Seeing

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

In these dark and cold days of winter it’s hard to see the days becoming longer even though the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year – is behind us. The Solstice was celebrated in ancient cultures for heralding a “return of the sun” and increasing sunlight hours.  Perhaps it’s a perceptual issue and I just can’t see the increasing sunlight.

My grandson likes to “help” his grandfather in the early evenings build a fire that makes our home cozy and keeps us warm as the sun too quickly disappears in the west.  Sunsets are often spectacular these wintery evenings.  Did you see the breathtaking sunset on January 8th?  I was bringing in wood for the fire Oakley and I had just built, and yelled for everyone to come outside and see the “fire in the sky.”  Oakley was amazed and said “red, red” sky, before asking, “Who did that?”  His mom told him God made a fire in the sky to keep warm.  He said, “Oh.., I like God.”  Our minister has been preaching sermons emphasizing seeing God in the world which he refers to as “God Sightings.”  Out of the mouth of a babe we saw and experienced a God Sighting.

Our Smokey Mountains are so-named because moisture in the atmosphere causes a haze which reflects frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum we human’s see as blue.  I’ve noticed that there’s less haze this time of the year, undoubtedly because atmospheric conditions are drier in colder air.  The physics of water vapor with haze and clouds or rain from condensation may be uninteresting to some, so I’ll just call your attention to what we’ve all observed.  Our Smokies are more easily seen on a cold clear winter’s day because as the temperature drops, moisture levels also drop.

One day in the mid-1980s Knoxville had the dubious honor of being the coldest city in America.  I remember looking out our back door and seeing tiny ice crystals forming spontaneously as water vapor sublimated in the extreme cold, shimmering in the sunlight.

I think we are made young again as we experience children and especially grandkids.  I think the difference is seeing with fresh eyes as the metaphor goes.  Humans see the world only through a limited part of the electromagnetic spectrum.  For example, we can’t see or hear radio waves, yet these pulses of energy are in the air all around us.  However, with human ingenuity we can convert these energy waves into sound or visual patterns of photons on our TV.   I’ve imagined how the world might look if I could see the entire electromagnetic spectrum of radiation.  I might see it as a “haze” of energy waves.

An MRI machine enables doctors to see inside a person by manipulating magnetic radiation.  Within the powerful MRI’s magnet the water molecules in a patient align along the axis of the magnet.  Then, as specific frequencies of electromagnetic energy are pulsed against the aligned water molecules the reflected energy waves are then detected and finally decoded by a computer program to produce an image.

Magnetic waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and course around us and register on a compass.  Some might say they’ve never seen magnetic waves and therefore discount their existence.  Perhaps they’ve forgotten grammar school experiments with a magnet and iron filings.  The magnet’s electromagnetic waves are easily seen in the patterns of the iron filings.  The Etch-a-Sketch toy operates on this principle.

Skepticism is a philosophy that demands objective proof.  In other words, a skeptic might argue that because he’s never seen something it doesn’t exist.  Taken to a logical end a skeptic might say he’s never seen Moscow because he’s never been there.  However, I believe Moscow exists, though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.  What a blighted vision I would have if I maintained that nothing exists unless I see it, understand it or can write an equation to define it!  I might ask the skeptic if Moscow exists for a blind man.

A friend of mine recently said that the more she reads the Bible the more real the word of God is for her.  I believe she’s right because I’ve seen the same thing in my life, and this perspective has been articulated by luminaries down through the ages.  However, I’ve wondered when person thinks less and less about God, does that reality disappear for him?  C. S. Lewis wrote “The Great Divorce,” and in this book he magically explored this line of reasoning.  I challenge you to read the book and consider Lewis’ reasoned vision.

The writer Philip Yancey once observed of America and western culture, stating it is the “first culture in the history of mankind attempting to live without a sense of the sacred.”  This seems true of secular Europe where mighty cathedrals are largely empty and undergoing conversion to museums and skating rinks.

Alexis de Tocqueville was a 19th century French historian and political thinker best known for his observations on democracy and religion in America.  He was the first writer to call America “exceptional” and felt that Christianity was the source of the basic principles of liberal democracy.  President Eisenhower would later say that “Recognition of the supreme being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism.  Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor American way of life.”

We live in troubled times where Boko Haram straps dynamite to ten-year-olds and ISIS scares even the Saudi princes who have supported Wahhabi schools of hatred for decades.  As a student of the Bible and history I can tell you that monsters like Sennacherib, Tamerlane and Hitler have marched to the devil’s tune many times before.

I now choose to see what is good.  Obama will pass away on the sands of time like Shelley’s Ozymandias.  I am happier now because I see God’s hand in it all.  This is another God Sighting!

 

 

 

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