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The first of our five senses I want to explore is that of sight. How do we experience God through our eyes? How do we know God in sight? What does God look like?

For some, the pinks and oranges of a sunset across billowy clouds remind them of God. The beauty reflects that of the Creator. Others perhaps see God in the innocence of a new baby. The soft, fresh skin and feathery hair remind them of the purity and gentleness of God.

These are no doubt ways to see pieces of who God is. God is beauty and God is gentle and pure. And still I wonder if we can get even more embodied. Can our eyes offer us a fuller image of God?

This is one of the few times the Bible gives us a pretty clear answer. Matthew 25:35-40 says this:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

So what does God look like? How do my eyes help me know God?

God looks like kids in cages at the border and immigrants longing for a better life. God looks like folks who died alone in hospital rooms from COVID. God looks like ones who have had their utilities shut off because they lost their source of income. God looks like our neighbors who are unhoused. God looks like our black and brown neighbors begging for a country to show them their lives matter. God looks like people standing in lines for hours waiting to vote. God looks like the man at the intersection holding a cardboard sign asking for help. God looks like our disabled neighbors longing to be remembered in building plans and school board decisions.

This is how my eyes see God. Or perhaps I should say, this is how I long for my eyes to see God. For our eyes to know what God looks like, we have to go where God is. I must move my body closer to the ones we know as the least of these. I must move my body closer to the ones in need of clothing, food, water, and housing. I must move my body closer to the ones in prison, the ones seeking justice, the ones in pain. If I just imagine that these ones exist, the knowing remains in my head and not my body.

But when my eyes meet the eyes of another, the knowing moves from my head to my body. Into my being. I cannot unsee those eyes. I cannot unsee the fear, the hunger, the pain. My imagination cannot sanitize what my eyes saw. It is then that I know God. It is then that I know God in the right now.

I am well aware that we cannot all pack up and move our lives and our actual bodies right into the epicenter of the world’s pain and need. This, however, does not give us permission to only imagine it. Instead, we stay engaged the best we can. We pay attention to what’s happening locally, nationally, and globally. We do not avert our eyes when tough images come on the screen. We do not ignore the plight of others simply because it does not directly impact us.

It has been my experience that when I allow myself to see God this way, I am much more tethered to the present moment. I am not thinking about what folks have done in the past, nor am I stuck on what could have or should have been. Similarly, I am not waiting for the future when things might be different. I am not waiting for someone else to act. I see God in the people who long for justice right now and I let my eyes take in their vulnerability, their beauty, the image of God in them and I let myself be moved with compassion. And when I move closer to those neighbors I find myself closer to God.

I invite you to pay attention to where your eyes rest. Who do your eyes see? How does your body respond to what your eyes see? Perhaps you will see what God looks like where you were not expecting it.

Katie Alley

Katie Alley serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Formation at Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. She loves taking long walks with her dog Twyla, driving with the windows down, and sipping chai lattes with friends. You can find more of her writing at revkatiealley.wordpress.com 

5 Comments

  • Melody Meeter says:

    Thanks, Katie. This reads like a poem, litany, chant. Challenging and beautiful.

  • Solidarity, not pity or self-righteous charity, draws us closer to God. Thank you for saying it so well.

  • Randall says:

    The image of God that resides in each of us/them is incredibly important to see and love. The brokenness that situations you describe require a much more complex understanding of what shape and form love takes in those situations. Christ loved the Pharisees and his love took the shape of calling out and confronting the wrongfulness of their ways, which may not have appeared very compassionate to many. There are multiple and very complex elements that can be seen in any person and the ciircumstances in which we see them.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    Sometimes I see so many hungry that I stop seeing any. There are hungry people around me in Kenya then I “see” there are 5.7 million food insecure people in Somalia, 5.5 million in Sudan, 6.5 million in South Sudan, and so I close my eyes to the 16.2 million in Yemen and 22 million in the DRC. Fortunately God sees them all…

  • Rachel Klompmaker says:

    Thank you for this challenge, Katie, when I wonder what to do after I’ve done all the reading and learning: move my body toward…

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