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‘Through a glass darkly’

I am blessed to live in a very interesting home.

My husband, Britt, and I are renting the upper story of an old house on High Street, where from our perch upstairs we can survey the goings-on below.

Dog walkers, stroller-pushing parents, students and employees walking down to Longwood in the mornings and back in the evenings. Trees, now aflame with fall color. Deer. There’s always something to see out our windows.

I mentioned that our house is old. I mean, old: either pre-Civil War, or just after. Old houses (and as a former historic preservation major, I love old houses) often come with endearing quirks; uneven wood floors, doors slightly off plumb, creaky stairs. And the eyes of old houses – their windows – are often quirky, as well. Window glass made in the 18th and 19th century America was manufactured differently than more modern glass, and those who live in homes built before 1900 know that with an older home often comes wavy window glass.

There is one pane of glass in my bedroom window that must date to a bygone era. When I look through that one pane, the lovely home across the street appears distorted – its front steps look crooked and its pretty plantings appear all a mess. I love drinking my morning coffee and watching people stroll by on the other side of the street. It’s like a funhouse mirror. As they make their way through the patch of sidewalk overlooked by my wavy window, they will suddenly grow tall and very skinny. Little kids are – for an instant – giants. Dogs elongate. People’s edges become blurry.

As I watch through my favorite window, I often think of what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (NRSV translation) You may know the King James translation, as well, in which those same words are rendered as “see(ing) through a glass, darkly.” A “glass” or a mirror in Paul’s day was a polished metal surface which didn’t give a clear reflection of reality.

Like Paul’s mirror or my wavy window, don’t we often see reality as “through a glass, darkly?” That is, imperfectly, and with distortions? Especially during this tense election season and its tense aftermath, I have needed to remind myself that I have only a partial, limited understanding of others, and their beliefs and motivations. We humans are opaque to one another, aren’t we? We cannot see into one another’s hearts. Only our Lord can do so – God knows us perfectly, and as Paul suggests, one day, through Christ, we will know God (and one another) perfectly.

If we can’t know each other fully, than let us refrain from labeling one another. We’re all looking through a very blurry lens. Jesus reminds us not to judge, and I am consoled that when I am judged on the last day, my judge will be both just and merciful. Until that day, as Paul also writes in First Corinthians 13, “faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13) If we’re going to look at one another through wavy glass, let’s at least do so with love.

REV. SUSIE THOMAS is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Her email address is sthomas@farmvilleumc.org.