The other day I was shaken into the reality of my own inability to see clearly. Again.
In a moment of weakness I’d promised offspring Sammy I’d go with his class on a field trip. I’d been traveling earlier in the week and had conveniently forgotten my offer, only to return home to a very excited 8-year-old, who informed me he’d been sleeping with his National Geographic T-shirt since I’d left, just so he would be sure to remember to wear it when we went together on Friday.
And this is how it was that I found myself, not just quietly accompanying my son on a day at the museum, but slapped with a big nametag reading, “MRS. BUTLER” and assigned a rather unruly group of six kids, for which I was responsible to ferry down to the Metro station, on the Metro, off the Metro and down a busy D.C., street to the National Geographic headquarters. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Is it any wonder I am not a professional child educator? We hadn’t even made it on the six-block walk from school to the Metro stop before I was ready to throw in the towel.
Nevertheless, we persevered, spending two torturous hours in the museum trying to keep little hands from breaking things, and then successfully navigating our way through lunch. Whew!
The teacher told the parent chaperones we had a choice: for the 10 minutes remaining we could either take the kids to the National Geographic bookstore or let them run around in the courtyard.
Needless to say, I did not think too long about this question. Off I herded them toward the courtyard, desperately threatening pretty much anything I could think of to try to keep them together.
This was the moment that my own blindness–my complete inability to see the world as God sees it–hit me smack in the face. And it felt like a big bucket of cold water.
I noticed a homeless woman smoking on a bench, right in the path we were taking to the courtyard. I herded the kids away from her, because I just wasn’t sure if she might talk to them or they might talk to her–actually, I don’t know what I was afraid of. I just instinctively steered them away and then followed the kids.
I’d just passed the woman, veering the kids away and sort of walking between them and her, when I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. Ski hat pulled down over her head; big jacket covering her small frame; huge eyes taking everything in. I walked by and I realized: “I know her!”
And by “know,” I do not mean she looked familiar. Normally I see her in church (every single Sunday), not out on the streets. She and I worship together.
I turned around and called out her name in surprise and she smiled, like she’d been patiently waiting for me to notice her. “Hey Pastor Amy!” she said. “I thought that was you, but I usually see you in a long robe. I wasn’t sure when you walked right by me!”
I went right over to her, hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.
As I turned back to the kids one of them said to me, with a mixture of horror and surprise, “Who was THAT?” As I tried to explain I could feel my face burning with shame.
When I had my “Harried Parent Volunteer” hat on, she was just another faceless homeless person from whom I needed to protect the kids. But the minute I recognized her, my “Pastor” hat came out, and I felt not annoyed or concerned, but genuinely happy to see her.
It was in Mark 8 that Jesus lost his temper with his dense and unseeing disciples. In that moment in the National Geographic headquarters courtyard I swear I could hear his words ringing in my ears–a strident, impatient and, honestly, disappointed voice–the message at the moment just for me.
“Open your eyes!” Jesus yelled at the crowd (at me.) “For once, just look at what is right in front of you, instead of muddling your way through life so sure you have it figured out.
“Open your eyes, or you’re going to keep walking into trees, tripping over roots and ending up in places you never intended to go.
“Open your eyes.”
Oh, for eyes that could see the world with the open possibilities Jesus’ eyes did. Some days I’m sure I finally have them, and then something like this happens, and it seems to me that even after years of following Jesus I am still tripping and stumbling through this human life with eyes squeezed tightly shut.
Amy Butler is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. This column appeared previously in her blog.