You know the threats very well:
- the climate changes that bring extreme weather systems of hurricanes, record-setting temperatures, flooding, as well as evolving weather patterns in local areas;
- the social medias' spread of misleading and sometimes dangerous misinformation;
- the betrayal by democratically elected officials who violate the trust placed in them for the work of our institutions;
- the destruction of natural habitats;
- the promise and threat of artificial intelligence, emerging as what might be the most significant cultural and technological development in our lifetime;
- and so much more, but let us not forget the failures of our old established churches to faithfully serve as stewards of our natural world, the poor, the disenfranchised, our children and young people, the elderly, and all who look for moral guidance.
Meanwhile, we are now experiencing phenomenal developments and advancements in medical care with explorations of the human brain and body never before possible. And while we are exploring with increasing detail the human body, another exciting exploration of almost unbelievable scope flashes across the pages of National Geographic, our TV screens, and other world-wide media sources. This is the exploration of space. With the landing of the James Webb telescope, we are now given images of the surfaces on Jupiter's moon Europa, the emergence of early galaxies, but, astonishingly, a look backwards over 13.5 billion years ago in time when our universe emerged out of the darkness that was before.
So there we have it. In this short list I presented, we see despair and hope. Or do we? Maybe we do not perceive them actually. How else can we understand the ongoing seemingly oblivious perception in recognizing the threat of danger at our doorsteps, or the promise of a golden future that AI and our technological advances could make possible?
And so we come to the question of PERCEPTION. What do we perceive? How do we perceive? What blocks or distorts our perceptions? Is it not likely then, that we might look at the same object but perceive different things? What are the misperceptions in my life that are distorted because of the misinformation that falsely colors what I am perceiving?
In other words, our way of perceiving operates like this. I am given a view of the world that may be true to nature or not. Maybe I have misunderstood something. Maybe I have been misled or misinformed by a number of sources: people, media, TV studios, movies, papers, preachers, politicians, counselors, teachers, family members, and more. Perhaps I have never considered how to look for truth, how to investigate the nature of things, even the nature of NATURE. Perhaps I have become jaundiced by scams, or even by misfortunes that fell my way—sickness, accidents, death. So many factors influence what and how I perceive.
This is a theme explored by Wallace Stevens in his poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," written between 1915-1920, and published 1923, in his first book of poems, Harmonium. One of the more profound twentieth-century poets, Stevens noted the role of perception in the way we look at a work of art or an object in nature. He says as much in verse II of the poem:
I was of three minds
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Are there really three blackbirds? Probably not. He is looking at one tree and one blackbird, but he actually "sees" one blackbird and realizes he becomes aware of three different perceptions. How subtle and "tricky" are our perceptions. Later in verse XI, he describes the experience of possible misperception when he mistook a shadow for blackbirds.
Finally, in verse XIII of the poem, Stevens comes to rest within his perception.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat in the cedar limbs.
Now he perceives only one blackbird, and he is aware that his imagination symbolized by "evening in the afternoon" created or influenced his earlier perceptions of three blackbirds. Now, his "reason," represented by "snow," makes clear his perception. He is no longer projecting upon nature but rather is allowing himself to perceive what nature is presenting.
And in this way we come back to our perception of this moment in which we are living. Is it a time of hope or despair? What are you perceiving?