Not really a Jackson Pollock. photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

You Gotta Believe It To See It

Beauty, bytes, God—or all of the above

Nobody knows who first said “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but I’d like to have a few words with them. They neglected some very serious issues.

Want to know why I said that? Take this simple quiz.

When you stand in front of a Jackson Pollock painting, what do you see?

a) A bunch of spilled paint
2) A work of art
iii) A crime scene

Get it? At least three wildly different, legitimate responses.

Now just swap out the Jackson Pollock painting for Reality Itself, i.e., infinity. You know — all THIS. The whole shebang. (Gesturing with barely controlled frustration here.)

Why would we not expect wildly different responses to Reality Itself? Because it is just as vivid as a Jackson Pollock painting.

We are living in different universes entirely

For some people, the universe they see, hanging on the wall here in the Gallery of Cosmic Art, is chaotic… unnerving… offering nothing but constant change and surprise, with NO One in charge:

photo by daniele levis pelusi on unsplash

For other people, reality is a just a set of rules waiting to be discovered, comprising patterns both seen and unseen in nature and science… in music and in math… in color and in light. For those people, Reality doesn’t need to have anyone in charge; divine forces are optional. Human consciousness is happy to interact with Reality as it is. “Just let me open up a spreadsheet here”:

image by gordon johnson on pixabay

Some people view Reality with faint suspicion; they understand the part they see well enough, but they’re pretty sure the rest of it’s a prank by a God Who is something of a prankster — having mysterious ways, they will be fond of saying. Those folks end up either rich, and cynical, and powerful, and predatory; or very poor and happy.

They would not be surprised if God came up and demanded, “Pull my finger.”

image by gerd altmann on pixabay

Still other people see all of this glorious Reality as basically a DIY project — those are usually the humanists, bless their hearts. For them, Reality has come Some Assembly Required, and Batteries Were Not Included. And Instructions? Forget about it.

image by M W on pixabay

For some people, Reality is only tolerable because of those for whom it is intolerable — artists. So the artists tweak and tenderize and soften and recreate creation, and with art make living tolerable and humanity humane. In recent years, we have marginalized and rejected these artists and poets and prophets or children, but they rise again to reshape Reality and rescue it from our fears.

Art and love make beauty. photo by quino al on unsplash

We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe.

So I think I have a basic grasp: Reality is an infinity of particles and waves and events, out of which my consciousness curates what I loftily call “my” truth out of its own quick thinking, predictive ability, and half-memories.

Basically, my mind is just doing improv the whole time. I’m pretty convincing most of the time.

However: I do not believe in “Magic Eye” pictures

Except for those “Magic Eye” pictures. I can’t stand those things.

Supposed to be a picture in there. Hah. stephen brewer on flickr

People swear they see pictures in them.

I just don’t, and I never have. (I’m not alone, though — apparently Ellen deGeneres can’t do Magic Eye either, according to Wikipedia.)

So after a while, not seeing the 3-D image in the 2-D pattern, I just didn’t believe it was there any more.

But people won’t accept that, will they? Someone who can see the picture in the Magic Eye will just keep insisting, “Look, really look, dammit! See? See? It’s right there, for crying out loud! Ah, you’re not taking this seriously.”

Remember Pictionary? Remember that one player who would draw a crabbed little stick drawing and then wouldn’t draw anything else, but would just keep stabbing the pencil on that one drawing, over and over until they broke the pencil? Oh, wait — that might have been me.

Well, there are a few other things I simply don’t believe in, and therefore have a lot of trouble seeing.

I do not believe in algebra

And since I do not believe in it, I cannot see it. And therefore I cannot learn it. As the school joke goes:

Dear algebra: Please stop trying to find your X.

She’s not coming back

And don’t ask Y.

I do not believe in “bytes”

I must not believe in kilobytes and megabytes and gigabytes, because I cannot see them, and I cannot ever remember which is larger: megabytes or kilobytes or gigabytes. I feel that another measure should have been adopted early on, if people wanted us to take that “information” seriously.

But I grudgingly believe in “whiteness.” Because I CAN see it, you guys.

But some otherwise kindly and earnest white people do not believe in whiteness, and therefore have not been able even to see it. Some white people have literally been going around earnestly saying “I don’t see color.”

But we are learning not to say that, since no one really believes it any more. And also they have realized they can express angst about their “white privilege” and do some humblebragging at the same time.

(Did I say that out loud?)

And even though I’m pretty sure that “race” is in fact a long con, just as the smart scholars have been wearily saying for some time now, I’m certain that racism is virulently alive and that the construct of “whiteness” amazingly still lives on, although if you listen to some white Americans it’s just been one trial and burden after another ever since the end of the recent War of Northern Aggression Against the South.

But people have also realized: we can either go cross-eyed trying to see our own whiteness — or we can go to the streets where the other people are and see whose image is reflected in the eyes of our brothers and sisters and siblings who are looking for justice there.

Sometimes, we cannot see ourselves until we find ourselves truly in community with others.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

And then there’s God.

I know a lot of non-believers who feel about God the same way I feel about Magic Eyes. They just do not see God in this picture, and they suspect all the “believers” out there don’t see God, either — they’re just saying they do. Trying to make a fool out of somebody.

And a lot of non-believers think that people only believe in God because they were indoctrinated to those beliefs at an early age.

Which doesn’t account for people like me, because my secular parents, I’m pretty sure, did not indoctrinate us to be religious. If anything, we were indoctrinated to believe that it was the religious kids who were indoctrinated. (See how that works?) But we were taught to be polite and not to say it was all “hooey” in their hearing.

But I was always certain there was God. A big one, too — lots bigger than this Jesus they were always talking about. Why, I’d just look around at this incredible reality, and I’d see God literally everywhere. I’d practically sputter — “You don’t see that? Right there? See? See?”

And even in these times when everybody’s peddling doubt and despair, I still see the mystical fire and it fuels me day and night not to give up as long as we can still strive for some good God and the potential for purpose. As Leonard Cohen says simply in “Anthem”:

“There’s a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that even some religious people never had that same mystical gnosis, that whatchamacallit, that I had. I only understood that absence after I had stared at too many Magic Eye paintings and had been forced to say, so many times:

“Nope. I just don’t see it. Sorry.”

I conclude, therefore, that all of us can see something — but that none of us will be able to see everything.

We will not all see the beauty in a painting. We may not all understand a problem or a system the same way; we may not be able to perceive our own shortcomings, our own sins of commission or omission, just as we cannot see the back of our own heads without a special mirror or a really good friend.

We cannot always see the holy in the world, even when it’s right there, not even using an alias or wearing a hat.

There will always be some things that we just won’t get.

But that’s what art is for.

And faith.

And friends.

Really, really good friends.

Preaching courage in the face of absurdity. Editor of Real Life, Real/igion — join us for the newsletter Real/igion for the Rest of Us.

Get the Medium app