Sunday, December 18, 2016

Look Into the Face of Another

Look into the face of another, and what do you see?

Ongoing research in neuroscience continues to open our eyes to a deep new understanding of how we develop our capacity to become human beings. It all starts with a gaze. It begins with what we see as an infant entering the world, blessed with a welcoming, life-sustaining environment. It is initiated at birth with our first look into our mother’s eyes. It is then reinforced with the gaze of our father, our grandparents, and others to whom we learn to return that gaze. No word is spoken, and we carry no memory of that time. But before language, before any conscious memory, there is this seeing into the eyes of the other—and of being seen by the eyes of the other. It is a mutual beholding of the other’s sacred being, of knowing that we are loved. I witness this myself every time I hold my six-month-old grandson: smile to smile, breath to breath, voice to voice, heartbeats in sync with a deep realization that some sort of energy flows freely between us...and then from us to others.

What energy would this be? In his most recent book, The Divine Dance, Fr. Richard Rohr writes of the Trinity being seen as the energy between the three “persons” rather than just the “persons” themselves. In other words, we are invited to look at the Trinity using the early Christian image of a circle dance—an unending flow of giving and receiving between Father, Son, and Spirit—as being the pattern of reality. Rohr writes, "God is not only a dancer, but the dance itself—reminding the world of our interdependence and our inherent union with what is. The Trinity teaches us how to live in creative collaboration, valuing and honoring our differences while also serving each other with humility and compassion." The power of this Trinitarian Flow is rooted in its mutuality and inclusion of all people. God freely gives this love to all of us, asking only that we pass it on to others.

I think this is why, when Jesus was looking to sum up the Law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets, his directive of how to love was to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Lk 6:31). Thus it would seem love involves mutual mirroring of the Divine gaze—allowing Divine energy to flow. That there is this form of give and take—I do to you and you do to me—with no expectation of reward or gain. Simply a command to share the gaze of God, to share God's love. 

Soon we will celebrate Christmas—the birth of Jesus—God fully human and fully divine.  The Word became flesh, and thus the face of God is seen in Jesus. It is a time to remember that we truly are created in God’s “image and likeness,” much more than we ever imagined. Before we begin this new way of seeing another, we might start by looking into a mirror. What we see is the image of who we are. For some of us, this may expose an increase in wrinkles or perhaps lines of anxiety, or maybe the curling lips of a smile. But old or young, we will view the face made in the image of God. It is the image of who we are in God. The face God gazes upon and accepts and loves without judgment.  For God includes, accepts, forgives, and loves each of us unconditionally, just as we are—warts and all. All we can do is receive the gaze and share it with all others. In doing so, God's way of loving us, if we allow it, becomes our model for loving others. Thus, the Golden Rule calls for us to love others as we allow God to love us, which in turn should lead to a chain reaction, fostering a loving world.

Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said the only thing that really connects people at a deeper level is seeing the face of the other. In his words, "If one could possess, grasp, and know the other, it would not be other."

Coming off an election cycle that fostered language from both sides of the aisle devoid of any sense of love, compassion, or mercy—maybe it is time to pause and ponder the gift of the Divine gaze. For we need to believe in it, celebrate it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and then pass it on to those whom we see—allowing ourselves to be open to new relationships and living in communion with those we gaze upon and who gaze upon us. Or in the words that Jesus gave us: to do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Look into the face of another, and what do you see?


Fran said...

Really beautiful Jim, what a reminder. And I love the photo, talk about the Divine Gaze!

Jim Irving said...

As a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I try to see the face of Christ in all whom I serve.