Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.
Though the Deacon at my parish gave wonderful insights into 1 Samuel 16, I have learned the truth of this Sunday's First Reading at my gym. One need not pump iron to get it. Allow me to explain.
I go to the gym two to three mornings a week. I wouldn't recommend setting your watch by me, but I'm there at more or less the same time Monday-Wednesday-Friday. Even when I am on spring, summer or Christmas break, I find my way to the sixth floor, where I warm-up on the treadmill and then hit the free weights for the next 40 to 50 minutes. I enjoy chatting it up with the regulars, checking in with friends, running into some former students and listening to everything from friendly exchanges to verbal spars among others. Sports, relationships, a little bit of politics and the collapse of the Niners fill the airwaves. Honestly, there's never a dull moment.
Given that my gym is also a social club and a golf club, I spend time at one of the two campuses in the evenings, for special events and on the weekends. This place has become a community, albeit a large one. There are nearly 5,000 members at the Olympic Club. Needless to say, I don't know everyone....but on a fairly regular basis, I hear the words I am sure that in some place, in some context you have heard as well.
I will be at an event, totally separate from the sixth floor of the gym and a person will say to me, after our introduction, "I see you in the gym all the time." Occasionally, I will concur, but many times I will pretend that I do. I think to myself, "I've never seen this person before." Though I would never say that out loud, I register their name and their face and invariably, the next time I go to the gym, I see this person. Clearly, they were in the same space as me many times in the past, but it took a personal encounter to really see them.
Though appearance often makes an impression, I have come to believe that we don't really see people until we know them. Once we get longer look at who a person is, or more formally speaking—a sense of what is in their heart, we cannot not notice them. I think this has something to do with Samuel's words about the heart. God sees and knows us. The question is, do we see God?
My experience at the gym has led me to wonder how often I miss God. God is present, God is in my midst. God is near, beside, above and behind me...but too often, I don't notice. I don't see God, and when I do see God, I am convinced I see God because God has reached out to me. God knows my name. God has somehow let me know God sees me all the time in a place, especially in those places I go regularly...where I live my life....where I show up.
I shared this example with my students and they get it. In our school of 1,500 it saddens me that I don't know every student; they feel the same way. Though I know the name of all my students and those I have taught, there are too many people in the hallways I do not know. And worse, I might not see them though we walk past one another regularly.
Samuel's words both inspire and challenge me to have encounters—meaningful interactions, even playful conversations with the young people in my community so that when I pass walk toward or beside them, I see much more than their red hair, Notre Dame sweatshirt, breakfast of Cheetos and orange juice or their dress code violation. I hope to call them by name, have a sense of what matters to them, what struggles they carry and what makes them laugh. I hope to see them as God sees them. The First Reading also invites me to make an effort to actually look for God's presence not in the extraordinary...but in the ordinary people and places I inhabit and encounter. Blessed be.