Last year I bought a coat. I bought it from The British Heart Foundation Charity Website – which is a “good thing”. It is a stone coloured leather – fancy eh? (Please forgive lack of head. We did take a full photo but I was talking and pulling a face – am working on more Internet photos – honest) and it fits me – unusual but encouraging and as I was showing it to my daughter I remarked that I would probably never wear it. FOW2 is used to her mother most of the time but even she was surprised. “Why not?” and I replied “Because people will look at me.”
You are reading the blog of a woman who, many years ago, when discussing her upcoming wedding, when asked about what she was most worried about, replied “I’m not keen on people looking at me”. I’m not keen on being seen.
Many years ago, when I worked in a church, we had a moderately famous lady preacher who had a particular penchant for the old Gospel Appeal. You know the kind of thing -“If you would like to respond please raise your hand/come to the front/offer up your rabbits as a sacrifice” (not all of these are true). I was part of a team whose job it was to make sure that there were enough leaflets and information to give out to anyone who expressed any kind of interest in Christianity. Confident that we had everything under control, I bowed my head while the lady in the pulpit asked people to put their hands up if they were interested. To my horror I kept hearing her saying “I see you. I see you. I see you. ” Blimey! How many people were responding? Did we have enough leaflets? Arrrgh! Surreptitiously I opened one eye and pretending to scratch my chin on my shoulder, I had a sneaky look at the congregation. No-one was putting their hand up. Not a sausage. And yet she continued – as if everyone in the room was fighting to respond. I shot a panicked look at the leadership team – one of whom was giving her his celebrated “hard stare” but – other than that – they were doing a good job of covering their panic. Certainly better when than when we had the guest speaker who started telling the congregation that he had raised chickens from the dead.
Anyhow, after the meeting, the leaflet team stood at Reception waiting to give information out. A couple of people came forward. One man with mild learning difficulties who I knew had been a Christian for about 20 years and had felt a bit sorry for her. Another girl with ME who took a leaflet and then insisted on lying on the floor to read it – which, to be honest, I was fine with. I could have done with a lie down myself. But we certainly were not overwhelmed with demand.
When the Pastor asked her about these phantom responses she was unrepentant. “I am meeting people’s eye and I am seeing them. I am telling them that I am seeing them. They are seen. People need to be seen.”
I think most of us probably do want to be seen but only if we know that, in the seeing, there is understanding. We have been back to church this week and it has been a bit difficult. Not that people haven’t been lovely, they have. But, it’s difficult to be open with strangers – certainly more so the older I get. You have your friends and your family and they know and accept you, but it is harder to open yourself up to those you don’t know. At least I am finding it so. I mean, how disappointed might people be when they find out what I’m really like?
I have sackfuls of admiration then, for the Psalmist who wrote
Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about
Is he mad? Why would you ask anyone to do something like that? But maybe it’s necessary. To allow yourself to be seen. To be vulnerable. To trust that people are themselves willing to be seen and not stand and laugh and point. I am, at heart, a fairly mediocre kind of person. (I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t suppose everyone can be doing one armed press ups whilst writing the Great British Novel with your other hand). But, much of life is about relationship and opening up to each other – trusting that people will be happy to see you and be seen.