One thousand years ago, a small thing happened in the city of Mosul, Iraq that changed the course of the world. A scientist and Muslim philosopher named Al-Hazen invented the first magnifying glass. It may seem like a minor advancement, but as the technology was improved upon, the veil was lifted on both the smallest and largest bodies in the universe. We would know almost nothing of quarks, bacteria, galaxies or the Big Bang without this discovery.
The key to magnification is the curved lens, which takes multiple rays of light and bends them until the distance between them collapses and they almost converge. This innovation allows us see into the distance or into the details. Realities that we could never have imagined become visible to us.
In my spiritual tradition, during this time of year we read a song composed by Mary, the mother of Jesus. This song is known by the Latin name “The Magnificat” because the opening line is: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary speaks of the soul as a magnifying tool — something that focuses upon a subject to discover what is hidden at first glance. When Mary shines the magnifying glass of her soul upon the Divine shortly before the first Christmas, she catches a glimpse of a world where tyrants are pulled from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. She sees a world where the greedy are cast down and the needy filled up!
“Soul” is an old, poetic word for that which houses our deepest emotions, most wonderous thoughts and most fiery passions. When I read Mary’s song, I wonder: What am I magnifying with my soul? What am I taking into myself with my energy and attention? A wise theologian once said: “The first thing you think about when you think about God, is the most important thing about you.” When Mary first thought of God, when she went into her soul and magnified God, she saw revolution! What do you see?
The ruling powers in our society want us to turn off our visionary capacity. They want us to be distracted. We will shop more and question authority less when we are limited in our feeling and thinking. Empires want our souls to become weak and unused and sour. As this year and this decade come to a close, I encourage us all to take the time to internally inquire what each of us is bringing into ourselves and collapsing in our souls. In these times when authoritarians flex, I think the revolutionaries and artists and lovers among us have a responsibility to get our souls in shape.
Rev. John Helmiere is the Convener of Valley & Mountain and can be reached through www.valleyandmountain.org.
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