By The Rev. Eric Long
“Sagging” is not a word one welcomes a doctor to use when describing what’s happening to a part of your body. This is especially true if you’re still in your twenties, and the sagging is occurring in a particularly sensitive area. Yet that was my fate, when my doctor told me several years ago that my vision was quickly deteriorating due to an eye condition causing my corneas to sag. Thankfully, he offered a solution to the unwelcome droop in my eyes: rigid contact lenses, which straighten up corneas like a strict mother who allows no slouching. Ever since, I wear such lenses to keep my eyes on the straight and narrow.
These are finely engineered contacts, each crafted to precisely reshape only one eye, meaning each offers correct vision only if worn where it’s uniquely designed to fit. Thus, it was with alarm that I learned at my annual exam that at some point in the year, I mixed up my contacts, and, consequently, spent an indeterminate number of months shaping each of my eyes in the wrong way. “I’m surprised you’re able to see much of anything well at all,” the technician told me, shocked that I wouldn’t notice such a thing for so long. Thankfully, over time this will be corrected by putting each lens back in its proper place. However, for the next few weeks, I not only will have sagging corneas, but misshaped ones, malformed by mixed-up lenses, not made to fit my eyes and correct my vision.
My exam was on Ash Wednesday, a day we gather in church for an annual checkup with reality. Owning up to our mortality and the places of brokenness in our lives is necessary if we are to see ourselves and the world about us without distortion. Sadly, we don’t look at our lives with such honesty too often, but instead gaze through alternative lenses which skew our vision if we look through them too long. Consider your television, where you will almost universally see youth, beauty, and success prized beyond all else. Death will rarely be present there, other than as something the protagonist will never face, unless to forever escape from it. Glance at the political season at hand, where no candidate ever asks us to look at our own need for sacrifice or reform, but rather to see only others as the problem. We are ever encouraged to value self-justification over self-reflection, self-satisfaction over self-giving. And we look at life through these lenses without knowing they aren’t really right for us; they’re mixed up and will only cause our eyes to become malformed and our vision skewed.
This is why we are given the corrective that is the season of Lent. In these forty days, we see that it is okay to acknowledge our wrong, because we exist in a universe of grace, upheld by an uncondemning God who is heaven-bent on setting us right. In this yearly march to Easter, we feel the freedom to take a glance at the scary abyss that is our death, because we do so through the lens of Jesus, who has trampled down death and will overcome it in us as well. Lent fixes our myopia, bends the astigmatism straight, all while taking the lazy slouch out of vision that has never been lifted to see anything but self. Lent casts our vision on the things of God and God’s wondrous activity in the world, which can be so easily missed if our eyes are misshaped by lenses not made to help us rightly see.
“You have eyes, but do not see,” Jesus often said. I know, all but literally, what he meant. Yet I also know what it is to have vision restored, through lenses that refocus and shape sight to behold reality truthfully.
May this Lent be one of ever perfecting vision for you, as the abiding truths of your life come into focus through the lenses crafted uniquely for you by God.
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector