Authentic Vision

A friend of mine received a set of virtual reality goggles last Christmas and invited me over to try them out. I was not expecting much. When I first tried VR a few years ago, I found the technology clunky and expensive, and the images were about as “real” as scenes from my 1999 version of the game Halo.


‘All generations will call me blessed.’ (Lk 1:48)

Liturgical day
Solemnity of the Assumption, Aug. 15, 2017
Rev 11:19-12:10, Ps 45, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Lk 1:39-56

What “dragons” pursue us? How do we let them influence our actions?

Have you ever glimpsed God at work? What did you see? How have you shared that vision?

I was unprepared, therefore, to find my friend cowering in his living room, inching his way across the wall to the kitchen door.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Trying to overcome my fear of heights.”

“In your living room?”

“I’m not in my living room. I’m walking along the cable of a suspension bridge.”

He took off the goggles so I could try. I nearly crumpled to the floor. Although the logical part of my mind knew I was safe, no part of my limbic system agreed. I was so overpowered that even today I can taste the fear and feel the rush of adrenaline. Memories of real events that day—spending time with friends and enjoying a good meal—do not stand up to the shock of that virtual image.

Scripture affirms repeatedly that God does not see as we see. Most of us are stuck in a virtual reality that we call “everyday life.” We grow attached to the flash and bang that our senses convey, and we forget that these perceptions are only echoes and reports of deeper realities. We might remember every once in awhile that these images distort or even block our understanding of God at work, but we remain attached to the virtual at the expense of what is real.

This virtual world can be nightmarish. Attachments distort our perception, especially of grace. Ignorance engenders alienation; this inspires fear and leads to hate. For too many of us, the dragon of the first reading is something real. It is the barely concealed malevolence that hovers around every act. By contrast, too few remember that biblical dragons are “virtual” creatures. They ever menace, but never destroy. We humans fulfill their malicious intent we act on the ignorance and hate they suggest.

Sometimes, we remember that we can ignore these virtual dragons, and then we catch a glimpse of divine grace. Luke knew these movements, and worked them into the great moments of his Gospel. In a flash of insight, Elizabeth looks past her pregnant, unwed cousin and sees God’s at work. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Mary also looks beyond her immediate danger and apprehends the action of grace. Like Israel’s prophets of old, she sings of a world that will, someday, suffer no more tyrants or slaves, no more kings or paupers, no more hunger or waste. The promises of her Magnificat, too often dismissed as pious ideals, are actually revelations of the deepest truth. As Catholic tradition understands it, Mary never took her eyes off the grace she saw. As she is the pattern for our own discipleship, so must we look past our attachments and fears and keep our attention on God at work.

A modern version of such clear sight appears in Pablo Neruda’s poem “Keeping Quiet.” He describes the effect of the every person on earth falling still at exactly the same moment.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

Neruda recognizes the artificiality of “everyday life.” One moment of silence across the globe would shut the whole thing down. We celebrate today a person who could keep her attention fixed beyond such phantasms and on what was real. Even at her last breath, she recognized only grace. In this, she discovered her resurrection and was reunited to her son.

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