Are we blessed or what? We get to live where people come from all over the world to visit. We have fine outlets and malls and attractions, but let’s face it — most folks are drawn to spend their precious vacation days here because there is nothing else on earth which matches the way the snow white sand of our beaches transitions to emerald waters. Here, visitors often discover what most of us already know — that if you sit on the beach and gaze at the gulf long enough, it will affect you.
Bring a spirit troubled by the relentless expectations of life to the shoreline on a calm day, and the steady cadence of gentle waves whispers “Peace” until whatever is going on inside becomes as still as the water. Conversely, head to the beach as a storm approaches and see how long it takes before the fury of wind and waves transfers raw energy to your soul with such power that you walk away feeling as if you could take on the world.
Herein lies a truth that poets and philosophers and theologians have long understood — we humans reflect in our own lives characteristics of whatever or whoever we focus on.
Think, for example, how much transforming power a football team has on its followers every fall. Team flags flutter from SUVs and pickup trucks alike. Fifty thousand fans willingly sit through scorching sun or freezing rain and variously cycle through elation and despair as each individual reflects whatever is unfolding on the field.
On a different note, I know more than one rough-and-tumble man who, smitten by some girl, went all gooey with flowers and poems and date-night chick flicks as he fixed his attentions on her.
Of course, such transformations are not limited to adults. How many times have we heard kids tell us that they wanted to grow up to be a policeman or a fireman, a doctor or a nurse or a pilot — and then insist on dressing and acting like them! Shoot, when I was a little kid I was Davy Crockett. No, really. I had the coonskin cap, the musket and the manner. All I needed was a bear and the transformation to frontiersman would have been complete.
The problem with all of the people and things, both good and bad, upon which folks focus, is that life is fickle. What happens if we go to the gulf when our insides are in turmoil only to discover pounding surf rather than gentle waves? Or our ball team descends into its longest-ever losing streak? Or when the girl who has smitten the guy turns out to be less than perfect? Our understanding of who we are and whose we are gets confused by the mixed messages vying to transform our lives. So where is a person to focus if he or she wants to experience a transformation that both blesses and remains? Reason dictates that we look to the highest and greatest good.
That would be Jesus. The Bible calls him Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus brings with him the very nature of the God of the whole universe. As such, he is also absolutely consistent in his character. The author of Hebrews puts it succinctly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8).
With these truths in mind, St. Paul’s proclamation to the Christians in Corinth makes perfect sense, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”(2 Corinthians 3:18)
Wow! Think about that! The Holy Spirit lifts a veil so that followers of Jesus can see his glory. And as we focus our attention on him we begin to be transformed by him. The Greek word Paul uses which we translate as “beholding,” means to “continually contemplate” or “keep on beholding.” This is important!
When we fix our gaze on Jesus, the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out to reflect Jesus in our own lives. But Paul reminds us that such transformation is not a one-shot event. We can’t glance in the Lord’s direction from time to time and expect to be changed. It is as we “keep on beholding” Jesus that the Spirit continues to transform us “from one degree of glory to another” and we become more and more like the one who dominates our thoughts.
If we are changed by whoever or whatever we focus our attention on, why in the world would we want to squander our gaze upon anything or anyone less than the best?
The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.