Lift Up Your Eyes

Omphaloskepsis.

It’s a big word, isn’t it?  We’ll talk about it later.  For now, I want to talk about something else.

Those who have known me for a long time are aware of the fact that I have worn glasses for most of my life.  I have myopia—near-sightedness—which makes it difficult for me to see things which are far away.

Additionally, I have astigmatism in both eyes, so I really can’t see much without corrective lenses.  And, without the advances in manufacturing technology in recent years, mine would have to be very thick.  As it is, modern plastics have made it possible…

What’s that?

Oh.  Astigmatism.  The distortion of the eye’s cornea.  It adds to the problem I have with myopia, causing images both far and near to be blurry and even a little disproportional.  Almost like a fun-house mirror, although not nearly as much fun.

What happens is that I have to wear my glasses constantly if I want to see anything farther than three or four feet away from me clearly.  Many of my friends have never seen me without the glasses.  I only take them off for certain activities; sleep, swimming, showering, etc.

glasses-983947_1920Oh yes!  I also take them off to see objects up close.  I can read better without them and focus on small objects in my hand easier.  If you watch me working at my repair bench, you may see me remove my glasses occasionally.

In fact, I was in the middle of a delicate repair on a clarinet one day recently, a task which took all my concentration.  Although I was alone in the music store, it had been a slow morning, and I wasn’t much worried about being interrupted.

With my work held as still as possible, and gazing steadily at the tiniest of tiny screws my miniature screwdriver was manipulating, the bell on the front door jangled, announcing customers.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Just when I needed to be left alone!

Hardly daring to move my head, I quietly said, “I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

I don’t think my exasperated tone was lost on the folks, whoever they were.  Still, they waited patiently for me to finish.

Moments later, the minuscule screw finally tightened into place, I looked up.  I knew there were two people there, but they were all fuzzy.

Oh!  My glasses!  I fumbled for them on my work bench and, setting the plastic frames on the bridge of my nose, turned to them once more.

Old friends I hadn’t seen for years were standing there, grins on faces, laughing at me.  We hugged and spent a long time bringing each other up to date on life events and changes the years had brought to pass.

It was a great visit and then they went on their way, anxious to reach their destination by day’s end.  I went back to my work.

But, as I completed the repair, I wondered what it was I had thought so important about the task earlier.  I made my friends wait while I, engrossed in my own little world, had achieved some insignificant procedure which could have been done at any time.

Engrossed in my own little world…

Now, what does that remind me of?  There was something—something—I was going to write about…

Ah, yes!

Omphaloskepsis.  That was it!  I promised we’d get back to it earlier.

A wise old man brought the word to my attention years ago.  He spoke of mystics in the Eastern world who sit and meditate for days on end.  Expelling all other thoughts, all other reminders of everyday life and its responsibilities, they spend days on end in this meditative state.

Days.  Spent in contemplation of their own belly-buttons.

Yep.  Their belly-buttons.

Omphalos—The center of all things.  The navel.

Skepsis—Focus.  Examination.

Navel-gazing.  An ancient practice.

Funny.  I get the idea a few of my readers may be laughing at me right now.

But, then I wonder if in the midst of the laughter, the impact of these thoughts on this ridiculous practice makes its way to the target.

We have our own words in our culture for the practice.  Self-absorbed.  Self-centered.

Selfish.

In our spiritual myopia, our field of vision shrinks in upon itself, until all we can see is what we need.  We almost can’t see past the end of our noses.

Somehow, as we age, our desire to reach out of our comfort zone lessens.  We have done our part.  It is someone else’s turn.

And, just like that, suddenly and unexpectedly, we have lost our relevance to the world around us.

There is much to say about relevance in our response to the culture we are engulfed in, but I will save a few of those words for another day.

For today, I wonder if it makes sense for us to find our relevance in the words and life of our Savior.  Perhaps, if the field of our vision were to be expanded, we would see beyond our own needs and desires.

I find myself coming back to the words again and again, maybe even to the point of annoying my readers, but they are applicable in this instance, too.

When the Teacher sat with the other teachers of His day, they tested Him, asking what was most important.

We know His answer.  We do really well at it.

That is, we work hard at trying to accomplish the first part.

Love God with every part of your being. (Matthew 22:37)

Then the teachers asked the Teacher what came second in importance.

Again, we know His answer.  We like to talk about it.

It’s not so much that we want to accomplish it; we just like to talk about accomplishing it.

Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. (Matthew 22:39)

You see, we like the concept of omphaloskepsis way too much.

Oh, sure we do.

God lives inside of us.  We get to contemplate life with Him.  We get to be one with Him.  It’s about us—me and God.

Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going.
Me and Jesus, we got it all worked out.

And then somebody goes and spoils it and tells us we have to stop looking at our belly-buttons.

Do we want to be relevant again?

We’re going to have to care for those around us as He did.  Give up our demands for comfort.  Abandon our requirement that we be served first.

Relevance demands putting others first.

I wonder.  Could it be time for us to look up from our own affairs?

Maybe we could look at the world once more through the lens supplied us by its Creator.

And He said to them, “Lift up your eyes…”

 

 

 

If you just focus on the smallest details, you’ll never get the big picture right.
(Leroy Hood ~ American biologist)

 

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;”
(Matthew 9:36-37 ~ NRSV)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

One thought on “Lift Up Your Eyes

  1. A deftly told story, Paul. You had me nodding my myopic, astigmatic (is that a word?) head in sympathy, followed by laughter, attentive reading and reflection. Spiritual myopia and narrowed vision is to be avoided at all costs. Jesus calls us to see ourselves and our neighbour clearly through a lens of grace, softened by His love. Thank you for this pause for thought. Blessings of seeing, giving and receiving gratefully to you this weekend.

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