Friday, January 20, 2012

Glasses on!

     When I was growing up, one of two popular science fiction television shows was "The Outer Limits"; the other was "The Twilight Zone".  Both were popular enough that they were revived decades later, either in movie form ("Twilight Zone"), or as another TV series ("Outer Limits").  The original "Outer Limits" began with a shot of an oscilloscope with a voice over:*

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to - The Outer Limits. 
- Opening narration, The Control Voice, 1960s 

As "The Control Voice" would speak of the image softening or fluttering, the picture on the screen would obligingly mirror those effects.  And, of course, this was in the day when many of us had to fiddle with knobs on the front of our television sets to fine-tune the focus, contrast and brightness -- so, for the Voice to tell us NOT to worry wasn't that out-of-line with our lived reality.
     Over the course of the recent holiday break, I had occasion to remember this old TV show (all of the episodes, by the way, are available on Hulu).  During those weeks, I went to see two current movies and the "Blossoms of Light" display at the Denver Botanical Gardens.  Both movies were 3-D, and required special glasses to view them.  At "Blossoms of Light", special glasses were available that would, theoretically, enhance the experience.
     In the first case (the 3-D movies), the films were primarily a blur unless one was wearing the glasses, in which case, the picture was almost alive.  In the second case ("Blossoms"), without the glasses, everyone pretty much saw the same thing; with the glasses, the viewer might see twinkles or halos or something else.  In both cases, the wearer had a different, more expansive, view of reality than someone without the glasses.
     "Seeing differently" is something, I think, that many religious/spiritual traditions encourage.  Buddhists speak of enlightenment, an understanding that what we see isn't necessarily the way the world is.  Muslims recognize that, all appearances and desires to the contrary (i.e., contrary to human understanding), whatever happens is the will of God.  Many of the accounts of Jesus' interaction with people suggest that he recognized possibilities in them that the rest of the population did not.  Likewise, Ghandi saw in the "untouchables" of India a more profound humanity than the dominant caste system would admit.   Those alternative ways of seeing then translated into alternative ways of acting.
     A religious, or spiritual, vision -- and I'm going to pun here -- is BOTH a different sense of what the future might hold, but also a different way of seeing the present.  It is, as The Control Voice puts it, "participating in a great adventure"of making real what we see.
      Glasses on!



*  You can see this opening scene on YouTube at: 

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