It happened during an evening spent in the home of a family from our church. Craig and Andrea are missionaries serving on the campus of Colorado State University. Their commitment is impressive, their home often crammed full of students. Their daughter, Zoe, is a little lady with a big smile, and, once we’d finished our meal, Zoe announced her plan.
“Let’s play hide-and-seek,” she whispered, and then proceeded to take us on a tour of the room, pointing out the most likely places where she would hide. Perhaps she didn’t feel confident that we would be able to locate her without some help. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the game to be over. Time for another suggestion from Zoe.
“You know, I can jump really high,” she ventured. I realised that this was not a moment to just congratulate her on her vertical take-off skills, or encourage her that, should she embrace a challenging regime of exercise and athletic discipline, perhaps there might be a gold medal in her future. She didn’t need to hear any of that. She just wanted me to utter three words.
“Show me, Zoe.”
And show me she did. Bouncing up onto the couch, she made me feel a little nervous (“We had the minister and his wife over for dinner, and the kids ended up in hospital with broken bones…”) and then leapt into the air, landing safely, which was the answer to a hasty prayer. We clapped and cheered. Zoe wanted to be seen and we’d obliged.
We all have a deep need to be seen. The first time we ride a bike without falling off or successfully use a potty (hopefully not at the same time!), when we score a goal or win that race, the need to be noticed is primal in us all – so much so that the hunger can create dysfunction. Jesus rebuked the pharisaic barons who adopted a ‘pray and display’ spirituality and exposed their desperate appetite to not only be seen but celebrated: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others”, he warned in Matthew 6:5. And later, in that withering sermon in Matthew 23:5: “Everything they do is done for people to see”.
But we all have a healthy need to be seen, and noticing is one of the wondrous attributes of God, as the Old Testament story of Hagar reveals. A trafficked slave who had been hauled out of her Egyptian homeland and taken across borders to Canaan, she was commodified, used and abused by Abram and Sarai. A bewildered fugitive in the Sinai desert, she bumped into an angel, heard her name spoken, and gave God a name too: “You are the God who sees me,” (Genesis 6:13). Hagar discovered this life-altering truth, one that’s affirmed throughout scripture: when God sees, he cares.
And then there’s Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), that diminutive chap who always makes me think of a tree-bound Danny DeVito. A man despised by all, tagged as a shark, a quisling and a traitor, that tax gatherer had felt the icy freeze of many cold, hard stares. And then Jesus came by, peered up into the branches, saw him and spoke his name. Being seen birthed a brand-new life.
And so today, let’s notice who and what are around us. As Annie Dillard put it: “We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other…otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”