Through A Glass Darkly

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version*)

When St Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthian Church, they didn’t have glass mirrors as we do today. “Mirrors” of that time were made of highly polished metals like brass or silver. Imagine checking out your makeup, ladies, in a shiny silver teapot or serving tray — not the best image! But then again, if we are over fifty, it might be preferable to the modern mirror that “does not lie.”

The word translated as “glass” in this verse, was a commonly used term in the koine Greek writing of New Testament times. It referred to this “metal mirror” used by those who could afford such a luxury.

Researching the origins of the Greek word translated as “darkly” is even more fascinating. (Here, readers, you are being introduced to another of my “quirks.” I LOVE words! I love what they mean, what they imply, and where they come from — what did they actually mean in the original language? This is just an extension of the obsessive curiosity — the constant search for Why? Where? Who? What? — That I told you about in the last post. )

The word translated here as “darkly” had nothing to do with a lack of physical light, as the root, dark, might imply. Instead, it referred to a riddle! Even more intriguing, an enigma!

In a riddle or an enigma, a truth is deliberately hidden. Like the parables Jesus used when he taught, the meaning is obscured; it’s there, but fuzzy, indistinct. Just as in Jesus’ parables, there is always an “ah-ha moment” when a riddle or enigma is solved or explained. There is always a shaking of the head: That’s what it meant! I should have guessed that!

So. Go back now and re-read I Corinthians 13:12. For now [in our everyday lives here on earth] “we see [Truth] through a glass darkly. In other words, we see through the cloudy spiritual vision we inherited from Adam and Eve.

Cataracts are just like that. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. It is the most common cause of blindness in the world. Today, cataracts affect more than 22 million in America. In a way, this is a tribute to the fact that we Americans are living longer than ever – which ultimately leads to a LOT of cataracts.

What is a cataract? My ophthalmologist described it this way: the eye’s lens is like a clear piece of plastic. In order to focus, the lens bends this way and that, over and over, to bring things (far away and up close) into clarity. And, like a clear piece of plastic that is bent thousands of times throughout the years, it becomes more and more opaque.

First we have trouble seeing in dim light; then we need larger and larger print to read; then we give up driving at night because glare from car lights make it impossible to see the road. This slow encroachment on our vision has been described as beginning to see the world as an Impressionist painting.

That’s where I have been for the last couple of years – in a Monet landscape! Impressionism is pretty on canvas but disturbing when you are trying to drive at twilight! I actually love Monet’s paintings, especially Vetheuil in the Fog, or Morning on the Seine, or Irises in Monet’s Garden. But I want to see MY garden! I want to see morning on the Willamette River in my home town!

When things first got a bit blurry, stronger prescription glasses brought my world view back into focus; but eventually lens corrections could no longer fix the problem. At my last eye appointment in January, the ophthalmologist made it very clear: it was time for cataract surgery.

Yikes! Right in the middle of cancer treatment! As my beloved Aunt Mona often said, “It never rains but it pours!” In a future post I plan to tell you more about my Aunt Mona. To the teenage me, she could be irritating sometimes, with her constant use of clichés and endearments (“My little cabbage!) Now, the grownup me remembers her fondly as the most influential person in my life – a saint who lived her Faith before me in such a way that I “caught” it. But that’s a story for another day.

Pondering the Corinthians Scripture reminds me of another Scripture passage: the story of Jesus healing the blind man of Bethsaida.

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said “I see men like trees, walking. Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (Mark 8:22-25)

Curiously, this is the only miracle recorded in the NT that needed a “second touch.”   Why? (There I go again, asking why?) Why did it take Jesus two tries? Perhaps it’s because the man only had enough faith for a partial healing? I’ve heard that sermon and I don’t buy it. Personally I think it was because He wanted us to know that sometimes miracles are gradual. And yes, the growth of our faith is often gradual and needs a “second touch.”

Ironically, my cataract surgery will come in two separate “touches” of the surgeon’s scalpel. They only operate on one eye at a time, with 2-4 weeks in between procedures. I hope it will only be a two-week wait. Having one good eye and one not so good sounds like a recipe for a headache. I may end up “seeing men as trees walking.”

Thankfully, I don’t have that long to find out. I will be having the cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow afternoon (May 24)!

What I have heard, from so many friends who have had the surgery, is that I will be delighted with the outcome. I look forward, most of all, to reading a real paper-and-ink book again! I will no longer have to use my Kindle on the largest print setting for almost everything I read. I can’t even read my GIANT print Bible any more, but have to read Scriptures on my Kindle. For a voracious book lover, that is not cool!

Even though I keep hearing that I will be able to do just about anything the day after the procedure, I’m turning Growing in Grace over to a very special guest blogger: my husband, Tom. I have only one misgiving about this: after you read Tom’s insightful and humorous posts, you will hope I retire and let him take over completely.

Just a bit about Tom: he has a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, yet has worked as an electrical engineer for forty-six years. Surprisingly, he is an engineer who can write!

I remember a poem he wrote for me before we were married. It was in sonnet form, in perfect iambic pentameter, which definitely impressed this English/Drama major! I wish I had kept the poem, but here is the gist of it:

A man stood at a crossroads. To his right was a beautiful woman (me of course!) and to his left was a shiny red convertible. Which road should he take? The man struggled with the decision. He stared lovingly at the beautiful woman (me!) and then turned longingly to the convertible. Back and forth he anguished over the decision, summoning up images of what it would be like to possess one, then the other (I thought the word choice “possess!” was a bit off). At one point in the poem the image of the beautiful woman (me!) changed into a temptress, a siren luring him to destruction. (me?) But still he made his fateful choice and walked toward the temptress who changed back into the beautiful woman (me!) and opened her arms.…

Well, you know the ending. Anyway, you are in for a treat when Tom takes over the computer keyboard next week! Until we meet again,

“Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”


* Why, you might ask, did I use the King James Version and not a “Catholic” Bible? Someday I will talk about different versions of the Bible, which I use and why. (It has nothing to do with denomination issues.)

In this case, I chose the KJV simply because it was beautiful! Think of the difference between “through a class darkly” (KJV) and “in a mirror dimly” (RSV Catholic Version). The words, through a glass darkly, have inspired poems, novels, and films (an Academy Award Winner). The words sing! Though “in a mirror dimly” is perfectly correct, it just doesn’t sing. And I love words that sing!

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2 Responses to Through A Glass Darkly

  1. I loved what you said about the man needing a healing touch twice to teach us that miracles are sometimes gradual. I had never thought of that before but it is so true! Prayers for your cataract surgery! God Bless!


  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for your prayers!


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