“To Clear the Mental Ray:” Advent and Transformed Vision


Every year I hope for this season to be full of life-transforming meaning, and every year, I feel like I barely grasp hold of some fleeting thoughts about the season before we’re suddenly unwrapping presents, shouting Happy New Year, and back to work.

What I’m hoping for, what I feel like I miss year after year, is an Advent and Christmas season which is “eye-opening.” St. John said Jesus’ coming into the world “enlightens everyone.” Jesus himself said that our eye is the lamp of the body; a good eye results in a body filled with light.

In other words, we have a vision problem. We don’t see God, ourselves, or the world rightly. The Pharisees didn’t see it rightly. Herod didn’t see it rightly. We don’t either. Philip Doddridge recognized the need for a transformed vision when he penned his Advent hymn, “Hark the Glad Sound, the Savior Comes”:

He comes from thickest films of vice
To clear the mental ray,
And on the eyes oppressed with night
To pour celestial day.

Advent is remembering the darkness that preceded the light, the oppressive night that preceded the celestial day. It’s about the gaining of a transformed vision – the kind of thing that turns upside down the way we look at the world and the way we live in it. I’m praying this is not another Advent that goes by in a blur, for blurred vision is all that will result.

Though as usual, I have to catch myself in my tendency toward “doing.” There’s not a thing I can do to clear my own vision. That transformative work is done by God and God alone. It’s work that is done to us and in us. We’re not simply passive, for it’s our own imaginations that are being exercised. And we choose whether or not to place ourselves in the imaginative spaces in which the mental ray can be cleared to see rightly. But nothing blurs the vision worse than believing I can fix my own eyesight.

To all this I’d add one final thought. The best stories produce a transformed vision. S. T. Coleridge, to whom all our beloved fantasy authors should be traced, believed that great stories are icons of reality, that the imaginative work done in the stories is a way of knowing and understanding the world. Of course, all of the best stories are echoes of the best story, the one that starts with Advent.

We’re at the beginning, once again, of the story of Christ, the story of us all. My prayer for myself and all the Rabbit Roomers is that the eyes of our hearts are open, so that as we move through this story once again over the coming year, we see Christ and are transformed by Him.


  1. David

    Amen. My annual experience of Advent is very much the same; I always feel like I miss its meaning, or most of it. There is some significance in the fact that it is such a brief season, after which the feast of our Lord Christ’s birth, like the Lord Jesus Himself, comes like a thief in the night: it should give us a sense of urgency. Not (as you say) to strive, or to do, or (worse) to fix — but to plead, and to be found faithful in waiting to hear the Word of God, and to see it accomplished.

  2. Amber Leffel

    Amen! My appreciation of Advent and its meaning have been growing and growing each year, and I’m grateful for that. Really, though, will we ever fully GET the desperation of our need for Him? His great Willingness to come? His great Desire to come? the Incarnation itself, and all that is meant by it?

    Thanks for this post. And especially that stanza from that old hymn — I’ve never heard it but my spirit said “wwwwhhhooooaaaaaa” as I read it.

  3. James Witmer

    19The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
    for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
    20 Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
    the LORD will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.
    (Isaiah 60)

    … but until then, we live (in some sense) our entire lives in Advent. And I need things like this post. Thanks, Travis.

  4. Ruble

    I read this post and then a few hours later I heard a recording of James Taylor and Yo-yo Ma doing “Here Comes the Son.” I’m not sure why but they have connected into something beautiful in my head…

    It is on YouTube… Check it out.


  5. Dan R.

    I just read this, and had one question that’s been coming up in my experience of Advent this year. Do you think it would be fair to say that there might be some degree of uncomfortability when we “place ourselves in the imaginative spaces in which the mental ray can be cleared to see rightly?” If our eyes are being cleared, wouldn’t it be somewhat normal that it would be awkward at first, before our vision is fully righted? I think I’ve been encountering a process where I have to let things like ‘how can a song that sounds this cheesy be the best we can give for this occasion’ give way to the opening of my eyes to the reality of what God is doing in his story. Just some thoughts that came up when I read this.

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