Around the same time as the papal visit to Philadelphia, the above photo made the rounds. Though it was actually taken not of Philly crowds, but fans of Johnny Depp at the Brookline, MA premiere of his latest film Black Mass, this shot captures our culture and how we now see things. Sight is great, but now we want not just proof of our experience, but permanence. Those desires aren’t inherently bad things–sometimes they can even be quite good things to get–but it can alter what sight is and means to us.
In this final post of reflections on my experience in Philly, I want to touch on what was actually my first “goal,” if you will, of the visit. Simply, I really wanted to see Pope Francis. I wanted the selfie, the proof I was there and so was he, and a near-forever-lasting digital recording of that moment. That moment was only about, oh, three seconds long, and I didn’t see anything with my own two eyes. Rather, I saw His Holiness on the screen of my smartphone.
I really thought I had it all worked out. I had placed my thumb on the shutter button and completely intended to just press a bunch of times while my eyes were focused on the street before me. Unfortunately, I was mistaken in how much I could divide my attention and juggle to different sensory processes at once, and I came away with this photo. Papa is glowing purely because I didn’t trust the auto-ISO feature and wanted to make sure my proof didn’t come out too dark. My sense of self-importance (“I’m going to have a really awesome photo on Facebook”) was too much pride, and all I had to show for it was a crummy picture.
And I have absolutely no memory of the event itself. I think this is because I didn’t let my eyes absorb the image before me, but viewed it merely through a screen. Think about a wedding you’ve seen on TV (even better if it’s one of your favorites) and then think about a great wedding you witnessed in person. What do you have a clearer recollection of? When you want to revisit the happiness of a wedding, do you pick whatever scene you can recall from the show, or from the real deal? I’m betting on the latter, even if you like the fictional couple and “know” them better than your second cousin once removed. That’s because when your eyes take in the moment, your brain works differently to capture the information. I wish I’d thought of that before snapping away.
While we were waiting, PJ and I saw people climbing trees to get perches before the parade. Sure the state troopers made them get down, but PJ sweetly pointed out that maybe they were just trying to be like Zacchaeus–the man too short to see Jesus over the crowd and who climbed a tree. People were going to great lengths to see who Pope Francis is. Once we got home and talked to others who had been there, I asked if they got pictures. The two I happened to speak with both said no, “they just wanted to savor the moment,” and seemed quite happy about it. They got what they needed, and I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.
There’s a song we sang a lot in my college retreat work: “Open the eyes of my heart Lord/I want to see you.” When we truly want to see, the God will help us–and what’s more, He will tell us He sees us, too. That answer is found in the story of Zacchaeus. When Jesus approaches the part of the lane where he is, Jesus “looks up,” invites him to dinner, and lets this experience complete Zacchaeus’s conversion to a disciple. So that is my prayer now–not to show off what I have barely seen, but to let true sight help me show others Christ.