The other night we were driving to Sam's indoor soccer game in Harrisburg. While driving through the cold and dark landscape, our lights illuminated snowy patches roadside and spindly tree branches pricked the night sky as we listened to This American Life on the old tinny radio. The story, "Batman" was an intriguing narrative about how the collective thoughts of a culture can profoundly affect what the blind believe they are capable of doing day to day. This story is one in a series of stories called "Invisibilia" Latin for "all the invisible things" thus, delving into "the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions." - npr.org
They interviewed a blind man, Daniel Kish, who can get around quite well by clicking his tongue and using those clicks as a way to navigate, bat-style, through the world. He was raised without normal blind intervention and climbed trees and rode bikes in his childhood simply because no one told him he couldn't. His mother, also interviewed, said she wanted him to have as much freedom as any sighted kid. Kish is able to picture in his mind things around him by clicking, sounding his way around. The sound bounces off objects and allows him to "see" the world around him.
They interviewed a neuroscientist, Lore Thaler, to explain how his clicking might allow mental images to form in his brain. It was quite fascinating. The neuroscientist explained when she hooked him up to brain sensors the areas in his brain that lit up were those dedicated to sight. His clicking painted a picture. She said it can be described like walking down a street reading a book using only your peripheral vision. You can see buildings and the basic landscape but you can't read the street signs or take in the details.
Through out the broadcast they interviewed people connected closely with the blind and the blind themselves to explore the beliefs we hold in regards to what blind people can and cannot do. So often the blind are led around by the sighted simply because the accepted collective belief about the blind are that they need help and cannot do it on their own. Kish argues that the blind are capable of so much more and they can in fact "see" using his bat-style clicking technique. He said he was raised without the handholding parameters to fence him in. He rides bikes and climbs trees and walks freely about unafraid. He now trains blind kids to "see" the world through his clicking technique.
His largest hurdle in training blind kids in this way are the parents. They don't want their children scraped or bruised or worse as they learn to navigate. Kish said parents jump in half a second too soon to pull their child back from a potentially dangerous situation. Of course he can understand their desire to prevent what could be catastrophic if they waited half a second too late. However it still robs them of that moment of clarity and confidence.
At one point in the broadcast the interviewer exclaimed, "You don't have to have eyes to see!" It was during the moment the neuroscientist explained how Kish can "see" using clicking to light up the areas dedicated to sight in brain mapping. That statement, "you don't have to have eyes to see", reminded me of seeing the invisible, spiritually speaking. In the Bible there are quotes about having eyes to see, or more importantly, not see. 2 Corinthians 4:18, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
I often pray for eyes to see what God would have me see. To realize the unseen is more real than the seen. What is around us now is temporary but what is to come is eternal. In Matthew 6 we can find the Lord's Prayer, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Oh that I would live the truth of His kingdom in the here and now. I so struggle to see the invisible. Yet this story of a blind man seeing by listening, bat-like, to navigate unhampered and unafraid reminds me so vibrantly that as we listen to the Spirit we can see the invisible. We don't need eyes to see! We can map our brains to see what our eyes can't detect. We walk by faith not by sight. We can develop this skill.
However, I think if we're honest with ourselves, we will admit to having the same hang ups that the parents of the blind kids have. We don't want to risk the scrapes and bruises and very real danger of serious injury or death while treading so closely to potential disaster. We want to insulate and protect. We want to stay far from harms' way.
We do this with ourselves and with our children. We pull back half a second too soon and miss out on the startling moments of clarity and confidence that lead to sight. We stunt growth and those areas dedicated to "sight" don't light up in our brain mapping. We stay in darkness, afraid and faithless, but we think we are safe. Safe from what, though, and to what end? Are we to be led around by others? Do we live in darkness and stay far from adventure for fear of what might happen? Do we train our kids to stay on the sidelines due to our sightlessness? Or do we step out in faith calling out to an invisible God to guide us and build up spiritual sight?
I want to risk the pain of momentary scrapes and bruises to develop spiritual sonar. To be guided by listening to the Spirit, clicking prayers out into the vast unknown to map out images of a heavenly kingdom come. "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." Psalm 119:18
Back to Invisibilia, "the invisible forces that shape human behavior" and how it relates to our belief system as Christians. We flesh out our beliefs in our everyday. How we live and what we do shows how the rubber meets the road. Are we living by the sight of the here and now or are we living in light of eternity? Do we step out into the dark unknown with a steadfast belief that God will be our ever present help in times of need? Do we believe God is enough? Is He worth the risk of our hearts and our very lives? Our God calls us out of darkness and into light. We are called to show the way. We have all we need but do we believe it? Our lives will show the answers to these questions. Push into that half a second between clarity and darkness to find confidence in our Holy and Everlasting God. He separated darkness and light and calls us forward into the unknown.