The Art of Seeing
"I want to see."
October 22, 2021, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: Blakely Dadson
Our text this week invites us into one of the principal issues in the art of discernment — knowing how to see. And it’s no accident that the Scriptures use a blind man to teach us this lesson.
Many Biblical scholars have placed this text at the end of a portion of Mark’s Gospel that also begins with the healing of a blind man. In between these two miracles, Jesus hopes to open his disciples’ eyes to the significance of his impending death and resurrection, but they struggle to see the heart of the matter.
In this week’s gospel, we are introduced to Bartimaeus, a blind man sitting by a roadside begging. He’s front and center for a great religious parade of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Bartimaeus cannot physically see anything as the crowd files by him, but he discerns something with his heart — something that seizes his attention. He asks those around him what is occurring and learns that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.
To the embarrassment of those around him, the blind beggar yells and screams until Jesus decides to stop, inviting Bartimeaus to a public meeting with him in the middle of the street. Those around Bartimaeus had tried desperately to shut him up in an attempt to save him from impending shame. Bartimaeus, however, sees (discerns) something special in this moment and refuses to let Jesus pass him by.
Bartimeaus’ act embodies the author William Wharton’s words, “Perhaps sometimes it is best to be blind, so one can see the way things really are, and not be blinded by the way they look.”
In his book entitled Summoned to Lead, Leonard Sweet described a 1999 Panasonic ad campaign called “Leonardo da Vinci: The Art of Seeing.” It centered on da Vinci’s philosophy, summed up in two words: saper vedere, or “knowing how to see.” As a scientist, philosopher, inventor, and artist, da Vinci enlisted the concept of saper vedere to engage the world around him. To him, life was measured by one’s ability to see the deeper picture. He described the almost mystical process of artists as not simply painting what they see, but their ability to see what they paint.
The temptation in life is to move ahead without attempting to practice saper vedere. When we cave in to that temptation, we cause more problems than we solve. Never in my lifetime has saper vedere seemed more important than it is today in the blindness caused by a polarizing world.
Jad Abumrad, the Lebanese-American host of Radio Lab, produced a podcast series about the phenomenon that is Dolly Parton.
In psychotherapy, there’s this idea called the third. Typically, we think of ourselves as these autonomous units. I do something to you, you do something to me. But according to this theory, when two people come together and really commit to seeing each other, in that mutual act of recognition, they actually make something new. A new entity that is their relationship. You can think of Dolly’s concerts as sort of a cultural third space. The way she sees all the different parts of her audience, the way they see her, creates the spiritual architecture of that space.
And I think now that is my calling. That as a journalist, as a storyteller, as just an American, living in a country struggling to hold, that every story I tell has got to open eyes to see the third. That place where the things we hold as different resolve themselves into something new.
While the folks in a religious parade on a road to Jericho were blind and oblivious to what was happening around them, blind Bartimaeus — on the periphery of the sidewalk — was able to see “the third” by using the eyes of his heart. The ensuing encounter with Jesus changed everything.
Lord, help us to see.
Dwelling Among Us
During this encounter in the middle of the street, Jesus asks a beautiful question of Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” This beautiful question inverts the existing power dynamic between Jesus and blind beggar and animates what is at the heart of incarnational mission.
If Jesus were to ask this question of you today, what would you say in response?