Seek out the ‘invisible things’

At times it can seem that when we look at someone, all we see is anger or injustice. But a desire to look deeper and see others as God made them paves the way for healing, harmony, and resolution.

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The doorbell rings. I open my front door and – surprise – I am facing curly rainbow-colored hair, a red plastic nose, baggy striped pants, and large floppy shoes. Why is a clown at my door? Is it a joke I am not in on – or is it more sinister?

Then, something familiar catches my attention: the joy expressed in the clown’s eyes. It’s my good friend Leslie! (Leslie often performs as a clown for kids’ parties and she is on her way to a party in my neighborhood.)

Laughing, I throw my arms around her and welcome her inside for a good chat. Only by looking beyond the distraction of a painted face and big red nose to focus on Leslie’s eyes am I able to talk naturally, friend to friend and heart to heart. Despite the costume, I know who Leslie is!

Have you ever found yourself reacting uncomfortably to someone else’s appearance or behavior? My clown experience humorously hints at the importance of looking beyond distracting appearances and seeing instead a person’s deeper identity.

Sometimes the distressing appearance is a lot more serious than finding a clown at your door. One day at work, a big mistake happened in our department with serious implications. Immediately one of my colleagues pointed a finger at me in blame. But I’d done nothing wrong. And I knew I was blameless.

In that moment, I had a choice. I could focus on the picture of blame, be thrown back on my heels by the accusation leveled at me, and succumb to fear and defensiveness. Or I could consider something not so obvious – the genuine spiritual nature of the person before me.

What came to me was an intuition (which defied appearances!) whispering, “This woman is as precious and perfect as her divine creator.”

In a letter in the Bible, St. Paul wrote to his companions when they ran into hard times, and he contrasted looking at the “visible things” and the “invisible things.” Even in trying situations, Paul encourages looking on the inside and leaning on God’s grace. He wrote, “These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent” (II Corinthians 4:17, 18, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English).

To me the “invisible things” point to the presence and activity of God, who is wholly good, at work in everyone. This goodness isn’t always clear to the physical senses, but it’s the actual motive-power of each of us as God’s children, the full reflection of the Divine. Through our innate spiritual intuition we can discern it in one another, and radiate clarity and compassion instead of absorbing negativity.

Quoting St. Paul, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote, “When the divine precepts are understood, they unfold the foundation of fellowship, in which one mind is not at war with another, but all have one Spirit, God, one intelligent source, in accordance with the Scriptural command: ‘Let this Mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 276).

Remembering the lesson I learned about the clown outfit masking my dear friend Leslie, now I wanted to see beyond the finger and blame pointed at me. And to engage with the goodness, usefulness, insight, and wisdom that God is always expressing through all of us, including my colleague and me.

This heartfelt desire came out of a moment of prayerful listening and yielding to a clearer perspective, silencing the urge to judge or condemn my colleague. It was about remaining faithful to the inspired view God was showing me about both of us – that our true selfhood is not a mixture of good and bad but entirely spiritual, reflecting the total goodness of God. Glimpsing this truth washed away my defensiveness and awakened in me a kindly feeling.

During that quiet moment of prayer, my colleague’s face softened. We quickly found a constructive solution to the problem. And during the rest of our time working together, I came to value much more her devotion to a worthy cause and disciplined effort to see every project through to completion.

As distracting, and sometimes hurtful and unjust, as someone’s behavior may be, we have the capacity to see their true, spiritual self. When we do, we find ourselves and others “winning ... a permanent, glorious and solid reward.”

The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J.B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by permission.

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