This Amazes Me

Lightning struck twice.

However, what bothered me first was a bug that flitted by. I swiped at it. Missed. There it came again, angling up to the left. Oops, to the right. Then the erratic little creature vanished.

The persnickety insect was followed by lightning, brief slashes of light from a distant storm seen from the corner of my left eye. Ah-oh. The bursts of white streaks were not from bad weather brewing far away, but inside my head.

The 7th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 20, 2011

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD… (Leviticus 19: 18)

Almost two years ago, I experienced flashing lights and floating debris (“bugs”) in my right eye. An ophthalmologist diagnosed PVD, or posterior vitreous detachment. As a handy-dandy Wikipedia article states, “The vitreous humor fills the eye behind the lens. At birth it is attached to the retina. Over time the vitreous changes, shrinking and developing pockets of liquefaction, similar to the way a gelatin dessert shrinks, or detaches, from the edge of a pan over time.” My gelatin dessert had shrunk again, this time on the other eye. Thus, lightning struck twice.

The physician (same guy as before) poked and prodded my view to the world and, like any good stand-up comedian on tour, described my situation with the identical joke from my first visit: “Most people get PVD because of birthdays.”

Age. Birthdays. The passage of years. Waving a fond farewell to youth.

And then my comic doc repeated another revelation: the brains of most folks with PVD gradually adjust to the light flashes. They’re barely noticed after a period of time; instead the gray matter we haul around on the top floor “learns” to ignore the thunderless lightning storms that seem to rise east of the earlobes.

This amazes me. Already, in my left eye, the flashes have decreased since my appointment. The doctor did nothing other than confirm I had PVD rather than, for example, a more serious retinal tear. I am adjusting. My right eye, in the two years since the visit, now only has infrequent slivers of “lightning.” And yet, if I’m to believe my local ophthalmologist (and Wikipedia!), I now walk around, eyes wide open, never fully aware there’s a continuous storm zip-zapping around the backside of my baby browns.

Actually, this doesn’t amaze me. We humans regularly forget, ignore, overlook, or “turn a blind eye” to a whole lot of different experiences.

My Mom—oh, how I love her when she says things like this—once mentioned she probably wouldn’t have had a second kid (known as me) or a third child (my cute younger sister) if she’d remembered how painful giving birth could be! But she forgot. Mom’s a comedian, too.

Me? I forget names. And this is not a “birthday” issue. I’ve always forgotten names, regardless of the candle count on the cake. Some people have a so-called photographic memory, but I’m not one of them. In churches I’ve served, where on the first Sunday I arrived as the new pastor, everyone knew my name . . . hey, they only had to remember one name! But whether a rural church with fifty members or a suburban congregation with hundreds of friendly faces, I worked hard to remember who was John or Mary or Vladimir or Consuela. A confession. In the churches I’ve served with gay couples, it took long, tough months to recall the woman with short hair was Jane and her partner with a beehive was Joan. As far as I’m concerned, the only valid defense for heterosexual marriage is selfish . . . it’s easier to tell a male from a female. (Well, most of the time!) Bottom line, it drives me nuts to put names and faces together. It’s not the other person’s fault, but my ever-forgetful gray matter.

Forgetting names is one thing. Forgetting faith is another.

Don’t we do that?

I read in the first Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I am a Christian. Those words, according to Matthew, come from Jesus. They are simple, straightforward, unvarnished. But not unique. Because I also read from Leviticus, containing words that even during Jesus’ time were considered ancient statements. His Jewish tradition declared, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Golden rule, eh? Not unique to Christians. Not unique to Jews. One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakāt, which at one level is “almsgiving,” but more broadly is actively seeking equality for and with others. All others. Indeed, I’m confident every established religion affirms and highlights a variation of the golden rule.

But how easily people of faith ignore faith. Right now, in the news, Egyptians are killing Egyptians. Regardless of how any person of faith in Egypt feels about President Hosni Mubarak, how could they justify harming another? And of course, it’s not only Muslims in Egypt, or whatever or whoever happens to be (or not be) in today’s news. People of faith easily, awfully forget faith.

I’m thankful that, without me doing a thing, my feeble gray matter will learn to ignore those persnickety flashes of light. I’m also thankful that under normal circumstances I don’t have to think about breathing air or pumping blood. Lots of good stuff takes care of itself.

But every day, without fail (though with lots of failure), I have to work hard at not only recalling a name, but remembering my faith. To love my enemy. To pray for the one who might persecute me. Lightning strikes abound. I hope not to ignore them.

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    1. I’m humbled to be sermon inspiration on a Friday afternoon, but you have at least another 36 hours to be inspired. Of course, all of us shift from inspiration to panic at different points. Preaching . . . such a privilege it is!

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