O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee!
(Francis Thompson, “In No Strange Land”)
Sadly, vision – the first of our Pilgrim Values – has been almost entirely co-opted and corrupted by salesmen, CEOs, motivational speakers, and corporate “leadership” gurus. In their hands this priceless treasure has been transmogrified into something closely resembling “visions (or delusions) of grandeur” – a glitzy but hollow shell of its former self, stuffed with such empty kosmic values as self-aggrandizement and lust for success. Suffice it to say that this kind of “vision” has no place in the Pilgrim life.
The vision we have in mind is a matter of seeing, pure and simple. To be more precise, it’s a way of seeing. Before you can be, you have to be able to see.
To a certain extent, this vision is the result of conscious choice and persistent practice. But at an even deeper level, it’s a gift:
“Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16, 17).
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
Pilgrim vision is granted to those who are willing to stand in the place of the passive receiver. The starry-eyed and the agenda-driven, blinded by plans and ambitions of their own, know nothing about it. Once appropriated, it can be cultivated and developed in a number of ways. But whatever shape it takes, it is always a thing of primary importance. For as goes the vision, so goes the rest. In a very real sense, it’s the tail that wags the dog. As Jesus put it, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.” (Luke 11:34, 35)
Scottish lore tells of a woman who was gifted with the fabled “second sight.” This rare and highly coveted ability was bestowed upon her in exchange for a favor she had done – not altogether of her own free choice – for the fairy-folk. It seems that on a certain evening a strange woman clad all in green appeared on her doorstep with a beautiful child in her arms.
“Will you nurse my baby until I return?” asked the fairy (for such indeed she was).
The woman stared for a moment, completely at a loss. Then she heard her own voice saying, “Yes. Certainly I’ll do that.”
A year passed. During all that time, the woman never lacked for anything: all her physical and material needs were miraculously and abundantly supplied. At last the fairy returned.
“You have been kind to my child,” said she. “Come with me now, and I shall show you my house.”
The woman followed her through a shaded wood and up a sunny green hillside. Near the top of the hill the fairy lifted up a turf in the bank, revealing a wooden door. She opened the door and the two of them entered.
“What do you see?” asked the lady in green.
The woman squinted in the dim light. “Not much,” she said. “A bare chamber. A dirt floor.”
From her belt the fairy drew forth a goblet containing a green liquid. She poured three drops into the woman’s left eye.
“Look again!” she said.
The woman did. Before her lay a spacious and beautiful country; away and away it stretched into the dim blue distance. There were green hills fringed by trees. Crystal streams flashed in the bright daylight. A broad lake shone like burnished silver.
For many years afterward the woman retained this capacity to see what other mortals were entirely unable to discern. Only the fairies could have given her such a gift. Only they could take it away.
Pilgrim vision is like that. It’s a kind of second sight. It is not about “chasing dreams,” hatching “visionary” plots, or cooking up grandiose schemes for self-advancement. It has nothing to do with aiming for ever greater heights of success, power, and wealth. On the contrary, vision is the rare ability to see the unseen; and having seen it, to order one’s steps according to the radically different pattern of reality revealed in the light of that bright but invisible world.