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Archive for September 4th, 2012

When you are speaking with someone, do you prefer to look them in the eye or talk over the phone?”

Neither.

However, people who know me will certify me as a genuine phone-o-phobe.  “Give me a call!” says a new acquaintance, and I’ll smile and nod – and a year later, we’ll run into each other, catch up on news, and repeat the cycle.  Or I’ll ask for the person’s e-mail address.  Making appointments?  I’ve been known to drive miles out of my way to make an appointment in person.  I’d go without things I needed for months, rather than pick up the phone and order them – online ordering has been a godsend.

And my best friend from high school cannot bear to pick up a pen, or sit down to a computer keyboard, to write.  She’s a confirmed telephoner.  You can imagine how often we really communicate, outside of Christmas letters.

So to answer the question:  No, I never telephone if I can help it.  It isn’t just that I like the face-to-face contact.  It’s the risk of inconveniencing the person I’m trying to reach.  I mean, what if they’re In Bed?  I’m of a generation when, if the telephone rang, you answered it, dammit, and never mind what stage you and your partner had reached.  I still haven’t really gotten used to the idea that other people actually let their answering machines screen their calls.

But neither am I entirely comfortable with looking people smack in the eye.

Again, generationally speaking, I was taught that this was rude, almost confrontational, and I have to remind myself that nobody thinks that way anymore.  I did learn a trick that seems to keep people from being suspicious of me:  If you stare at a person’s nose, it seems they perceive that as being looked in the eye, and thus keeps you from getting a reputation for being “shifty-eyed.”  (Agatha Christie had a great description, incidentally, for a shifty-eyed person, something to the effect of “someone who looks you right in the eye and never blinks.”  I’m going out on a limb and say it was in her novel, A Murder Is Announced, which I think was one of her greatest.)

Well, I’ve gotten this far in life with minimal telephone use and gazing at the bridges of people’s noses, and have yet to be accused of anything more serious than being Too Quiet – and that was in fifth grade.  Meanwhile, it’s time to get supper on the table, so, as Tigger would say, “TTFN!  Ta-ta for now!”

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Yesterday’s NaBloPoMo prompt was, “Write about one object you see at this exact moment.”  I had a whole, really nice essay written about the view from my office window – then went to publish it, and somehow lost the whole thing.  Meanwhile, on another blog, I found this marvellous disquisition on one of the central facets of my faith:  the icon.  What follows is copied from the blog, Glory to God for All Things, by Father Stephen Freeman.  I recommend it most heartily.

The Scripture tells us that the “pure in heart shall see God.” I have always assumed that this describes a present event and not a promise about a distant life after death. We do not see God now, because our hearts are not pure. In the same manner, we do not see the reality of the world – because our hearts are darkened. I am increasingly convinced that the “literal” world that we see is distorted by our own self-deception. It is not a problem with creation itself – but the distortions of our own falsely created existence. 

What do you see when you see the world and how do you see it? I have written much about the secular character of our culture and its “literal” view of the world. The world is what you see and nothing more. Significant events take their significance from their own relation to other literal events. Much that passes for Christian theology or “thought” belongs to this world-view today. Thus those who concern themselves with “prophetic” events are constantly working to make a connection between the words of Scripture and the “literal” events of today’s news. The coming of Christ is seen by them as an event that will fit within the headlines of the paper – and even fantasize about the difficulties presented to mainstream media when the event of a “literal rapture” occurs, and a significant portion of the population goes missing. It is a way to see the world – not significantly different than how any non-believer sees the world – and – I would suggest – deadly dull and wrong.

There are other ways to see the world. The “other way” with which I am most familiar is the world as icon. Of painted icons we say they are “windows to heaven.” Though no more than wood and paint, faithful believers find them to be something which points to something yet more – they both point to and make present here.

The house in which I live has a marvelous feature. The living room – dining room (more or less one large room together) has one entire wall as floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition, the living room is cantilevered so that parts of two additional walls consist of windows as well. The effect is that the main living space of my home constantly includes the outdoors. In the Autumn the room is suffused with golden light from the leaves of the many trees that overlook the rear of our house. In the Spring and Summer, the room takes on a radiance from the many trees and flowers. Even in winter as the room looks out over the naked wood of trees and offers views of neighboring streets and houses – the room remains transformed.

To say that something is a window is to recognize both its “literal” presence as well as its “iconic” function. It provides both wall to enclose and yet reaches out to include. The world, I believe, when properly seen, does the same. There are occasional views of certain aspects of the world that make the most hardened, literal heart pause and recognize that something transcendent, or something which certainly hints at the transcendent has come into view.

I well understand that there are people who do not believe in God. Oftentimes when they tell me about the God they don’t believe in, I have to say that I don’t believe in that God either. But I do not understand people who live in our world and do not wonder whether there is a God – whether the beauty that refuses to disappear, despite our best efforts – is not reflective of some greater Beauty that refuses to utterly hide Himself.

My children (now adult) laugh at me for once having scolded them about “fairy circles.” We were walking in the woods in Durham, N.C. My oldest girl was 8, her sister between 5 and 6. We came on a clearing with a beautiful circle of mushrooms. “It’s a fairy circle!” I exclaimed. Despite late night readings of Tolkien and Lewis, both of them laughed at me and said, “Papa!” in their most disapproving, skeptical voices. My scolding was that they did not at least pause to wonder.

I do not believe in fairy circles, nor did I expect my children to. But I do wonder (and I still pray that my children do and often). I wonder because I believe the world to be iconic – a window that reveals more than a first glimpse. It reveals a beauty and a vastness that stretches beyond the literal. The patriarch Jacob once fell asleep. He dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven and saw angels going up and down the ladder. His response was iconic: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not! How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

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