Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies conducted an intense study on the way our eyes see and concluded that we actually do not see with our eyes but with our brain. While it may seem that it takes very little effort to ‘see’ with our eyes it is up to our brains to process and understand what information is parading before them. From the time light hits the retina till the signal is well along the brain pathway that processes visual information, at least 70 milliseconds have passed. During this time, a baseball that clocks in at a rather lame 85 mph has already traveled 10 feet! For the player to hit the ball, experience notwithstanding, his brain has to compensate for the delay. I believe that in the photographic realm that 10 seconds is used to “see” a story beyond the obvious- it’s the ability to look more deeply and that translates into others seeing the story as well. Kathy Ryan, former Director of Photography for the NY Times Magazine wrote, “Photographers teach us to look again, look harder and look through their eyes.”
Several words across the pages of the Scripture describe seeing and carry all the nuances of both the action and the mental associations that take place during the process of sight. The different words used for seeing in the New Testament are particularly clear when applied to Jesus. The first, blepo, is primarily used to define the physical ability to see or having the faculty of sight. The second, horao (hoe-rah-oh), means “to see or perceive with the eyes, to look at” implying not the mere act or ability to see but also the actual perception of some object. The third is even more specific. Theaomai (thay-ah-oh-my) is seeing more deeply. It is derived from the verb which means to wonder and is usually defined as “to behold, view attentively, to contemplate” and involves the sense of careful and deliberate vision which interprets the object. We call this insight. It’s looking at a person’s face and knowing they’re sad or happy, assessing a situation and seeing that it’s safe or dangerous, sizing up a person’s actions and knowing whether or not they mean what they say. Jesus had the unique ability to put all three of these components of sight into whatever moment was at hand.
One thing which Jesus repeatedly took note of was the crowds which followed Him (Mt. 5:1; 8:18; Mk. 6:34; 9:25). Jesus looked (theaomai) at the crowd in Matthew 9:35-38 with the deepest sense of understanding. He saw that they were “harassed and helpless” as some versions translate it. In the Greek these words literally mean torn or mangled and thrown down. The sheep Jesus saw were pummeled by life. Barclay described them as people who were wearied from being on a journey that has no end. Doesn’t life seem like that sometimes? I think many people might describe their story that way. Jesus does not see “the sheep” with a quick glance. He sees their story from the deepest level of His being. We might say today that Jesus had a “gut reaction” to the sight of them. The story Jesus sees compels Him to teach the disciples that they are on a mission (Mt. 9:37-38) to procure a harvest so they should seek the Lord’s assistance in reaping it.
What makes you see is the natural faculty of sight. What makes you see a shot beyond the obvious is perception or insight. As a photographer I want to look at my world and see things that others don’t see. I want to see beyond the obvious. If my pictures are taken with honesty and precision in the way Kathy Ryan suggested, they will make others “look again and looker harder”. As a believer I want this kind of seeing present in my walk of faith too. I want to see what Jesus saw and the way He saw because His kind of seeing makes me look again and look harder. It is the kind of seeing that recognizes sheep without a shepherd. I don’t want to rush by a scene and miss a visual story neither do I want to rush by a person and miss his or her story. I want my seeing to be on the deepest level not only for a picture’s sake but even more importantly for Jesus’ sake.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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