Nearly two months ago, I was at a casual dinner with colleagues in ministry when the topic of the latest Avatar movie came up. Someone who had saw it and appreciated portions shared matter-of-factly, “ I mean, didn’t we get the message I see you last time? How many times do we need to hear it?” That comment and question stuck in me this two months since bringing ongoing reflection rising regularly. Take or leave what follows according to what’s energy producing for you, resonance or resistance, to discover your own movements on the matter.
Yes, the characters of Jake and Neytiri learn to deeply “see each other” in the first film, and then, they and a different kind of community learn to “see each other” in the second film, including Jake’s kids now learning to deeply “see” other peers. Jake even learns to finally “see” the son he never could seem to understand below his surface judgments and assumptions. It’s true, the same message is repeated across films over and over. Yet … in a world where the white community still has a lot of work to do to deeply see the black, brown and indigenous communities, really understanding the complexities of systems that keep some down and others “on top, can we ever hear the encouragement or challenge to see more deeply enough? In a world where women yet need to be deeply seen, (and heard), regarding their right to be respected at any table they wish to sit at at or with choices they feel called to make, can we ever hear the encouragement to do so or see enough models of it happening? In a world where immigrants and children yet feel they matter not, in part because the complexity of persons fleeing countries, trafficking and more are ignorantly and maliciously oversimplified or dismissed, leaving persons not seen or embraced at all as human beings first and foremost as opposed to being labeled “problems” we just don’t want to deal with, has the Avatar movie message really “run its course”?
Not long after this casual dinner conversation on Avatar, I sat with a young female pastor I companion spiritually in a session. She and her husband both share equally as pastors of a congregation and are both expecting a baby. As she and her husband worked with the leadership on an agreement about leave, not only for her but for both of them when the baby was born, though they were equally employed, there was absolutely no concern or discussion of what might be lost or not carry on if she were gone. She was really free to take just about whatever leave she wanted without thought. However, there was great struggle and resistance, when it came to her partner in ministry and life taking any leave. “What would they do without his ministry skills and presence!?” She vulnerably shared in a safe, courageous space, the real pain of not feeling seen and in fact feeling dismissed as a woman in ministry. As leadership teams don’t even think to treat ministry couples equally regarding leave as to what might be missed, should be appreciated, at least acknowledged with that, (even if the man might still be there or request less leave), it becomes obvious how far we have yet to go for women in ministry to be fully seen. And sadly, too many churches haven’t even begun to see non binary or fluid gendered persons or couples at all in ministry. It seems there is just so much to yet “see”, let alone see in a way that means one is known deeply. Held dearly.
These were some of the many reflections I gently held over time out of my friend’s innocent comment, as I ran or walked some mornings, grounding my being as I pounded the pavement. Interestingly, as I did that, I caught myself noticing in a fresh way a regular practice I tend to do organically at this point while running. As I hear the birds, or feel the wind, or see the trees swaying or flowers opening, I often will gently say aloud: “ I see you. I hear you. I feel you,” as I continue to move along. It’s become a way I intentionally acknowledge creation, each piece’s presence, as precious and worthy of being deeply acknowledged. Those words a way of living into the desire to acknowledge the presence of all that I share this world with, rather than simply overlook it as I zip on by. It’s a simple reverence practice. And yet in it’s simplicity, just as practices usually do, I feel it grounding something in me for beyond those running times. The capacity and natural movement now to practice that on a greater level in other interactions and encounters with folks both like me, and very different than me. I wonder, even though I connected my friends’ movie comment to my practice, if that practice, in fact, could have played any small part, in being drawn to reflect on my friend’s comment. I’ll have to sit with that a bit.
I had begun, also before that conversation in a restaurant in Florida, to say to persons sharing vulnerably or perhaps simply over a longer period of time with me: “I see you”, “I hear you”, or both. Another simple organic intentional practice for seeding a greater more profound sight than I had been formed to offer growing up, being raised in a country where people barely glance at one another going by it seems. Walter Burghardt, a Jesuit, challenges us “to take a long loving look at the real,” to dare to take a contemplative stance toward all we see and experience, refusing to look away or settle for a quick glance, lest we miss all the richness held in whatever stands before us or that perhaps might be going on in us, waiting to be mined for the gold of Sacred’s Presence within and around us all. Nuggets in service of changing the world.
I wonder what practices you might already have, or that you might gently seek from within for movement into a deeper seeing of persons and even all pieces of Great Creator’s creation?
I invite you to make some time in days ahead for pondering that. Perhaps while you walk, garden, or work at a current project. Meanwhile, though my daughter and I hold a special love for Avatar movies in general, I’m not ready to let go of watching them quite yet as another practice for promoting better eyesight in this world. As far as I’m concerned, the answer to “haven’t we heard the message enough,” is not yet.