‘When did we see you hungry and feed you, or see you thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or clothe you in your nakedness? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to visit you?’ ~Matthew 25:37-39
If you have ever been lucky enough to see a roosting Barred Owl, you likely had a staring contest that you won’t forget. The iris of a Barred Owl’s eye is black, which only adds to the mysterious nature of the bird. Being predators, their eyes are set close together to increase the field of binocular vision, which increases the accuracy of depth perception, something very helpful when chasing prey. Each pupil of those piecing eyes can dilate independently, an adaptation that aids in night vision, which in some owls is up to 100 times better than humans. But don’t believe the myth that they are day blind, they don’t trade off seeing in the light in order to see in the dark.
Where owls rely on the cover of darkness, eagles use distance. They are able to spot a rabbit from three miles away. While we are grateful for 20/20 vision, eagles have 20/5 vision, that is, the ability to see something at 20 feet as clearly as if it were at 5 feet. They are capable of seeing a much wider range of colors, including ultraviolet.
At the other end of the spectrum, prey species tend to have large eyes placed far apart on their heads to give them a wider field of view; very helpful in detecting oncoming danger. In fact, the position of the eyes of American Woodcocks is so far toward the back of their head that they have binocular vision behind them!
Just like these natural adaptations in the wild, human eyes reveal the unique nature of each individual. The variety is not in position or size or ability. No, human eyes are not terribly diverse physically. So how is it that looking into someone’s eyes is such a profound experience of knowing that person? Looking into another’s eyes is often unnerving. It is an act of vulnerability and intimacy. Gazing into someone’s eyes cannot be forced. It is a gift when offered.
When a person is blind, they must develop their other senses to compensate. Without the ability to share a gaze, they can teach sighted people other ways of “seeing.” Our bird kin present a fascinating variety of physical abilities that we cannot achieve. Our differently-abled human kin challenge us to expand our understanding in ways that are definitely possible. But in order to do that, we must begin with acknowledging the incredible range of abilities available to us all.
Prayer: Surprising Christ, open the windows of our souls so we can know you in as much as we serve those who are least, last, and lost. Amen.