News and Tribune

September 26, 2013

MAY: Now I get it

Local columnist

— We often speak of “seeing the light” — the “ah-hah” moment when things become clear for us. A better understanding in a political or economic setting. The moment that a foreign language makes sense. A point where the math or science clicks. When things come together, we have seen the light.

I teach public speaking at Indiana University Southeast. One of the reasons that I teach is for the chance to help students see that communicating well is a vital ingredient for a successful life. Most students are afraid to speak in public. Many have put the class off as long as their college career would allow.

I enjoy watching the light bulb light up on top of many of their heads, with a look that says, “Maybe I can learn to do this. Maybe speaking in public is an important skill to acquire.”

We used to learn things in classroom settings — lectures, notes, tests. We didn’t often have “ah-hah” moments, they were just sort of “uh-huh” instead. Jeanne Christie, in an article in Psychology Today published a couple of years ago, claimed that the dynamic of teaching college students has to change to reflect the way they grab hold of insightful moments.

She writes, “I started to think of more relevant materials I could use in a short segment of time: sometimes lessons are taught in a single class period, offering more ‘ah-hah’ moments of self-discovery.”

The people at Merriam-Webster had an “ah-hah” moment of their own in 2012. The phrase “ah-hah moment” was added to its dictionary offerings. Its official definition is “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition or comprehension.” The editors credit its inclusion to Oprah Winfrey’s constant use of the phrase.

The concept of the “ah-hah” moment goes all the way back to the Bible. On several occasions, Jesus in essence said, “You don’t get it. It is time for an ‘ah-hah’ moment. The light bulb needs to come on. I am that light.”

The gospels recount a time when pious religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. She had broken the Jewish Law and the Law required that she be stoned to death. The religious leaders wanted to see how this young rabbi would handle such a difficult circumstance.

If you remember the story, Jesus stooped over and began to write in the sand. Theologians speculate what he wrote — doodles to show his boredom or lack of interest, scribbles to allow him time to ponder and think. Some guess that perhaps he began to write some of the actual sins committed by the religious leaders present.

The woman had indeed broken the Law and needed to be stoned. But she is no different that the best of the Pharisees who were tossing around accusations. They too were guilty of breaking the Law, if only in their participation in this sordid plot against Jesus and this woman.

“Go ahead ... if you’ve not sinned, cast the first stone.”

Catch the “ah-hah” moment? None of you have a right to judge. You need to be gracious. God essentially said, “I am the only one who has the right to judge, and I am going to be gracious.”

The entire Old Testament was preparing the way for this one message — a coating, a smothering of grace.

Help me to see the need for grace. Help me to understand the message — to the woman — respond to grace by leaving your sin. Help me to understand the message — to the Pharisee — speak the truth in love, you walk the same dark path. Help me to be gracious to others instead of judgmental.

Help me to understand that message when the guy cuts me off on the Kennedy Bridge. Help me to be gracious when I am taken advantage of at my work. Help my spirit to be patient when the world shouts demands faster than I can hear them. Help me to show grace in the way that I so desperately desire to be offered it.

In many of the lessons of life, I am a slow learner. It seems time and time again I am stuck in similar circumstances, wrestling with the same problems, and learning the same lessons.

Every now and then, the light bulb comes on. I have an “ah-hah” moment. I finally get it. And on those days, there is every reason to celebrate.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.