Seen and Heard

Everyone wants to be seen and heard. Not everyone is.

Some of us may have memories of growing up post war with the words of parents, “Children should be seen and not heard.” Hardly a mantra instilling value and a welcoming presence in the psyche of a young and impressionable little person finding their way in the world.

There will no doubt be many conversations, debates, opinions, and disagreements about the controversial Harry/Meghan, Meghan/Harry interview (this blog was not inspired by them, they are merely a sadly topical example). Strip away all the trappings and I’m sure what will be revealed is people struggling with being seen and heard. Some of us will seldom if ever experience ‘seen and heard’ and live misunderstood and isolated. Others of us will be afraid of ‘seen and heard’ because of the exposure of our imperfections and weaknesses. And there will be those of us who desire to control the narrative of what is ‘seen and heard’ – in the tug of war between public, private, political correctness, ego, vanity, and you name it.

It’s not easy being human. Or perhaps, it’s not so hard and we tend to make it more difficult for one another than need be? What if the key to this tangle of ‘being seen and heard’ is found by embracing the mess, the imperfection, the good, the bad, and the ugly as the shared reality for all of us? That it’s ok to be ‘seen and heard’ on our best days and even better in the darkest of times? Our problem is that we’re not too comfortable with acknowledging the shadows, the struggles, the prejudices, and the ‘not so pretty’. We prefer to present well and keep the ‘ugly stuff’ private. Therein lies a recipe for stress, conflict, breakdown, and destruction.

The funny/sad thing is that although we should know better, the church and Christians mimic the world when it comes to being ‘seen and heard’. We don’t handle the revelation of imperfection in one another very well. We judge, shun, cast out, wag fingers, and keep secrets. We’re not a safe community in which to fail, struggle, or have too much ‘seen and heard’. Which is a real shame, because God is entirely unshockable. He brings light into darkness – for the very purpose of revealing truth. In darkness there is no ‘seeing and hearing’. In light, all is revealed – seen and heard! Accepted, warts and all – is the Good News!

In the forth chapter of John’s Gospel he describes a woman from the ‘wrong side of the tracks – Samaria’ coming to a well at midday to fetch water. She didn’t want to be ‘seen or heard’ because she had a reputation. Five husbands, and counting – the current occupant of her house and bed was not her husband – she had issues. To avoid gossip, unwelcome encounters, and probably cruel remarks she collected water from the well when it was hot and most people would not be out and about.

She was trying so hard to not be ‘seen or heard’. Then she encountered God! Of all people!

Imagine if someone had given her the heads up. God will be at the well today when you arrive to draw water. Would she have gone? Almost certainly not. Imagine being ‘seen and heard’ by him!? Awkward, embarrassing, shamed, frightened, humiliated – are words that come to mind. If she had known he’d be there she’d have remained hidden, trapped, imprisoned.

God wraps himself in the unthreatening person of Jesus, who looks like any other ‘guy’. He happened to be at the well when she arrived. He’s thirsty, sweating, dusty, and sitting on a rock beside the well. He smiles as she approaches and asks her for a drink. No high and mighty superior attitude, no swagger or intimidation . That’s weird. Men don’t talk to women in public, especially a Jew to a Samaritan. He’s breaking all the social conventions. She engages in hesitant conversation, protesting and participating while he drinks with smiling and kind eyes. She’s familiar with the ways of men and their eyes. Usually they want something, look her up and down, glaze over with lust, and have their way. She’s used to not being ‘seen or heard’. She’s an object; a girl has to do what a girl has to do. She has learned to survive and has no expectations in her numb existence.

But this man is different. There’s no evaluation in his eyes, no lust, no greed or selfish desire. She finds herself slowly relaxing as the conversation plods around religious stuff. Then this strange man looks at her and declares that she has had five husbands and the one she is presently with is not one of them. Her heart skips a beat, fear and shame cloud her eyes as she bends her head to look at anything on the ground to avoid his gaze. Here we go again she thinks. He must be a prophet. How would he know? I’m exactly where I didn’t want to be – ‘seen and heard’.

The condemnation, ridicule, and shame never followed the revelation. She looked up anticipating the worst. His eyes were unchanged. His demeanor kind; no hint or suggestion of judgement or disdain. He handed back the cup she had given him to drink from with a smile and a ‘thank you’. She couldn’t describe what was happening inside her, except that for the first time in her life she felt seen and heard without accusation or rejection. Not only was her broken self seen, but that other woman she’d always wanted to be was appearing from the shadows into the light. An excitement welled up as she dropped her bucket and ran back into the village, no longer hiding or afraid. “Come and see!” she cried. “A man who told me everything I ever did, could he be the Messiah?”

This is such a wonderful story of the true nature of God. Unconditional love initiates, sees, hears, and embraces the person. It reaches way beyond the actions, behaviors, and attitudes muddying the waters where no one can drink or be refreshed. It comprehends at the deepest of levels that when a person is embraced, seen and heard, all the other ‘junk’ is far more likely to be recycled in the process of healing and restoration.

A few things to ponder:

God sees and hears everything about everyone. He shines his light to reveal what is hidden – not through harsh laws and decrees, but through kindness, acceptance, conversation, and relationship.

God’s love and kindness, seeing and hearing, is invariably wrapped in the guise of another person – because seeing and hearing requires humans being with one another in all seasons.

The woman would have stayed miles away from the God portrayed in the religious leaders of her day. Without Jesus there would have been no encounter, revelation, or hope for a different future. The same unfortunately is probably a hard truth today.

Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman in a manner that was non-threatening – he asked her for help, something she had to give. And he asked her before her life was changed, while she was still a mess!

Seeing and hearing another does not require condoning of behavior. Listening and learning how another experiences life (a circumstance, you/me) without correction or reprimand – is challenging to do but the essence of the process.

Jesus gifted the woman with a safe place to discover acceptance. I know so many people who have given up on church because there is a drought of ‘seeing and hearing’ – even though ‘transparency, authenticity, integrity, team, and self awareness’ are favorite topics.

Having been ‘seen and heard’ the woman rushed into the very place where she had been most judged and rejected and invited the astonished villagers to ‘come and see’ for themselves. Being ‘seen and heard’ changes everything from the inside out. Then, it’s so much easier to ‘move on’ and leave the injustice, disappointment etc. behind.

When we have experienced being ‘seen and heard’ with safety and no rejection we’re far more likely to pass that gift on to others with joy and excitement. We no longer hide, live with shame, are afraid others will unearth our dirty little secret, or worry about who we’ll encounter at the well.

In our desire to control the script and the process don’t be surprised if this kind of encounter with potential for ‘seeing and hearing’ in both directions comes out of nowhere, catches us off guard, or is with someone we least expected. God sees and hears us well enough to know how to draw alongside before our walls go up or avoidance sets in.

Finally, ‘seeing and hearing’ can be inconvenient and take time. Jesus stopped for a cup of water on the way to somewhere else. After his encounter with the woman the whole village came out to ‘see and hear’ him. Because of them, he stayed there for two days, during which time many more were seen and heard. We need to be less enslaved to ‘our schedule’ and more willing to ‘waste time seeing and hearing’ one another. If we do, don’t be surprised if others from the village come knocking, attracted by the light and the love made flesh amidst the mess of chaotic lives trapped in secrets and darkness. That’s how lives are deeply transformed.

Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman embodies the God I know and love – but whom I often lose sight of and fail to hear when I avert my eyes and become discouraged or distracted. That’s why we need one another to keep seeing and hearing every day. Like fresh water it makes our spirits come alive.

John Cox

Christian Author and Counsellor

Leave a Reply