“Do you see it, boys?” Uncle Mac pointed across an open field toward some mesquite trees. “It’s an 8 point buck!”
It was 6:00 am, still grey outside. Our bodies were cold and our feet were wet from walking (Uncle Mac called it “tracking”) through dew drenched fields for 2 hours. Complaining and hungry.
My younger brother whispered, “He’s kidding us again!”
True, Uncle Mac was a trickster, always messing with us. At one point, early on in the hike, my brother had asked, “Uncle Mac, when are we gonna see something?”
Uncle Mac just said, “Depends on what you’re looking for.”
But now Uncle Mac was excited. “It’s right there, boys: about a 100 yards, behind that scrub brush.”
We slowly followed his arm and forefinger toward the trees. Nothing!
“You trickin us, Uncle Mac? It’s just brush.”
He turned to us, calmly, “As long as you draw your attention to something about which you’ve already made up your mind, you probably won’t really see what you are actually looking at.”
Okay, that’s how Zen Mac would have said it!
What Uncle Mac actually said was, “Boys, you’re looking too hard! Take a deep breath and exhale… slowly. Just be patient and look around over there. You’ll see it. It’s right there.”
So I relaxed… took a calm breath and patiently looked around in the general area where he pointed. I took another deep breath.
Then I noticed something — a tiny movement … then the tip of an antler, and then the whole rack and the deer’s head!
“I see it! It’s right there!” We both saw it.
The next thing we expected to hear was the loud crack of Uncle Mac’s rifle being fired.
Instead, it was just a long silence.
And then he asked, “Who’s hungry? Let’s go back into town for some pancakes!”
He picked up his rifle and we made the long trek back to the trail head. We were so excited to see the buck it hadn’t occurred to us that, once again, we’d been on a hunting trip with Uncle Mac that seemed to be about something other than hunting. Or maybe, the trip had simply been what it needed to be at the time. All the way back we talked about how funny it was we couldn’t see at first what was right there all along.
Some years ago I attended an ecumenical community of churches event in Dallas. There were rabbis, preachers, priests. A Muslim Imam was sitting off a little bit from the bulk of the gathering, all by himself.
A colleague told me he was new to the community, from Iran, and people were kind of uncomfortable around him. I was new to the community myself, having just finished seminary. But I had (and still have) a fascination for cultural and personal stories.
So, I went over and introduced myself to him and asked if he knew any of the stories about the Persian trickster, Nasreddin Hodja, and his foolish wisdom.
He seemed surprised. He smiled and quickly launched into one his mother told him as a child. I followed with one I’d recently read. And that sparked even more stories — about Hodja, and then about families.
At some point he asked, “What drew you to all these stories about Hodja and his foolish wisdom?”
I said, “I had an uncle who was a lot like that.”
We are in the middle of the season of Lent, and our reflections on the Prayer of St. Francis, and I’m wondering what it might be like to see things more clearly in order to be a more effective instrument of peace.
Musical instruments are most profound where playing them has created space for the music to be experienced, not just heard — it is an intentional gift of presence. To be an instrument of God’s peace may be much the same, to intentionally create the space around us for hope, for connections, for joy to happen — to be a gift of presence. Scene by scene, moment to moment, I think “seeing” these connections between us is like hearing the music in the silence between the notes.
In that space between us is God’s invitation to be present enough to see more clearly what we might be missing otherwise. What interests and passions and life experiences might connect us to others in healing, unexpected ways that can make for peace?
Or as Uncle Mac might say,“What are you looking for? Don’t look too hard. Take a long, deep breath. Forget about what you think you saw. Now, explore that space. It’s right there.”