Choosing What We See


In the latest Sandra Bullock movie, Bird Box, a shadowy alien invasion causes mass suicide to sweep the planet. For no apparent reason people suddenly, without warning, leap from a building or step in front of a truck. It is Malorie, played by Bullock, who somehow realizes the cause of it all: the shadowy supernatural beings can only force you to kill yourself if you look at them.

Malorie survives by blindfolding herself and her two children. They move by touch, sound and scent. No matter how fearful they become in the presence of evil, even when it seems the only sane and practical way to defend themselves is to at least peekand see where the enemy is—they don’t. It is possible to be face to face with Gorgon and live, if only you refuse to open your eyes.

Bird Box is a powerful reminder: what we look at matters. By directing our attention toward some things, and avoiding others, we are actually determining which version of reality we will live in. William James wrote, “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

Often we live as though our experience just is. We don’t have a choice. When we feel angry watching a bitterly partisan news program, or depressed scrolling through an endless procession of peak experiences in our Face Book feed, it doesn’t occur to us to ask, “Did I actually agree to attend to this?” When we live on auto-pilot we lose the ability to assent to or dissent from certain things. When our life is directed only by the wildest winds blowing in our world we forfeit our own souls. Take care what you notice, for that will shape your mind.

The whole point of a daily spiritual practice is to decide each morning, This is what I will attend to today. This is what I will notice. Goodness. Beauty. Humility. Forgiveness. Love. Sure, we can’t help seeing all the shiny dark objects dangled before our eyes, but we don’t have to notice them. We can’t help being blown by the mindless winds, but our inner compass can draw us back to the course we have set for ourselves day after day after day.


17 Responses to Choosing What We See
  1. Suaan
    February 23, 2019 | 12:52 pm

    Loved this, David. I saw this movie and kept thinking that maybe they would just peek once! “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.”

    • Kay
      February 24, 2019 | 3:46 pm

      Love Susan’s comment. Forgot about that song, but so important. That is one thing I’m happy about my parents’ teaching, that I need to turn away and not investigate evil!

  2. Ellie Massie
    February 23, 2019 | 3:58 pm

    What profound words to live by lest, in today’s hurly burly world, we forget that we do have choices.

  3. Judith Fertig
    February 24, 2019 | 11:17 am

    A wonderful post. Can you please give us a few suggestions for starting (and keeping) a daily spiritual practice? A prayer to start the day? Reading a short inspirational text?

    • David Anderson
      February 24, 2019 | 1:24 pm

      There are so many—and of course different people need different spiritual practices. But I would start by subscribing to Richard Rohr’s daily e-mail—-from the Center for Contemplation and Action.

        February 24, 2019 | 1:45 pm

        Thank you!

    • Ann
      February 24, 2019 | 4:02 pm

      The Examen with Fr. James Martin.

        February 24, 2019 | 7:15 pm

        Thank you, Ann. I had not heard of the Examen before, but am looking forward to trying this practice in the evening.

  4. John
    February 24, 2019 | 11:48 am

    This is a great reminder to take charge of our own lives and not succumb to the alien invasion du jour. There are people working hard to make sure we can’t look away. If it’s hard for adults to resist, imagine little kids.

  5. Kathy
    February 24, 2019 | 12:13 pm

    So ignore everything but the good? Come on! Not realistic

    • David Anderson
      February 24, 2019 | 1:21 pm

      No—that’s why I spoke of giving ourselves to humility and forgiveness—so that we can transform pain into peace.

  6. Michael
    February 24, 2019 | 1:39 pm

    This post is empowering. Thx David. Our souls are telescopes: we choose where we point them.

  7. Donna Harrison
    February 24, 2019 | 2:52 pm

    Brother David and all,
    I, too, am moved by this post. It brings to mind words by various Bible study authors I’ve experienced. In one study, I learned a bit about ‘neuroplasticity’ and the research done confirming when we take control of our thoughts, new neural pathways are created and measurable! The Bible suggests that we “take our thoughts captive.” When we change our minds, we can allow a greater receptivity to the Word. As you suggest, we can and should think on those things cited in Phil. 4:8.

  8. Michael moore
    February 24, 2019 | 3:41 pm

    David, your comment about choosing where to focus our gaze is (as always) profound. As William Blake said, “We become what we behold.”

  9. Karen
    February 24, 2019 | 8:01 pm

    Thanks, David! Philippians 4:8 (NLT) encourages us to “Fix your thoughts” on things that are true, right, pure, and lovely.

  10. Johnna
    February 25, 2019 | 2:00 pm

    Since who we are and the actions we take shape reality, it’s powerful to remember that our inner reality is affected by what we take in. Thank you for the reminder – thoughtful and well written, as always! peace.

    February 28, 2019 | 10:07 pm

    The best way to start the day! I really need to get into this now that I can read again! Thanks be to God, and a special blessing that I received and treasure.


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