Close acquaintances know my penchant for good movies and television. They are a “means of Grace” (sources of reflection and spiritual formation) for me.
Unconventional, perhaps, are the things I can “land on.” Some, for example, might be surprised at (scandalized by?) my fascination with and attraction to Sherlock – a fast-paced, creatively written contemporization of the Arthur Conan Doyle classics by PBS. (If, in fact, there is some scandal or shock with that line, I guess I better not even mention that another read on my night stand these days is The Gospel According to Breaking Bad! [When finished, it will join others on the shelf in that category: The Gospel According to Disney, Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in The Matrix, The Gospel According to Tony Soprano,…])
A recurring line spoken by and a dynamic personified by Sherlock is that most of us “see but do not observe.” He is, you see, the contemplative par excellence – at least, when it comes to the physical realm. Every episode has at least one brief foray during which the observant sleuth reels off a whole chain of accurate deductions about a person or a situation – deductions based on the briefest of encounters and examinations.
Here, I can not help but believe that he models for us a most fundamental and important virtue/discipline of life and living: the gift/ability of perceiving/studying/reflecting… beyond merely seeing. (It’s akin, I am thinking, to our really “listening to” someone [i.e., really absorbing their story and discerning deeper themes and stirrings] and not just “hearing” them.)
Recalls to me a book I saw reviewed as a must read from 2013: Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. (Honestly, I am not sure that I’ll engage the full book. The book review is, in many ways, enough to spin my head!) Writes Maria Popova):
“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras reverberates — and it can be learned, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz invites us to believe in her breathlessly wonderful On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes — a record of her quest to walk around a city block with eleven different “experts,” from an artist to a geologist to a dog, and emerge with fresh eyes mesmerized by the previously unseen fascinations of a familiar world. It is undoubtedly one of the most stimulating books of the year, if not the decade, and the most enchanting thing I’ve read in ages…
The review continues with a line that surely would have made Sherlock Holmes proud:
The book is her answer to the disconnect [between what she’s narrowly attended to versus the more that is there to be taken], an effort to “attend to that inattention”… It is an invitation to the art of observation.
“He who has ears [to hear], let him be listening and let him consider and receive and comprehend by hearing”: that’s the way Jesus put it. (Matthew 13:9) Here, I believe he had Ezekiel 12:2 in mind: “you dwell in the midst of the house of the rebellious, who have eyes to see and see not, who have ears to hear and hear not, for they are a rebellious house. Equally, then, could he have said (as many often attribute to him), “The one who has eyes, let him see.”
Altogether, it argues for a contemplative approach to life and living: “The one who has eyes, let him observe and perceive and understand.”
All said, it would appear that, if there’s a recipe for understanding, there are a lot of subtle and discrete ingredients – demanding, for most of us, a lot of attention and simmering in a “slow cooker” – as opposed to, say, the “microwave” processor of a Sherlock Holmes.
Sad thing is, though: most of us lack the patience to really observe and listen. Yes, as Browning put it, we don’t have time and patience to acknowledge the Holy ground we are ever and always standing on:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
In the dance of and in the dance to authenticity: stillness, observation, contemplation,… all have an essential place.