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“BELIEVING IS SEEING”
A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, April 24, 2011 (Easter)
This just in: scientists have discovered “the real” Mt. Sinai. It’s not in the Sinai Peninsula at all – it’s in Saudi Arabia! Lead scientists claim that they’ve also located the site of Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea as Nuweiba, where there is an underwater land bridge, upon which damaged chariot parts and bones remain engulfed in coral. Shazaam! Must be true – I read it on the Internet.
Grizzly Adams Productions, Inc. has also figured out why the Shroud of Turin was dated by three separate labs as being a forgery created 600-700 years ago. It turns out that the samples given to the labs were from a patch used in 1532 after a fire destroyed portions of the burial cloth. So the C-14 date is accurate for the patch, but not for the Shroud.
The Shroud, if you will recall, is an ancient piece of linen 14 feet 3 inches long by 3 feet 7 inches wide and is said to contain the negative image of a man who appears to have been beaten and crucified. By using laser technology, they say, two-dimensional photographic negatives of the image become anatomically accurate three-dimensional holograms of a man.
Grizzly Adams Productions, Inc. says that particle physicist Isabel Piczek thinks the image was created by an infinitesimally small fraction of a second: “The image may have been created by a complex process arising as Christ’s body passed from one form of existence into another. It may be something akin to the Big Bang, but at the opposite end of the creation continuum – a portal opens into a new science and eventually into a new form of human existence.” This, also, must be true, since I read it on the Internet.
I say these things to you this morning just to get a rise out my professorial friend, Bob McMahon, whose pet peeve is people trying to “prove” the Bible true by using scientific evidence. His eyes roll big time when he sees headlines like, “Noah’s Ark found on Mount Ararat” and “Ocean residue proves the Great Flood that wiped out creation” and “Especially porous iron accounts for Elisha’s floating axehead.”
I guess I really want to make two points this morning: first, that believing is seeing; and second, that seeing is overrated. The first point came to me in an epiphany during my shower this morning. Our shower walls are covered with a patterned tile and, occasionally, out of the blue, a face pops out. Then another, and another. Surely, I can’t be making this up, can I?
Making me feel better is poet Billy Collins, who wrote an entire poem about this phenomenon of seeing patterns in random swirls. It’s called, “Creatures,” and here’s some of it:
Hamlet noticed them in the shapes of clouds,
but I saw them in the furniture of childhood,
creatures trapped under surfaces of wood….
One submerged in a polished sideboard,
one frowning from a chair-back,
another howling from my mother’s silent bureau,
locked in the grain of maple, frozen in oak.
So you will understand my reaction
this morning at the beach
when you opened your hand to show me
a stone you had picked up from the shoreline.
“Do you see the face?” you asked
as the cold surf circled our bare ankles.
“There’s the eye and the line of the mouth,
like it’s grimacing, like it’s in pain.”
“Well, maybe that’s because it has a fissure
running down the length of its forehead
not to mention a kind of twisted beak,” I said,
taking the thing from you and flinging it out
over the sparkle of blue waves
so it could live out its freakish existence
on the dark bottom of the sea
and stop bothering innocent beachgoers like us,
stop ruining everyone’s summer.
OK, so there’s Point Number One: believing is seeing. When we’re convinced something’s true, we see it everywhere. Sort of a circular proof. And that would be OK – if seeing were that big a deal. It’s not.
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and director of Baylor’s Laboratory for Perception and Action. He introduces to us something we should have known all about, had it not been for our premium-sized egos. Homo Sapiens: the apex of creation’s food chain. Homo Sapiens: the magnificent universe, reflecting upon itself. Well, actually, not so much….
Eagleman reminds us that in 1909 a biologist by the name of Jakob von Uexkull introduced something he called umwelt. It’s a simple concept, really. It refers to the fact that, depending on what kind of critter you are, your world consists of the things your body is designed to sense. The deer tick, for example, is particularly attracted to body temperature and butyric acid. The black ghost knifefish uses electrical fields and the echolocating bat senses through air-compression waves.
I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the deer tick and black ghost knifefish and echolocating bat all are convinced that they “see” all of reality. [Eagleman] In the movie, The Truman Show, the eponymous Truman lives in a world completely constructed around him by a TV producer. When asked why Truman has never come close to discovering the truth of the bubble he’s in – unknown to him, being viewed by all the rest of humanity – the producer replies, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.”
Your world, in other words, is limited to the abilities of your senses to detect it. Imagine you’re a bloodhound. Your nose houses 200 million scent receptors. Your world is about olfaction. One afternoon, you have a revelation. What is it like to have the pitiful, impoverished nose of a human being? What can humans possibly detect when they take in a feeble little noseful of air? Do they suffer a hole where smell is supposed to be?
Isn’t it more than a little curious that we can talk of rattlesnakes using the infrared band to find prey and honeybees navigating by ultraviolet signals and have it still not occur to us that we have no natural access to those things that they take for granted? Eagleman reminds us that the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it!
So – the moral of the story seems to be that we need to be a bit more…shall we say…humble in trying to prove to others the veracity of our faith. Maybe that’s why they call it…faith. Suffice it to say, “He is Risen, Alleluia!”