Seeing and Believing

Mar 25 / Heather Mayer

I write this on the fourth Monday of Lent, and I confess that my heart lately has felt more kinship with Good Friday than Easter. For no specific reason or every reason, hope feels hard to muster.

Every March, my daffodils pop their sunshine faces into the sky far too early for what I deem safe, and they see themselves ice or snow-covered before April comes. And yet they survive. Each year, about this time, exhaustion feels relentless, and still, I plant my vegetable seeds and have faith in germination. Lo and behold, Friday’s forecast predicts sunshine and temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit- gorgeous Oregon weather by any standard- just in time for me to lead a virtual Forest Bathing experience. And so, I inform my brain that there is beauty to hope for.

My Lent reading for the day includes the story in John's Gospel, where Jesus tells the official whose son was sick in Capernaum that his son would live. Jesus had arrived in Galilee after celebrating the Passover, and he was welcomed after the people had heard about all he had been doing. John 4:46 tells us that a royal official had heard that Jesus was in Galilee, and he went to Jesus telling him that his son lay sick and was close to death. Jesus says something to the officer that we have always interpreted in church circles to mean something beyond the literal. If you spend enough time listening to Bible teachings, you will learn that Jesus taught layers of truth in his sermons. But reading through this account in John today, something nudged me to go back to Jesus’ words and study them. So, I did. I reread the entire passage a few times.
47. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “You will never believe.” 49. The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50. “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
The first time I read through this passage today, I got to verse 48, and my mind took the liberty of adding to the passage in the same way that I read so many of Jesus' words that to have faith without witnessing a sign or wonder is preferable. And it's true that throughout the gospels, Jesus says that to believe without seeing is to be blessed. But here, Jesus says that unless the people see signs and wonders, they will never believe. It is a statement I have always attached judgment to, yet today, I felt released from judgment.

Today, I felt instructed to accept Jesus' words at face value and to consider that it might be okay to be one of those people who need signs and wonders. I need to see daffodils in late February to have faith that more blossoming will come. It reminded me of the bean seed I had resting next to a damp paper towel in a clear plastic bag, taped against the window so my preschool students could watch it germinate. They may have believed me when I told them the seed would sprout under the dirt even before we saw it push its way above the surface. But I hosted the little science experiment for them to witness without judging whether or not their belief in the seed’s ability to sprout would occur before or after seeing it with their own eyes. As their teacher, it didn't matter to me so much that they believed it would happen. I was just excited to witness their joy once it did! My heart holds a fraction of the love that swirls through God’s creative heart, so might it be so that God is also deeply invested in my joy and not the judgment of when it happens?

Perhaps the heart of God that Jesus was sharing when he made statements like these is the equivalent of saying, "I see you." It could be true that Jesus blessed those who had belief without sight and people like Thomas and the royal official who needed to see something tangible to believe. And if that is true, may he also bless people like me who desperately need to see the seed sprouting in the plastic baggie to have something to cling to. May he bless the tears in my eyes as I watch the news and lament over the lives lost in the sacred Gaza Strip and ache. May he bless the waking each morning as we muster up the courage to love, hope, and sing. Even as we doubt.

It would be my honor if you would like to bring your hopeful and hopeless and every iteration of yourself into nature with me on April 19th. The forest and your body in it will be the living prayer as we meet virtually in the practice of Shinrin Yoku. Click here to learn more.

Heather Mayer
Heather is a trauma-informed Spiritual Director and a seeker of those moments that thin the veil. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Oregon, a Master’s in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Seminary, and is a certified Spiritual Director through Portland Seminary.

In the vein of “everything is spiritual,” Heather is also a preschool director and teacher. Her approach to early childhood is the same approach she takes in spiritual direction - that all persons carry the image and the wisdom of God within and that our intimacy with God can grow when we are encouraged to approach spirituality with curiosity and wonder.

Heather finds her deepest connection with Creator God in nature and in the presence of children and animals. Her call to spiritual direction lives in her desire for all God’s children to know and trust in their belovedness.