I climbed the steps to my literature class as I always do on early Wednesday mornings. That stairwell is something of a wardrobe for me, passing from one world and into another. The world I leave usually has my mind on tasks at hand, projects to complete before the day is done. The world I am entering embraces what I love – stories. I know that 20 students will enter this world with me. After three years of doing this, I still wonder if I can fill them with the same wonder I feel. Maybe I can, maybe I can’t, but mine is not to force them on this journey. I only carry the light and pray they follow me into the truth that is often only discovered in story.
But I digress. As I walked into the room, I was suddenly struck with a thought I had not planned, or at least I had not thought out for that morning. I went to the board and I wrote this sentence, “What does the garden flag in front of the entrance to this building say?” It was a Snoopy garden flag my mother had given me as a gift – I do enjoy Peanuts! It said quite simply over Snoopy’s delight in his supper bowl “Be Thankful.” I left it there on the board and did nothing with it until the end of the class. I then posed the question to the students to answer out loud. Not one of them could tell me. For whatever reason, it actually delighted me to find it so. I knew that this impromptu lesson would be valuable for them and me.
In the Sherlock Holmes adventure “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes poses something to his partner and friend Dr. Watson.
“You have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there.”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
I told the students lightheartedly that the point of this exercise was not to make them feel guilty because they had not given due attention to a simple garden flag. But that simple exercise was nonetheless convicting in a different sense to me. Holmes sought out the observation for the purpose of knowledge and its application. But God has called me to see and observe because He says that He has made Himself completely known in His creation. Thinking back on it now, I believe that was the revival I felt in my heart at Hutchmoot 2014. Though God be invisible, He has revealed His beauty, His truth, His goodness, and His love everywhere I look. He has made Himself known all along these North Carolina roads I travel – the trees, the fields, the sun, the rain. He has shown Himself in the stories I enjoy, the music that fills my heart, the movies that stir me with delight.
I ended my discussion with the students with this thought, one that I know the Spirit put in my mouth just prior to saying it. We often fail to observe things like a simple garden flag. How often do we fail to observe people? For that is where God has made Himself most evident. We are made in His image after all. God chose human flesh for His Son to make the way for us to return to Him. He calls His church the body of Christ.
I am the first to admit that I am not very observant of people. Perhaps I am scared of what I think I will find – brokenness, rejection, loneliness, sin. Maybe I am afraid of that because I will be forced to reckon with them in myself. Thank God He did not fail to observe me in that state. He observed, and He loved. He calls me now as His image bearer to observe others and love them just the same. That is where His beauty is truly revealed and truly observed.