Towards a multi-sensory spirituality
by Patrick Lafferty
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
It sounds more like an unfortunate condition of the lower intestine, but the McGurk Effect has everything to do with our brains. The effect refers to a phenomenon in our sensory experience during which one sense actually overrides our interpretation of the information provided by another sense. So for instance, what our ears hear can actually be influenced by what our eyes see, even if the latter misrepresents the information the former receives. In the battle between visual and aural perception, our eyes, if you will, whisper an ostensibly persuasive message conflicting with what we’ve plainly heard. In other words, the eyes have it.
Last Sunday Pastor Scruggs reacquainted us with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. We can’t know for sure what precisely led both priest and Levite to forsake the “half-dead” traveler on the Jericho road. Some posit the twosome were motivated by concerns of ritual purity. Others speculate they were more concerned for their own safety than the well being of the victim. Jesus doesn’t seem to be interested in their reasons for failing to render aid—only that they had, in effect, abdicated their calling to love their God by loving their neighbor, a calling particularly underscored by their respective offices.
We can be more certain though that each responded in the way they did because they saw what they wanted to see. Their expectations or their interests overrode their observations and, more importantly, their consciences. The priest made conclusions from a distance, allowing only scant consideration to shape his opinion. And while the text gives subtle hints that the Levite at least made a closer inspection, he, too, failed to see the full moment. For his view of himself obscured the rest of what the traveler’s need and the character of God may have intoned in the recesses of his heart. Their omissions form a perfect foil for the one to come whose ethnicity is as central to the impact of the parable as his ethics.
The Samaritan chooses to let all senses—both physical and spiritual—shape his response. He is far more probing into the man’s true condition and far less concerned with his own welfare. He is neither blind to the risk he takes, nor naively optimistic about the outcome of his sacrifices. He simply acts and so incarnates the simplicity of the synthesis of love for God and man. In turn, he embodies the kind of life in which eternal life has come to rest, thus compelling sacrificial obedience.
Jesus’ parable served to instruct the lawyer in the essence of life in God. But it also succeeded in foreshadowing Jesus’ own reasons for coming to earth. For you and I weren’t simply half-dead. We were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). Conventional wisdom would have written us off, consigned us to the eternal trash heap of history. Yet, Christ did not pass us by. He did not let hasty, misleading information override his understanding of what had to be done for our sake. Moreover, He laid aside His own interests—those He’d have been fully justified in protecting—to attend not just to our afflictions, but also to our corruptions and, yes, our guilt.
Whether it’s Paul’s former life of persecution, C.S. Lewis’ or G.K Chesterton’s accounts of an erstwhile atheism, or your own story of resisting God in small or large matters, Jesus was not fooled by the incorrigibility he saw. Instead He heard the voice of His Father who sent Him, with whom all things are possible. What He saw in us did not dissuade Him from acting for us. He saw all things clearly and chose to love us anyway. In so doing, He calls us to imitate Him.
And let’s be just as careful to see what we should in that call to imitate. To imitate Him is not to compensate Him for His kindness. Rather it is to recognize His worthiness to be imitated, and the corresponding satisfaction to be had in the imitation of One so worthy. Furthermore, those upon whom eternal life has come to rest will also see how some investments are worth the risk even should they not reap the reward they intend. For there are other windfalls in the Christian economy. Such is a more complete picture of the character of imitation.
McGurk and the clueless clerics of the parable all imply how easily we can make determinations on the basis of senses that can be skewed more by expectations than exhaustive observations. So what matter or relationship in your purview have you essentially—and perhaps too hastily—left for dead? Which of them require not just a second and closer look, but a look unto what He did to undo your plight? You may find there’s more—and more compelling—information than you first observed.