degraded. In others, sometimes the signal from the eye is fine, but the brain loses the ability to process input.
Someone dear to me is losing their vision. A brain injury is preventing proper reception of visual information coming in through the optic nerve. Letters float on the page making it impossible to read. A jar of jelly on the table disappears. Dizziness leads to nausea limiting mobility.
Unfortunately, other wires are getting crossed, too. As dementia takes its toll, the brain makes faulty connections between memories old and new, of grandparents, parents and children, sisters, brothers, and cousins. Listening to twisting, confusing tales can be heartrending.
A moment of growth in the Spirit began when I realized listening to these surreal stories was often like viewing the work of René Magritte or Salavdor Dalí. On the surface the paintings might not make logical sense, so art museum docents often ask three questions:
- What is going on here?
- What do you see that makes you say that?
- What more do you see?
As we ponder the art, making connections to objects, colors, mood, a narrative emerges that speaks from the artist’s heart and imagination to our own. With a little time and patience, the works become infused with rich insights. Similarly, when I remember to be curious and turn to wonder, taking time to listen beyond the spoken words instead of rushing to interrupt and correct “the facts,” I begin to grasp inner truth and meaning.
It’s not always easy. My heart aches when another’s kindness is connected to me. But it is most difficult when I find myself associated with someone else’s past wrongdoing. Eyes brimming, I want to protest and defend myself. Yet the pain and tears can become the door into an experience of God when I let them.
St. Ignatius himself was no stranger to tears. Sometimes so overcome while presiding at Eucharist he could not go on. There was no shame in crying for him, rather he considered tears a gift, a way of knowing the closeness of Infinite Goodness (one of St. Ignatius’ names for God in the Spiritual Exercises) to him in that moment. St. Ignatius encouraged praying for the gift of tears in the Spiritual Exercises and in his correspondence with others.
Tears can impede our sight, but they can be a gift to redirect our vision. Unrecognized after the resurrection and mistaken for the gardener by Mary Magdalene, Jesus asks,“Woman, why are you weeping?” Whether from anguish or anger, lamentation or praise, sorrow or joy, our ability to see recedes behind a watery curtain.
Tears are an important signal that important emotions need tending in the garden of our heart. They help shift our vision from what is going on outside, to what is going on inside. The Risen Christ penetrates this veil of tears by calling our name. “Pay attention,” Jesus invites, “here, now, in this moment. Notice what I am doing, how I am being with you, present, moving, alive.”
As we apprehend this awareness through salty tears that stings the wounds, growth and healing takes place. I am growing to understand that amid the increasing jumble in my loved one’s brain, lessons of love and loving are being revealed. Even as cognitive abilities diminish and we cry together, the Holy Spirit is helping my heart to grow, to see like birds beyond the visible spectrum, and to notice chameleon-like, how we are surrounded by Love hiding in plain sight.
- What Tears Mean, a very short reading by Frederick Buechner
- Pray for the grace of seeing with your heart by listening to this joyful rendition of Open the Eyes of My Heart by Called By His Grace recorded in 2014 on the New York City subway.
- “Tears. Tears. No Tears.” In the Spiritual  Exercises St. Ignatius wants us to pray for the gift of tears. Andy Otto reflects on the guiding grace of tears in times of both consolation and desolation.
Photo by Irene Strong on unsplash.com