Our theme for October is “Why I Believe.”
I remember wandering through a museum years ago and spotting something unexpected in a back hallway. The small framed poster seemed to depict Lisa Frank’s first experience with LSD: a Technicolor flurry of dots and swirls replicated in tight iterations from margin to margin. I’d seen this kind of pattern before in elementary school classrooms and Magic Eye books. It’s called a stereogram.
Stereograms (technically “autostereograms,” since you can view them without a special set of glasses) are maddening optical illusions, puzzles built into a seemingly chaotic array of colorful splotches. I don’t fully understand how they work, but stereograms essentially exploit the brain’s ability to calibrate depth perception. The trick is to stare at—or through—the swirling image in such a way that a three-dimensional hidden shape, concealed within the dots and shadows, floats to the surface. Each stereogram is unique; each will drive you insane until you develop the “special sight” that allows you to see beyond the image’s two-dimensional face.
Some people can see the hidden shape with a glance. Just look at it long enough, they claim, and it’ll pop right out at you. Others will give themselves headaches by crossing and uncrossing their eyes in an attempt to make the secret picture pop into focus. For years, I was one of the latter. No matter how hard I squinted and leaned, I couldn’t force stereograms to work their magic. In the end, I ignored them, certain I would continue to be foiled by their complexities.
But one day in high school physics class, our teacher left some small stereogram cards on one of the lab tables. It had been a while since I’d seen one, so curiosity conquered my previous frustration. I picked one up, held it in front of my face, let my eyes drift out of focus, and—pop! There it was. Where moments before had been only a slew of green speckles, I could suddenly see a crouching frog. It had been there all along; I just hadn’t had the skill, the “sight,” to notice it before.
Maybe faith can be a bit like a stereogram.
Some people can stare at Christianity for a lifetime and only see its surface: an ancient book full of improbable claims, an invisible deity, generations of problematic adherents. Faith can seem maddeningly complex, full of swirling paradoxes (I mean, does anyone really understand the Trinity?), bickering denominations, and entire libraries dedicated to theological minutiae. They hear Christians say just stare at it long enough and it’ll pop right out at you. But they squint and ponder and see nothing.
Sometimes, that’s me. Some days, I squint at the world, trying to catch a glimpse of the God I know is embedded in there somewhere. But all I see are Christians fighting on Facebook and coral reefs dying, light and shadow, swirling colors, a surface in chaos.
And then my pastor delivers a killer message or I have just the right conversation with just the right person or the sunset is achingly beautiful, and—pop! There He is.
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PS: As I wrote this post, I periodically wandered over to Google Images to stare at a series of stereograms. Nothing. Utterly impenetrable. No matter how I squinched my eyes and tipped my head, no magical pictures surfaced. Then I discovered a stereogram generator, whipped up the header image for this post, and suddenly everything snapped into place. I’m back, baby.
PPS: The header image is a functional stereogram. Give it a shot! If it’s too small on your screen, try some from Google Images.
PPPS and spoiler: It’s a long-necked dinosaur looking off to the left. See it?
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.