(noun) – the outward appearance of something (or someone), especially as distinct from less obvious aspects.
I’ve been thinking about surfaces. About how we often stay right there. I live by the sea, so the sea’s surface is a regular feature of my day. Even if you make a career out of scuba diving, most of our logged hours in relation to the sea (as humans) are bound to the surface. Said divers would point out that the surface is hardly representative of the nature of the sea. After all, it is sub-surface where the magic dwells – coral reefs, kelp forests, bioluminescent creatures.
Applying this to the human you, the human me – I often think of the surface as limiting to truly knowing one another. What we project there is a censored shell, a casing that often hides the magic that dwells subsurface, in the heart and mind of the self. And I find that I’m often saddened by the way we stay just there – are satisfied with surfaces. That we keep others out of our depths, or that we don’t take the time to know the depths of others.
However, recently I’ve been struck by how surfaces can actually be depths, if seen rightly.
My graphic-designer / artist / all-around creative friend made a pin & patch with the text “nice to see you” surrounding an eye. Of course, the phrase “nice to see you” can be pure pleasantry – substanceless and superficial. However, when I consider this design I am reminded of our ability to intentionally see someone. It reminded me a lot of a John Steinbeck quote:
“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”
If we merely look at someone’s surface, we know them only slightly. However, if we see someone’s surface, we can come to know them rightly.
Returning to the metaphor of the sea, it’s surface reflects celestial things. The surface is the platform for the wind’s conversations, making the invisible visible in the form of waves and ripples. It is a mirror for moonlight, projecting light into the darkened landscape of night. It absorbs the colors of sunrise and sunset. As such it in large part contains the sun itself, and provokes us to look up to compare what we see on the surface to what we might find above it.
So , it is true that the surface of the sea is not all there is to the sea, because the subsurface world has a lot of richness waiting to be known. However, the surface is part of its incredible nature – its ability to reflect the things above it – its incorporation of, and relation to, celestial things. It is an emblem of interconnectivity.
The very same can be said of the surface of you, and the surface of me. The other next to you reflects celestial things, if we see rightly, and do not merely look.
Invisible Made Visible
“for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:20)
When I have taken the time to really pay attention, I have heard God’s voice incased within the conversation or written words of a family member or friend. Almost always these utterances have been simple, something on surface level I could have barely glanced at, or brushed aside, but in the few instances I’m thinking of now, it was because I really (figuratively) looked at these words that I saw there within God’s invisibility made visible. So often I find myself longing for comfort, resolution, answers and becoming dismayed that no such thing comes. So often I believe this is largely due to the fact that I am looking but not seeing. So often God speaks through words of others, displaying clearly the answer to my (uttered or unuttered) prayer, but I was looking at those words, rather than seeing their depth.
Mirrored-Light in Darkened Landscapes
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1: 1-8)
It is our great privilege to reflect light into the lives of others. The simple friendship of others, the small actions that indicate care, have been a light in darkened landscapes of my life. I’m thinking of this in hindsight, but there have been some really tough patches in my life where certain individuals stuck it out with me. Not in an overtly “I’m here for you so you can feel God’s presence” but merely as a vessel to mirror His presence in my life during that time. Often times, they did not even know I was a darkened landscape, and hence (unfortunately) didn’t realize they were witnessing light. Much like John in the verse above, they weren’t God, weren’t the giver of light, but they did witness the light of God into my life. And this has happened to me through Christians and non-Christians alike.
At the time, I hardly noticed the way their person was reflecting light (i.e. hope, comfort, compassion) into a shadowed terrain of my life, because I was only (and even then, just barely) looking at them. In retrospect now I’m seeing them, and their simple surface, the profound power of their simple acts of intention and kindness, allow me to better see, and believe in, God. And I am so thankful for that.
Reflecting & Absorbing Light
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Much in the way that the colors of dawn dwell in the surface of the sea, and cause me to look up at the sky – the indwelling of the Spirit in you causes me to look back to God above. You might not know you do this – but, goodness, you really really do. Often I’m not looking, but when I see you, I see the Spirit in your “surface” – in your simple (but not simple, actually) actions, in your simple (but not a simple, actually) words.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Through the example of others (through the example that is you) I’m reminded of the ways I wish to have my “surface” reflect the Spirit’s indwelling in me, how I wish my life to bare witness to the above “fruits”. I know you are trying to shrug this off right now. Stop that. You witness these things to others (to me). None of us can do this all the time, but each of this does this some of the time. And that is a fantastic, lovely gift we get to give someone else.
So, where am I going with all this…I guess I’m writing this more as a reminder to myself. I wrote this out in the hope that every time I consider the surface of the sea (which is almost daily) that I might remember to take the time to see someone, and to be thankful for the depth of their surface. But that I might also intentionally form my surface into one that will make the God’s invisibility visible, reflect His Light into the darkened landscapes of others, and bare witness to the indwelling of His spirit. I am hoping to see surfaces as potential platforms of depth.
It’s so nice to see you.