Running with my eyes closed

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home โ€” One of us, written by Eric Bazilian, first sung by Joan Osborne

Blind-SignWhat if God were to stand on a busy street corner dressed in a pair of Dockers and a button-down cotton shirt, smart but casual, no angels, no halo, no glow of holiness, just an ordinary dude killing time while the morning work crowd hurried by?

And let’s say I stroll by with a cup of hot coffee in my hand, my mind already wrapped up in the project I have to finish by noon, when God and I make eye contact, just for an instant. Would I recognize Him? Would I stop for a chat with the Almighty? Or would I glance away without a second thought, just one more anonymous face in a sea of faces quickly forgotten?

Ludicrous? Sure. But in a way, it’s a scenario that’s all too real. We miss a lot. The most profound things happen right in front of our noses without registering on our radar screens. How many times a day do we miss beauty, miss miracles, miss God, simply because we’re too preoccupied to notice?

An example. I came home late a few nights back. It was cold and breezy and I had my head down as I hurried from my car to the door of my house. Something told me to stop and look up. It was one of those crystal clear Arizona nights where the stars are like glistening diamonds on a velvet curtain. Dazzling. And I was within seconds of missing it all.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a Washington Post article on an experiment they conducted in January.

They wondered what might happen if a world-class musician were to dress in nondescript clothing and perform in an ordinary place, like a DC subway station. How many people would be drawn by the extraordinary beauty of his music and giftedness to pause and listen? How many would drop money in his open instrument case in appreciation?

The Washington Post asked Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, to help them with the experiment. Bell performed for 45 minutes, playing on his $3.5 million dollar 1713 Stradivarius violin. He played some of the most challenging and soulful pieces ever written for the instrument. He stood in the L’Enfant Metro station and played his heart out as people hurried by during the morning rush to work.

The Post’s editorial staff had worried about crowd control. They imagined a riot of adoring music lovers all trying to get as close as possible to the virtuoso. As it turned out, they shouldn’t have worried.

During a 45-minute concert where nearly 1,100 people passed within feet of the violinist, only 7 people stopped to listen. 27 donated money. Most didn’t even glance up to see where the music was coming from. They simply hurried on their way without breaking their stride.

Watching the video weeks later, Bell finds himself mystified by one thing only. … “I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!” โ€”Pearls Before Breakfast, The Washington Post, April 4, 2007

But he wasn’t invisible, of course. Joshua Bell stood and played right out in the open and nobody saw him. How is that possible?

Sometimes our eyes are closed when we think they’re wide open. We see, but not really, which is why eye-witness accounts of an event are so unreliable.

Sometimes we see without comprehending. Undoubtedly a great many people glanced at Bell’s clothing, the open violin case holding a few crumpled dollars and wrote him off without bothering to listen to the extraordinary music he was playing.

These things are obvious. Less obvious are our expectations. Are we open to the possibility of an encounter with beauty? Are we open to seeing a miracle? God may be standing on the next street corner, but we won’t see Him if we aren’t ready for the miraculous to intrude into the humdrum ordinary moments of our lives.

I think that’s why so many of us, and I include myself in this, miss God in the ordinary ebb and flow of life. He may be playing His fiddle beautifully, but the Ipod is turned up and we can’t hear a thing.

Jesus once lamented how hard it was to make himself understood:

The hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes … But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. โ€” Matthew 13:15,16, NLT (Jesus speaking to his disciples)

Driving to church this morning, I wondered what I’ve been missing. Friends and strangers fly in and out of my life like so many fireflies on a summer night. Words are spoken and forgotten. Too much is left unsaid, or misunderstood. I pray for understanding but don’t wait for a response, or don’t have the wits to understand it when it comes.

Am I awake or asleep? Am I blind or seeing? I wonder how often I’ve stumbled past a stirring concerto without hearing a note?

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  1. I read that article, too.

    I think many of us are on sensory overload, much of the time. It takes intention to change that.

  2. Such a great post! Hope you don’t mind if I add a link to this page on my blog.

  3. I think I notice more than most–people have told me that. But I have to believe that what I see is only a drop in the bucket of what’s out there just waiting for me.

    One time I was driving up a hill on the freeway, and these huge drops of rain started hitting the windshield, but the sky was clear and blue. I looked out the windows into the sky (as safely as possible while still driving), and there wasn’t a cloud anywhere. Miracle rain. Then I looked around at the other drivers, and only one other was looking for the source of the rain. Everyone else just kept driving, maybe turning on their wipers.They had no idea. Sad…

  4. You know, surprisingly, I’m overwhelmed with God’s presence these days. Having a kid will do that to you, I guess. But I think it’s easy to overlook the parts where God is less obvious. My son was delivered safely, and we just happened to have a veteran labor nurse in the room with us that knew how to get the most out of my wife’s work while making her as comfortable as possible. Our church pulpit minster brought me some Whataburger, even though I was too tired and wired to even realize how hungry I was. The coffee machine on our floor stayed on and working the whole time. ๐Ÿ™‚

    We all see God in the BIG stuff. After all, he’s The Almighty, right? Well, just as when God’s voice came to Elijah and it wasn’t in the earthquake or fire, sometimes our biggest reward is putting down the iPod, as you mentioned, and listing for that gentle wind.

  5. I saw a bit about the musician on the news. I like the Joan Osborne song – I have that album. She struck me as searching for something – wanting to see beyond the exterior of things.

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