A couple of weeks ago, I watched an old classic “Scent of a Woman”, starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell. It’s about a blind man, retired Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, who is not only physically blind, but is also blind to a lot of things in life. He spends a weekend with his young guide Charlie Simms, a young college kid. Although his physical blindness remained, that experience amazingly completely changed the surly Colonel’s outlook on life, and he began to see things in life he previously couldn’t.
This movie is one of the most masterful and powerful artistic illustrations of the ability to change people’s life through the power of personal presence.
The way we grow up and mature as humans is by forming judgments about the world. We observe the world around us, but we are not merely neutral observers. Depending on whether certain experiences are perceived as pleasurable or traumatic, harmful or beneficial, we assign different emotional values to an array of events and experiences. Also, depending on our upbringing, we adopt large portions of the worldview of our family – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.
All of those things form a prism of our worldview, through which we look at the world around us. And here’s the problem. After our worldviews are formed, we stop seeing things for what they are. We start seeing them for what we have trained ourselves to perceive them. The objective realities themselves merely serve as an assortment of projection screens. We project our pre-existing perceptions on those screens, and re-perceive that all over again as objectively true. Which locks us into a vicious cycle of confirmation bias.
Through that, we become blind to the true nature of things, even though we think we see. Our existing worldview is what really blinds us.
John 9:39-41 (Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)
39 Then Jesus said, I came into this world for judgment [as a Separator, in order that there may be separation between those who believe on Me and those who reject Me], to make the sightless see and to make those who see become blind.
40 Some Pharisees who were near, hearing this remark, said to Him, Are we also blind?
41 Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but because you now claim to have sight, your sin remains. [If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but because you insist, We do see clearly, you are unable to escape your guilt.]
That’s one big reason why Jesus instructed his followers to become like little children. Little children haven’t yet formed judgments about this world, and they haven’t yet formed their personalities. The way they grow and mature is by looking at their parents, being transformed into their image through the power of their parents’ personal presence, and adopting their parents’ perceptions as their own.
When we decide to really follow Jesus as a person, we cannot take the baggage of our pre-existing views and judgments along with us. It simply won’t work. We have to lay down our judgments, opinions, and allegiances. All of those things that constitute our perception of self is really the biggest obstacle to a deep, genuine inner transformation.
I am realizing more and more that such deep inner transformation is only possible through the power of Jesus’ personal presence. Similar to how Colonel Slade was transformed by the presence of Charlie, we get transformed by the personal presence of Jesus. It has to be felt, perceived, it has to be manifest and tangible. Perhaps not necessarily physically, although we should never exclude that possibility. But it has to be tangible. You will know it when you experience it.
Mental doctrines are very slow to effect real changes. What we refer to as “preaching” often times tends to be so patronizing and heavy-handed that it produces the effect opposite of what’s intended. If Charlie was trying to moralize the old Colonel, to straighten him out, he would have been ripped to pieces by the salty soldier’s poignant sarcasm and dog-eat-dog life philosophy, and would have to retreat with the tail between his legs, whimpering and licking his wounds. It simply wouldn’t have worked – the Colonel’s old stony heart was permanently closed to such primitive brute-force attempts to pry it open.
Only through the power of his personal presence, his desire to put himself on the line, his vulnerability, optimism, and faith in Frank was Charlie able to touch the Colonel’s heart. He didn’t join a condemning chorus of the world. He didn’t see an old alcoholic and womanizer in Frank. Really, he wasn’t yet old enough and cynical enough for that. Instead, he saw a a courageous soldier, a straight shooter, but much more importantly – a wounded and hurting man hiding beneath a veneer of false bravado and a “screw you” attitude. And he also saw Frank as someone who could “tango and drive Ferrari” better than anyone else in the world! How about that?!
Charlie really believed in Frank. And that faith, hope, and love saved the old soldier, changed his heart, and transformed his life.
TYRANNY OF THE FAMILIAR
Rote tyranny of the familiar
Tears on the fabric of our mind.
We say “That’s it”, “I know”, “It’s similar”,
We think we see, but we are blind.
The deepest chambers of our personhood
Are cluttered, like a druggie’s room.
Yet our thoughts and our attitudes
Valiantly resist the broom.
We pick our idols and bow down to them.
We want them to arrange our lives.
They bleed us dry, and yet remarkably,
We don’t resist their plunging knives.
We wax poetic in our homilies,
We make obeisance to the cross.
Our hearts no longer see anomalies.
We are the chef, and we’re the sauce.