Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Look up

Five a.m. isn’t my best time of day. But from time to time, such an unearthly hour finds me wandering dazedly through airport halls, awaiting a flight to somewhere and thinking I could have spent just a few more minutes asleep.
Recently, I was traveling with a colleague and we had made our way to our departure gate. There had been some delays with boarding and the line of would-be passengers stretched back into the concourse and we had kept our seats, waiting for the line to subside, when a new group of passengers caught our attention.

We had been scanning the day’s newspaper, which—the morning after the Australian Open tennis final in our Melbourne hometown—featured winner and world number one, Roger Federer, on the front page and runner-up, Fernando Gonzalez, on the back. And as we looked up and noticed this new group, we realised that standing next to us was Gonzalez himself—now the world’s fifth-ranked tennis player—complete with the Australian Open runners-up plate in a bag slung over his shoulder.

A couple of fellow passengers shyly commended Gonzalez on his valiant effort against Federer the previous evening. But as we eventually made our way toward our seats—behind team Gonzalez—we were surprised at how little recognition came from the bulk of the now almost-full plane. As so many of the passengers looked over their complimentary newspapers, read the reports of the final and saw the emotions of the match portrayed in the full-page photographs, one of the chief actors in this drama stepped past them, almost unobserved.

In her memoir Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor urges that the original followers of Jesus were focused more on beholding than believing, in fact their faith “seemed to depend on beholding things that were clearly beyond belief.” The risk is we become so focused on sorting out our belief—getting the details nailed down, comparing theories and philosophies, reading the right books, posting and commenting our bright ideas, agreeing and disagreeing—we forget to look up and behold. And the Chief Actor in the story steps past us almost unobserved.

Taylor reflects,

“If I am not careful, I begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that give rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place. . . . The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake.”
The first step is to stop once in a while and look up to see He whom we have been reading about, writing about, thinking about, blogging about, perhaps arguing about. “He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27).


  1. LOL ... what a funny story. Nathan is so good at capturing the ironies of our religiousity.

  2. At the risk of believing more than beholding, allow me to say, Amen, my brotha.