Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eyes and Ears

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.

                        Psalm 34.15

Cellophane Crises

The Broadway musical Chicago stops smack in the middle of its razzle-dazzle for one of the saddest songs ever heard on the stage. Amos, cuckolded husband of murderously ambitious Roxie Hart, steps into the spotlight and sings “Mr. Cellophane,” his lament of being perpetually ignored. The refrain captures his sorrow to a tee: “You can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there.” I’ve probably seen the number performed a dozen times—in productions ranging from spectacular to regrettable—and no matter how poorly it’s rendered, it always raises a lump to my throat. Feeling invisible is common to us all, and with it the attendant sense nobody sees or hears us because we’re not worth being seen or heard.

Cellophane crises with people leave us rattled and depressed. But feeling that God’s not watching or listening takes a much graver toll. It digs beneath personality-driven insecurities to question the value He places on us as His creations. Times when we think God neither sees who we are nor hears what we say can catapult us into deep despair. This is why it’s essential to know our Creator vigilantly watches over us and hears us, despite every feeling and circumstance goading us to doubt it. Climbing out dejection starts with a tight grip on Psalm 34.15: “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.” We may not feel Him looking. It may sound like our prayers go no further than the ceiling. But He is looking and listening. We must believe this with total confidence.

No Immunity

There’s no immunity against spiritual cellophane crises. They typically strike at our weakest, most vulnerable moments. They’re opportunistic, attacking when they’re best able to overwhelm. The best example of this comes from Jesus. He hangs on a cross, battered and bleeding, staring into the faces of former fans turned into jeering accusers. Hatred and fear jaundice their vision; they see a common criminal suspended before them. Their shouts and laughter drown His words and groans. But Christ’s sense of invisibility to others hardly compares to the agony of feeling like God’s no longer attentive to Him. He bears this as long as possible before screaming, “My God,” calling again, “My God,” and then pleading, “Why have you forsaken me?” Christ’s anguish chills us to the core. When He needs His Father most, He’s forced to cry for Him: Where are You? Do You see this? Are You listening? If Jesus isn’t spared moments of invisibility, if He can’t avoid cellophane crises, it’s foolish to imagine we can.

Yet Jesus’s sense of abandonment is fleeting. He bridles His emotions to trust what He knows. God is there, watching and listening. When physical, mental, and emotional strength fails, He entrusts God with His care: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23.46) If Jesus can overcome feeling invisible and believe God is present, so can we.

Seen in Secret, Heard in Advance

Feeling invisible rocks us because it devalues us. Human nature and self-regard place great value in being part of the crowd, not lost in it. And the only thing worse than feeling unseen and unheard is being made to feel invisible. It’s a purposeful insult meant to say, “You’re not worth being seen and heard.” For the moment it stings, we may believe it. If our confidence that God sees and hears can’t be shaken, though, being seen and heard by others loses all importance. In fact, Jesus teaches certainty God’s eyes are on us and His ears are tuned to our prayers negates all need to be noticed.

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them,” we read in Matthew 6.1. Don’t give to be seen, Jesus says, and don’t pray to be heard. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (v6-8) We are not invisible to God. We’re seen in public, seen in secret. Our prayers are heard in advance. His eyes rest on us and His ears stay open at all times.

OK. I can’t resist the Divine Miss M. Bette Midler: “From a Distance.”

(Tomorrow: Downpour)


Annette said...

I love this post! It makes me want to be kinder and more aware of how I treat others.

You're right, God is always mindful of us, and he expects no less in return to our brothers and sisters "as ye have done until the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me"

Thank you for the "happy" today!

Tim said...

What an excellent point, Annette!

As reflections of God, we must always mirror His watchfulness and attentiveness to others. We need to hone our sensitivities to see and hear them at all times.

And here's the real beauty in this: if we notice and listen to them, they'll look beyond us to see God's presence in their lives and hear His loving voice. Jesus said when others see our goodness, they'll glorify our Father in heaven.

It's a mystery that overwhelms me. Our mirror-image of our Maker transforms us into windows through which others find Him. Reaching out to those struggling with cellophane crises makes us transparent!

How blessed we are to be able to do this. And what a blessing you are to remind us of it.


genevieve said...

A beautiful post, Tim. I was praying this afternoon remembering the folks who are shunted aside because of who they are. I was overcome a couple of times. I remembered that Jesus loves them and sees how valuable they are in His sight.

genevieve said...

Oh, I forgot. The song Miss M sang was beautiful and right on.

Tim said...

As always, Genevieve, your gentleness and compassion shine through your words. It is overwhelming to consider how many people travel though life feeling invisible--particularly those subjected to surface judgments based on their identities and appearances.

Speaking of the Divine Miss M, she told a story years (and years) ago at a concert I attended. I've never forgot it.

Walking in lower Manhattan, she crossed paths with a homeless woman who'd plastered a fried egg on her forehead, as if it were a little hat. Bette lowered her eyes to avoid looking at the lady.

As she walked on, she silently prayed, "Oh God, please don't let me become someone who walks around with an egg on my head." She thought about it a bit more and added, "But if I do, please don't let people stare." She thought some more and prayed, "But if they do stare, please help me not to notice."

After the laughter died down, in true Miss M fashion, Bette said, "Because, if you think about it, we ALL walk around with fried eggs on our heads."

A lot of us ignore people with fried eggs on their heads, never realizing we're wearing one, too. We stare at them, but never see them. We hear their rambles, but never listen to their pain. As Annette says above, we who know God's grace and mercy are charged to see and listen to others, offering them love we'd yearn to receive if we were they. Because we're not invisible to God, no one should be invisible to us.

Thank you so much for your comments, Genevieve. You are truly a blessing to us all.

Peace and joy,