I recently spent three days on a getaway with soul friends near Bend, Oregon. The weather there was a pleasant change from what is shaping up to be a dreary winter in North Central Washington. One morning, desperately in need of some fresh air, I decided to take a walk outdoors during our designated silent time. I strolled along a path that meandered along several small ponds, breathing deeply the smell of earth and evergreens. Partially frozen, the ponds shimmered in shades of silver and white. Cracks webbed through the ice like arteries, speaking of life even in the midst of winter’s grip. Grasses and cattails lined the edges, brown and brittle, but lovely still.
The quietude of the landscape was occasionally broken by the cries of geese flying overhead or gathering in distant fields. Small birds twittered in nearby trees, and I came upon a bench where I could sit and observe my feathered friends as they flitted from branch to branch. An avid birder, I was enthralled to see mountain chickadees, pine siskins and even a nuthatch or two that have been absent from my own bird feeder for months.
I spent several minutes in delight over their antics before lifting my head toward the top of the tree. To my surprise, there perched a large red-tailed hawk at the apex of the fir. It must have been there all along, for surely I would have heard the beating of its large wings had it landed while I was sitting there in silence. The bird was regal in its bearing, self-contained in its stillness, beautiful in its majesty. I nearly held my breath, not wanting to startle it.
Reveling in this loveliness, two words dropped into my mind, “Look up!” This was not an instruction, since I had already done so, but a lesson, something I needed to remember from this encounter. It occurred to me that I often have tunnel vision or a singleness of focus that is too intent on that which is right in front of me, and this prevents me from gaining the benefit of another point of view, a broader perspective or new insights. Sometimes I just need to look up, or down, or even sideways to claim the gifts of other vistas. As if to prove the point, I gazed off into the distance and became aware of the looming presence of Mount Bachelor. But this is a lesson that is even more true of life than landscapes.
When we get stuck in a particular situation, looking at it from the other side may help break something loose. When tunnel vision causes us to see only ourselves and our immediate concerns, widening our gaze may help us see the people who are walking alongside to help us through or to see beyond our own problems to the deeper issues that plague our communities and our world. Looking up allows us to see the way that God sees and be grateful for the gift of life and a knowledge of God’s presence with us through all that we face.
I’m at a certain age where I actually need tri-focals, lenses that are divided for distance vision, middle distances and close-up work. Maybe tri-focals can serve as a metaphor for life as well. All of these lenses are important for helping us navigate the journey ahead. We need multiple lenses in order to accurately perceive ourselves and others, the events of our lives and the practice of our faith. So when you discover a need for new perspectives, look up!