The first time I took my daughters horseback riding, I had a full-blown conversation with a horse. My girls were in the arena riding around and I was in the barn checking out the other horses. That is when I came across a beautiful Morgan horse. I approached the animal and said, “Hey.” She didn’t respond. So, naturally, I carried on the conversation.
I asked how she was; she didn’t answer.
I told her how I was; she didn’t answer.
So, I shared some pleasantries and irrelevant updates – I rambled on – and then I said, “Quite a world we’re living in, huh?”
And the horse said, “That’s an understatement.”
Confused by the sudden outburst after so much silence, I said, “What!?”
And the horse said again, “That’s. An. Understatement.”
At that point in the conversation, the horse became quite loquacious and I just stood there silently. That is, until its owner stood up and revealed that she had been behind the animal listening silently for the past few minutes while I made a fool of myself talking to an unresponsive beast.
After the tension broke and my ears returned to a normal color, I said shyly, “I didn’t see you there.”
The horse’s owner said, “Obviously.”
In 1999 Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons published the “invisible gorilla” study. In this study they were able to demonstrate how fixing one’s attention to a particular thing limits what one is able to otherwise perceive. They asked participants to count the passes basketball players made in a gym and had a person in a gorilla suit walk in, beat their chest, and walk out. At the conclusion of the study, only half of the participants who were counting passes noticed the gorilla. In the end, they proved: half of the time, we only see what we’re looking for.
It is undeniable and understandable that this pandemic has stolen our attention. Beyond that, we have had our attention diverted to political drama and hyped up “news.” Our focus has been so fixed of late that you can’t help but wonder what we’ve missed or who we have missed. I can’t help but wonder what we have overlooked and what opportunities have been squandered.
In just a few weeks as we begin another Lenten season, we are called to widen our perspective. Instead of only noticing the horse in the room OR ignoring the gorilla in the gym, we are invited to find ways to safely and responsibly see the whole picture (instead of just focusing on calamity and catastrophe).
In Lent, the ministry of Jesus always serves to widen perspective. He discovers those pushed to the outskirts. He seeks those who’ve been cast out. He touches the unclean. He finds the lost. He notices the unnoticeable. And he encourages us to do the same.
And so, we ask: who has been pushed to the outskirts? Who has been cast out? Who has been deemed unclean? Who have we lost? Whom do we fail to notice? In short, what have we missed?
May those questions inspire us to stop talking to horses and start conversations with each other. And may those conversations mend our fractured society, bind up the broken, and provide the healing and hope we so desperately need.
When I go to the barn I still talk to horses, but now I talk to people too. We talk about life and death, joy and sorrow, what’s working and what’s hard. There’s no question, people are much better conversationalists.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.