Pareidolia: What Do You See?

Have you ever been watching clouds drift by and hear someone  say, “What do you see when you look at those clouds?” There is a phenomena called pareidolia. The technical definition is: the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern, or meaning known to the observer; the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations. A  person may see a familiar shape in any numbers of media such as a face in a potato or a religious figure in rock formation.

Pareidolia was at one time considered a symptom of psychosis, but it is now seen as a normal human tendency.  These pareidolic images may lead some people to see trouble when there is no trouble. Some people see the devil behind every bush or see the presence of malevolent forces causing all of their troubles. There are people who see spiritual significance where there is none, and yet others miss seeing God’s hand when it is there. To see spiritual significance when it is absent may lead to inappropriate action, but it is of even greater consequence to fail to see God’s presence when He is there.  

The Biblical account in 2 Kings 6 concerning Elisha and his servant is revealing. One sees trouble, and the other sees God’s provision. “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17, ESV).

What do you see when you look toward the future? When you consider people and circumstances, does tomorrow seem foreboding? Or maybe you are unrealistically optimistic by reacting to incorrect perceptions. While pareidolia can lead us to see things that are not really there, a right relationship with the Lord can help us see things as they truly are. With the Lord’s help, we can look at the world through the person of Jesus as revealed in scripture. He can help us clear away clouds and distortions of reality. We can see clearly.

The words of the wonderful hymn “Open My Eyes” by Clara H. Scott (1841-1897) express the desire of my heart:

Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free. 

Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit Divine!”

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit Divine!

~ Brother Roy

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