Sustaining the Gaze
Katie Harmon-McLaughlin of Walnut Creek, CA, USA
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear; -Isaiah 11:1-3
I open the curtains revealing a sliver of moon and two bright stars in a brightening blue sea of morning sky. It awakens delight. I linger in a moment of sustained gaze until I feel the nudge of tasks pressing in the unfolding day. Even in the face of stunning beauty I can feel an itch of impatience. The disciplines of patience and presence need to develop in me. What would it be like to sit with a landscape until I am no longer entertained by it, to let myself belong there, to allow two stars and a barely visible sliver of light speak deep into my soul about our shared identity as creation? What if I stayed long enough to see this golden hue creeping up behind barren wintry trees-night greeting day?
I wonder what the constant need to be entertained says about the state of my soul. I can waste an hour on social media busying my mind with a continual array of new images for this over-stimulation addiction. What great spiritual deficit is this causing in me, in my culture? Always on the surface of everything at once, will we one day forget how to be with the “one thing needful” which draws us deeper…deeper…deeper? Will we forget how to make space to hear the One Voice through the many multiplying voices always around us?
These waiting-preparing times in the spiritual tradition are not for rigid self-denial but for creating space enough to discover the living love residing within. And this experience cannot be bought. It is not entertainment. It is radical amazement. It is the speechless awe that must have filled the shepherds the night of Christ’s birth when everything was suddenly ablaze with divine proclamation. I wonder if they sustained the gaze, or if they worried about the sheep, or if they eventually turned away because “humankind cannot bear very much reality” (T.S. Eliot).
“God gently lures us into intimacy,” writes Janet K. Ruffing, “and unexpectedly explodes us into mystery. Such encounters with mystery are simply too much for most of us until our capacity expands and our tolerance increases” (Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings, Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2000, p. 33).
What if I dared to stay in the impatience-itch, to stay with the holy-ache from too much mystery or beauty all at once? What if I resisted the addiction to move to the next thing and simply remained present long enough to hear the voice of the Holy around me, to feel the movement of the Holy within me?
What if Advent is about increasing our tolerance for divine mystery, expanding our capacity to bear it?
That in its arrival
We are ready,
To receive it
To live it
To let it amaze us
And sustain the gaze.
Advent Prayer Phrase
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).
Advent Spiritual Practice
Breathe deeply and spend a few moments inviting silence to deepen around you. Pay attention to what is forming in you this day as you prayerfully consider the following questions: What awareness or gift begins to emerge in you through the practice of waiting? When do you notice being invited to resist rushing to the next thing and remain present with what may be slowly unfolding? What can you learn from being fully present in the waiting times?
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.