“For to have eyes is not the same as to look; nor again to look the same as to see.” — Augustine, Soliloquies 1.6
In Augustine’s Soliloquies, he dialogues with Reason about the soul and a soul’s three vital components/functions: eyes, looking, and sight. We live in a world full of sights that previous generations would never have imagined. Thanks to modern transportation, much of the world is within our grasp in hours. We are an internet search away from NASA’s live feed from the International Space Station, virtual tours of the Louvre, or detailed Google Earth images of UNESCO sites. And yet, as Reason argues, while looking we can fail to see.
If Augustine’s Reason is correct (and I think that he is indeed correct), what brings about this inability to truly see, and is there any hope of restoration? The possible reasons for the inability to see are numerous. One could suffer from inattentiveness, numbness, self-proclaimed busyness, boredom, or a host of others. But I think perhaps the most crucial and frequent reason is disenchantment. A world through disenchanted lens reveals the heartbreaking substitution that we have made as the extraordinary becomes ordinary. This idolatrous substitution needs a powerful remedy.
One start to the remedy that I witness faithfully day after day is in the attitudes and personalities of my very own children. Their vigorous and novel approaches to life–whether simple or great–are incredible and sometimes rather taxing. In an embarrassing example, Finley requested the hymn Amazing Grace four times on the way to church. It was embarrassing for me because by the fourth time singing the song (with all four verses), I was growing rather tired and bored. My eyes have witnessed that splendid Amazing Grace, and yet my sight needed reminding. G.K. Chesterton’s quote about this very thing came to mind after we dropped the boys off in the nursery.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
While Chesterton proposes a hypothetical question, I do think he is on to something. God does delight in repetition. Lamentations 3:23 confirms that God’s mercies (v.22) are new every morning. He does not tire in offering mercy to His people. And here is where we find the answer to breaking our disenchantment and beholding the mystery. C.S. Lewis outlines the problem for us in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”. Our disenchantment begins by replacing the beauty that shines through creation and perceiving that beauty is in such things. Lewis warns us that doing this is to create an idol. So where do we look? What do we behold? The One who opens the eyes of the blind (Matthew 11:1-6).
Our idols can take us farther than we ever want to go, and make us more miserable than we can ever perceive. They can stir a disenchantment in our lives that dims beauty and centers our worship on things that were never created to be worshiped. It is ironic thinking about the lyrics to Amazing Grace that Finley was eagerly belting out. We were singing those lyrics of once being blind, but now seeing, and there I was growing weary. I needed waking up that morning. A fresh reminder that the enchantment is broken and done away. I can see. So, come and behold the wondrous mystery.