By Susan K. Smith,
There are some things in our lives which are so traumatic, so painful, and so uncomfortable to even think about, much less look at straight-on, that many of us simply refuse to look at them. We in essence walk through life with our eyes clenched shut, refusing to deal with our own issues, and in so doing, we rob ourselves of the liberation which comes when we see what God has always seen but has been there for us, nonetheless.
This way of living happens on a personal, a spiritual and on a temporal, institutional level. What is too painful, we simply ignore. In light of the soon-to-open lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, there have been pictures of lynched victims in newspapers, on social media and even on news magazine programs. The pictures reveal America’s underbelly, which all Americans, black and white, have been all-too-willing to ignore. The pictures, though, make it impossible to act like these atrocities did not happen. A reporter, interviewing Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and whose life work has included exposing the horrific truth of lynching, seemed genuinely disturbed that the pictures are being shown, most recently on CBS’s “60 Minutes,”
When asked why showing the pictures was necessary, Stevenson answered her, “We don’t get to pretend that this stuff didn’t happen.”
But we do pretend like many things in our lives did not or do not happen. It is easier that way. We walk through life with our eyes clenched shut, thereby going down the same routes, taking the same streets, and falling into the same potholes, over and over. We find ways to justify what we are feeling or not feeling, which is often the result of walking with eyes clenched shut. If we have isolated ourselves, we can blame others for our loneliness. If we have ignored the fact that we have an illness, we can blame the medical profession when our health gets worse. If we have made bad decisions because we have refused to look at how we do or don’t do things, we can blame “the system” or another person for our state of living.
Americans, black and white, have walked with eyes clenched shut when it comes to dealing with racism, sexism and all of the other forms of discrimination that are a part of this country’s fabric. We too often find the comfortable seat of denial and sit in it, no matter what is going on around us. If we will not see what is wrong with our country, its government and its institutions, we will not be forced to see the injustice and corruption which causes everyone – including ourselves – deep pain. Not being willing to see honestly what this country has done has hampered growth and has filled America’s infected core with even more pus. Dr. King would have preached, had he lived, “Why America May Still Go to Hell.” Because of our clenched eyes, that statement is even more true today.
It is necessary for us to risk opening our eyes and risk the pain of working to get through and past the things which have kept us down. It is necessary for us to trust that, as we open our eyes, God will be there to steady us and keep us sane even as we see things we have not wanted to see. The lyrics of the hymn “Open my Eyes” states the plea that we might offer to God:
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free!
There are things of which we are embarrassed, things for which we may feel guilt or shame, secrets which we hold closer to our hearts than we hold God, and because of that, we are walking through life with our eyes clenched shut. We are missing the fullness of God’s plans for us; we are not able to have life “abundantly” because we will not risk seeing so that we can be healed and liberated. There are things in our spirits which push us and almost beg us to acknowledge so that we can see the beauty of God’s holiness around us and see the worth and goodness in ourselves, in spite of our issues.
What will be the result of our opening our eyes?
What will be the result of our opening our eyes? None but God can tell us that. Maybe we will be temporarily knocked down; maybe our sight will provide new revelations which we will absolutely hate. Revelation is only a part of the result of opening our eyes. There is also liberation and perhaps resolution of how the conflict we have carried because of an issue which has scraped our nerves for years.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” If God keeps us even as we walk with our eyes clenched shut, how much more will we feel God’s presence, urging, encouraging and supporting us as we deal with that which we have refused to see? God is good, we say. Even when we risk opening our eyes, God is forever good.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad