Witness. The seeing … perhaps even examination … of something other than the self … is to be a witness. It might be a witness of an event … a life … a divine truth.
In our western culture, we have mistakenly made witness (whether the verb or the noun) to mean verbal testimony. Verbal testimony has its place … if it is not coercive or abusive or lacking respect of the hearer of such testimony. But the testimony itself is not what it means to witness.
To witness a thing … an event … a life … is to be in the moment. It requires a presence that is participatory and not just self-absorbed or self-focused. A witness is one who sees … really sees … the other.
A witness is one who is transformed, sometimes in subtle and not-so-subtle, ways … for better or for worse. The experience may be momentary and fleeting or it may be timeless and profound, but it will always have some effect on the witness.
Sometimes it has an adverse effect on the witness … as we know from people who witness death or tragedy or war or abuse. At other times, it is positive and enlivens the spirit of the witness as we witness lives well-lived or acts of generosity, care, and courage. In each of these scenarios, the witness is forever changed … for better or for worse.
The truth is that both such scenarios offer opportunities for wholeness and growth, whether in contrast to … or in harmony with … what we witness … especially when that witness is lived out in a community that encourages growth.
But a witness is not the only one who is transformed. Witnesses, by their very presence … seeing … examination … can affect that which is witnessed.
Just as our witness of a fresh snowfall inevitably leaves our footprints on the landscape, so too, our witness leaves an imprint on the scene … no matter what it is. Our very presence, as implied in what it means to witness, brings the witness into the narrative itself. In the face of evil, the witness is unwelcome … in the face of goodness, the witness finds a welcoming home.
Being a witness is ultimately an act of community. It is one key aspect of our shared life together. It is bound up in the notion in the second creation story in Genesis 2, that it is not good that anyone should be alone.
For so many people who are invisible … the poor … the marginalized … partners in struggling and broken relationships or marriages … the witness can be transformative. These are people longing to be seen.
Jesus opens the eyes of the blind not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the community. When our eyes are opened and we see one another … really see one another … we become the witnesses who are both transformed ourselves even as we offer transformation to those who are invisible.
When we see those who are invisible, we are mirroring back to them the Christ within them.
This is the gift of God in the midst of our shared living. For in our relationship with God, we discover it is God who sees us. That is a key aspect of the incarnation as we move into this season known as Epiphany in the Christian church. It is the revelation of Christ Jesus as God living among us … seeing us … but it is also the revelation of the Christ who is within us!
And it happens by mirroring. In Jesus, God mirrors to us the divine that is cast within all of creation. It is God who sees us … all of us … as the authentic children of God, born of both water and the Spirit. When that reality awakens within us, it allows us to see God in every thing and every person in the created universe. As Jesus demonstrated for us, in God’s vital presence in all of creation, no one is invisible.
There is an eternal, divine witness that mirrors back the essence of the divine in us. In you … in me!
Our very seeing of and being seen by God then has its own effect on others … it becomes a living testimony of the divine in our midst. And it rarely needs words.
How do we witness the unseeable God? Our witness of God is as simple as seeing God in the world … in the other … and we are back to the beginning. This is the circle dance … the perichoresis … of the Trinity, and it is most profoundly revealed to those who have dared to open their eyes … to witness … to examine … and see God in every moment of every day!
Open your eyes and see! Be witnesses, my friends. You will change the world.