I am told that if you stare at this picture you will see something profound. The more you stare the more you see a face. The face you see is meant to be the face of Jesus. Really?
The problem is that I cannot see the face. I’ve stared at it, turned it upside down and tried glancing sideways then quickly turning back to look. Perhaps I’m trying to catch him out so that I get to see the face when he thinks I am not looking? If you see a face then great but this is one optical illusion that doesn’t work for me.
As we enter the New Year I have no idea what it will behold for anyone. As I write this article I do so on 17th November 2015 and unpleasant images from across the Channel are lurking in the periphery of my mind. It brings back other images. That’s what happens: what we could see gets clouded with so much, so many issues, memories and experiences.
The images that came back to me were from Guildford when I was at the bottom of the Friary Centre. Ten minutes earlier a car had gone out of control and mounted the pavement amongst many shoppers. I’m not a medic or in the emergency services. What does a vicar do in that situation? I didn’t even look like a vicar! I was tempted to duck away as all I was doing was a bit of shopping.
Something stirred in my soul though. What if someone there – perhaps a member of the emergency services, maybe one of the relatives who were gathering, or perhaps someone else, needed someone to listen? What if people were dying? My first response to my own thoughts was that everything was covered and who wants a vicar nowadays when there are so many professionals out there? No-one believes in God so how would a vicar help with an end of life situation?
It was difficult to ignore those thoughts but the more I thought about it I realised that I was really thinking about me: what did others think of me and did I really want to be in an uncomfortable situation? But it wasn’t me and my sensibilities which mattered.
What can we offer in situations that are beyond us? I go back to the picture of the face. I hope that in hard situations what people see in others is something of God because in the Christian faith this is common humanity that unites: all were created by God. It is bound to be hard to see this because we are as human and far from perfect as anyone else. It may even be almost invisible until it is caught like a glance at an unexpected moment. Often this is when the spark of faith is kindled: to ask questions which usually initially lead to more questions. It is like a true face being revealed.
In the late 1980s there was a terrible fire in the middle of a public event. Some will recall it. A friend of mine was a young vicar in the town and was asked to go to the location to see if any help could be offered. He wondered what he could do but he went; along with a Catholic priest. They were astounded by what they found. The moment they put their collars on people began to approach them. These people did not want to argue about theology or faith, discuss the finer points of religion or whether churches should have pews in them or not. They probably would not have described themselves as particularly religious. Why would this happen? Because when there are no more answers left the human spirit – the Soul – is destined to seek eternal answers. The answer in Jesus is “greater love has no-one than he lay down his life for another.” It is a way that the World rarely considers or knows and it is not a way for the faint-hearted. It is though about a face which, in my book, has changed everything.
As we head into 2016 I pray that Christ will be seen in your life and mine.