When Wendell Berry, the American agrarian writer, finally agreed to a documentary about his thought and writing, he refused to be “on camera.” We do hear his voice on occasion but more often the voices of others.
I loved the movie immensely, but one of the most striking phrases — one I share with you today — is the title of the documentary: Look and See. In the movie his daughter recounts him telling her to look and see the world, see what we’re doing to the land, to each other, to our places. Looking is not the same as seeing, which is a central thesis to Berry. He thinks the reason we’ve let so many places in America be decimated culturally and practically is that we don’t see the treasure they are. Destruction and loss seem to follow if we are reduced to creatures that look and don’t see.
“Looking and seeing” can be compared to “tilling and keeping,” the primordial command of God. Tilling represents the work we do as lords of the earth, sons of God. But, respecting that creation has an order that is outside and even before us, we also keep it, meaning we don’t destroy it by our use and work. The Hebrew words used to describe “keeping” can be related to guarding or even worshiping. Either they go together, or things fall apart. Yes, we are lords of creation, but we recognize a higher Lord through whom our lordship comes, or it doesn’t come at all. If you work (till) without preserving (keep) then you are not fulfilling the commandment. Similarly, if we look without seeing, we’re missing something — perhaps even damaging it or ourselves. Many know what it means to be looked at but not seen. It is an incomplete, not fully human, or sometimes violent act.
Josef Pieper points out that charity (love) and prudence (wisdom) are both forms of seeing. In other words, the most important virtues of the Christian life are forms of sight. Faith itself is a form of seeing in that it helps us to see what cannot be seen by human vision alone. Contemplation is a form of seeing. To go even higher, our entire existence, which is ordered toward life with God in heaven, terminates in the beatific vision, when we will “see God face to face,” as Sacred Scripture puts it. We won’t just be looking at God in heaven — we will see and be seen.