Seeing with the heart

A boy sat on the steps of a building with a battered hat by his feet. A cardboard sign read: “I’m blind. Please help.” The hat held a few coins. A man walked by, dropped a dollar in the hat, picked up the sign, turned it round, wrote on the back of it and put it back near the boy. Soon the hat started to fill up. Later that day the man came back to see how things were.

Recognising his footsteps the boy asked him what he had written. “Only the truth,” the man said: “You are enjoying a beautiful day but I cannot see it.” This little story is told by Daniel O’Leary in a recent issue of The Tablet. Both set of words said the boy was blind. But one was simply a statement while the other reminded people what a gift they had. The first gave information while the second referred to experience.

We have all known the power of experience. I can be told there are people destitute in the horn of Africa and can dismiss it as just one more catastrophe in a world that seems to have endless suffering. I am used to hearing of such things. But if I see the people on TV it touches my heart. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’, as the fox said to the Little Prince. And best of all would be if I actually go there and see and listen to the mothers who have walked across the desert in search of help and had one or more of their children die on the way. St Ignatius of Loyola wrote, ‘it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury is no doubt well briefed about the situation of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, but next month he plans to come and see for himself. There can be no doubt his visit will move him a great deal as he witnesses the heroic way in which Anglicans, while driven out of their churches and worshipping under trees, gather joyfully as they discover anew the conviction their faith gives them, born as it is out of daily suffering.

Was it Desmond Tutu who said ‘I am because we are’ as a riposte to René Descartes who said, ‘I think therefore I am’? The latter is a purely rational process while the former carries all the weight of human solidarity – in both joy and sorrow. We know that we feel alive when with others in games, debates, celebrations and so forth. Relationship – marriage, family, community, etc, – takes us beyond ourselves. Cold facts and analysis just brings us to the threshold. They are like preparing a meal which is a waste of time if no one eats.

If politicians and bankers and we ourselves too could ‘see with the heart’ we would make progress in building a more welcoming world for the billions who struggle, day by day, to survive.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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