Sometimes things become so familiar we no longer really see or hear them; they are just there. Then something happens, we see things in a new light; suddenly notice details we had been unaware of. Many Bible stories become so familiar that we no longer pay them much attention; we recognise the start and just go with the flow without stopping to take in every single word or phrase.
It is often said that the best place to hide something is in full view; right where people see it all the time – without really seeing it at all. I recall this being demonstrated in the run up to Christmas as a teenager growing up in a household full of brothers and sisters. Mum was always bustling about with umpteen preparations on the go; no-one paid that much attention to what she was doing. They would come in asking for scissors, Selloptape or whatever and go away again completely focused on their own activity and be utterly unaware of what secrets they had inadvertently seen. Mum knew this and never drew attention to what she was doing but concentrated on what the other person wanted.
I found this out when she tried to teach my sister the trick; this sister was always fiddling about with various art or craft projects and one year she was making Christmas presents for the family. Instead of carrying on as normal, she would suddenly start trying to stop a certain person entering the room or bundle what she was doing under a cushion. It was rather a give-away! Immediately attention was drawn to what she was doing that no-one would normally take any interest in.
It can be easy to read our Bible stories the way Mum kept on with her Christmas preparations. The encounter is all nice and comfortingly familiar but we go away afterwards with no idea of what hidden treasures we have been so close to.
If we are to un-bury these treasures we need to learn to look, not for deeply buried secrets, but at what is plainly there before our eyes. We need to look at things the way a curious child does. Children have a habit of asking awkward questions about things that grown-ups take for granted and don’t normally put into words and so have trouble trying to explain when asked.
Next time you pick up the Bible, imagine a curious child in the scene you are reading; a child who asks, who is that man? What is he doing? Why? And when you think you’ve answered why, don’t forget, the answer will be queried with another why?
It can be illuminating to have a conversation with someone who didn’t grow up with Bible stories but has come directly to the Bible itself in later life. They tend to see it in a different perspective than those of us who know best the airbrushed children’s story version and unwittingly superimpose it onto what the Bible actually says.
It’s not only the Bible we do this with; it’s people, too. How often do we know someone superficially; just enough to categorise them in some way or another according to their age, race, profession or something and then automatically assume that they are like everyone else in that category? It can be surprising when we learn something new about them. Someone might need a lot of care either because they are very young or very old, or perhaps ill or frail in some way. Their need may easily become the prime way in which we view that person and we don’t think of the ways in which they are a help and a blessing to others.
And what about ourselves? Do we look at ourselves and just see a general busyness or do we actually see the reason for it, what it’s all about? Do we see the precious treasure that is hidden within or have we obscured it by overcomplicating things? Consider the time you paused in your own thinking just long enough to smile at someone in the street. There is human treasure. Is it buried deep in you or deep in them? No, it’s right there in each other’s face. It’s just a matter of looking at what is right in front of you instead of hurrying past.
We can find this treasure in all walks of life; it’s there in each unfolding flower, it’s there in the clouds or the sea. It is openly there, yet it is hidden. It is hidden from eyes that will not see, from minds that are too preoccupied.
All we need to do is really look. Look at what is in front of us, be it the wonders of nature, a person’s face or the words on the page of our Bible.