June 12, 2011
During the Second World War, two soldiers who were seriously wounded were convalescing in a small hospital in rural France. Conditions were rather primitive. The room was tight and, in fact, there was only one small window through which you could see the outer world. Both of the soldiers were bedridden, unable to even sit up. But the soldier whose bed was by the window was able to raise his head enough to look out and see what was outside. Because there was little to do in the hospital, the soldiers spent a great deal of time with one soldier telling the other what he saw.
He saw a beautiful public park in which there was a lake with ducks and swans. Children were feeding the birds breadcrumbs and sailing their model boats on the water. He saw lovers walking hand in hand under the trees. There were beds of bright flowers and stretches of open grass on which people were playing soccer. Beyond the trees you could see the buildings of the small village with the spire of a majestic cathedral. One day after the other the events outside the window were described: how one of the children almost fell into the lake, how beautiful the young women looked in their summer dresses, or how skilled some of the young men were at soccer. This description of the world outside their hospital room not only helped the soldiers pass the time, it also gave them hope—hope that there was a world to which one day they would return.
Then one night the soldier who was away from the window was awoken by doctors and nurses gathered around his companion. He had just had a stroke and they were unable to revive him. When the sun rose the next morning, the bed that was next to the window was empty. It was a great loss to the surviving soldier. Not only did he lose a companion, he lost his access to the outside world. So, when an opportunity presented itself, he asked if he could be moved to the bed next to the window. His request was granted and the nurses and orderlies came in, lifted him up, brought him to his new bed, and tucked him in. As soon as they had left the room he twisted his head up as high as possible to look out the window. It faced a blank wall.
Seeing is more than taking light and color into our eyes. It also involves our minds and our hearts. Seeing includes believing. This is an important truth for us to remember today on this Feast of Pentecost as we celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit, because the Spirit of God is invisible. The Spirit has no shape or size or color. The Spirit of God is God’s immaterial presence in our world and in our lives. We need the eyes of faith to recognize the presence of God’s Spirit among us.
Where should we look? When you see your children laughing and playing, do not only see their enthusiasm and joy. See also the mystery of their life which is a gift that God has given them and entrusted to you. When you gather with close friends and spend an evening together, do not fail to see how the presence of those friends in your life is a result of God’s love—a love that brought you together and allows your relationship to be life-giving. As you face the news of the world, look amid the violence and the injustice for those moments of harmony, service, and cooperation. See in those good events the action of God’s Spirit working to bring peace and justice to the world. As you drive or walk during these beautiful summer days, do not simply see the greenness of the trees, the billowing clouds, and the vibrant colors of the flowers. See in all the intricacy and life that surrounds you a sign of a God who created all things and continues to guide them.
We are surrounded by people, events, and nature. But what do we see? Can we discern the invisible presence of God’s Spirit which animates and directs all of them? If someone can see a world of life and wonder by staring at a blank wall, how much more should we be able to see the love and presence of God in all the beauty and life that surrounds us.