by Maria Evans
It doesn’t surprise me a bit that Luke the physician attributes Jesus saying in our Gospel reading today, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” I’ve spent a lot of my life on the phone chatting with primary care doctors and nurse practitioners about squirrelly lab results, and in the end, no matter what the numbers show, I almost always ask the primary care person, “Does he/she look sick?” (Yeah, I know…all that faith we have in science and numbers and the practitioner and I are talking about what the patient looks like.) Fact of the matter is, no matter how much I trust my laboratory to do it’s job correctly, an abnormal lab value in a patient with pep and a gleam in his or her eye is probably attributable to some other reason. Conversely, when the lab values are normal, but the clinician is telling me, “The patient’s eyes don’t look right,” we need to postulate some other cause and possibly order more labs and studies. Yet, if you asked me to describe the eyes of someone who’s seriously ill, or someone at the peak of health, you would think me the most inarticulate person on the planet. I can’t explain it other than, “They just look that way.”
A lot can be said for the look in our eyes and our spiritual health, too. Anyone who’s been involved in the life of the church knows those people who have “that look”–perhaps it’s the gleam in someone’s eye when they’ve made their profession of faith in baptism, the way a couple united in marriage lock their eyes on each other, or the wide-eyed openness of a person who has just caught the “outreach bug” and finds significance in feeding the hungry or visiting the sick. Their eyes have a brightness to them, and their face simply glows! Likewise, our eyes betray us when we’re struggling with our life and faith, and a weariness creeps over our demeanor.
Sometimes I worry that in the church, we pay too much attention to statistics and focus groups and expert opinions at the expense of simply looking at the people involved. What do we see when we look at their eyes? How does it move us? We might discover more about the health of our communal life than we bargained for.
I wonder what might happen if we simply paid more attention to our eyes, and the eyes of others, in the ordinary life of the church. I wonder what would change if we looked each person we shared the Peace in the eye, and didn’t turn loose of our gaze until we let go of our hands. What might we discover when we hold eye contact with those whom we wish to help? The results may be surprising. Sometimes, the thing people at the margins hunger for the most is to simply be seen–to be noticed.
How might we learn to be better “eye doctors” in our life and ministry together?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: Sanctuary lamp by Leslie Scoopmire