Sustaining the Gaze

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I open the curtains revealing a sliver of moon and two 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. There are many distractions available to me at all times. Even in the face of stunning beauty I 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 universe?

What if I stayed long enough to see this golden hue creeping up behind barren wintry trees, day greeting night and a turning happening that I can see and that I can’t– the wonder of living on a planet and the miracle of those perfect conditions that daily sustain all life?

And what does the constant need to be entertained say about the state of my soul? What does it say about a lack of respect for my inherent interdependence with the very things I reduce to offerings of fleeting pleasure? We consumers try to consume the whole cosmos. It feels like a hollow endeavor.

I can waste an hour on social media busying my mind, the satisfaction of a continual array of new images for this over-stimulation addiction, but I can hardly stand 10 minutes of gazing in wonder at the colors of dawn. 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? (Luke 10:42)

Will we forget how to make space to hear the One Voice through the many multiplying voices always around us?

These desert-waiting-preparing places in the spiritual tradition are not for rigid self-denial but holy fulfillment, which comes through emptying and entering those darkened doorways of the soul to discover the living love residing within, awakening us to the living love residing in all! And this experience cannot be bought. It does not promise to entertain. It is radical amazement beyond the realm of image or word at all. It is the speechless awe that must have filled the shepherds on the night of the birth of Christ when their ordinary landscape 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. Elliot, Four Quartets).

“God gently lures us into intimacy,” writes Norvene Vest, “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)

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 the next,
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?

So that in it’s arrival
We are ready,
Present enough,
To receive it
To live it
To let it amaze us
And sustain the gaze…

So that we no longer observe
But belong
With the new-day stars
And sliver of moonlight
And the whole Holy landscape
Of everything coming to birth.

Spiritual Practice: Whether in holy attention, or prayer, or conversation stay present just a little longer than you normally would. Allow yourself to dwell deeply in one place for a while. What does it look like in your soul to increase your tolerance for receiving the Holy?

Christ Brings Peace

by David R. Brock

A sister in Christ came to my office last week . . . longing for peace. Her mate of many years died a year ago. By the first anniversary of his death she anticipated some healing, a returning flicker of hope. But she felt empty. The only interruption in a long silence was an unbidden whisper of her own unanswered questions: “Why, God? What meaning or purpose now? Can I trust you? Are you there, God?”

Yesterday I was reading psalms of praise and found myself asking similar questions. I couldn’t help it: “Do you really make justice and praise spring up before all the nations, God? Are you really the One who keeps faith forever? Justice for the oppressed? Food for the hungry? The captives set free? Sight for the blind? Protection for strangers, fatherless, and widows? Thwarting the wicked and establishing peace? Really?”

“Look at your creation! Talons and piercing claw, fang and crushing jaw; life robbed by stealth on silent wings; deceiving beauty that lures to the snare; agonizing death rattle of the innocent slain . . . And we haven’t yet arrived at the ‘little lower than the angels’ creature called human! Such capacity for peacemaking and creativity; such a legacy of violence and destruction, your humans, Creator, among whom ‘hate is strong and mocks the song / of peace on earth . . . .’”

I drank coffee and read the psalter in the pre-dawn darkness yesterday. Then, with a fresh cup to warm my hands and throat, sat lakeside to watch first light paint a turquoise sky and tinge gray mist to crimson as it lifted from the water. An unplanned prayer of praise, “Wow!” escaped into the morning. I couldn’t help it!

“This morning I have had the God-experience for which I have yearned so long,” says W. Paul Jones in A Table in the Desert. “I know what it means to name the Name . . . . Is God present? Everywhere, enormous in breadth, expansive in depth, and beyond us all in imagination and memory. God is the emerging consciousness which darts in and out, through and for, behind and in front, to be encountered . . . . [251-252]

In the afternoon I watched Monarchs fluttering by under that same cloudless sky. Migrating, it seemed, on a fall-of-the-year pilgrimage toward home. I felt like I was home. I couldn’t help it! And I remembered the home about which G. K. Chesterton writes in “The House of Christmas”:

To an open house in the evening
Home shall [people] come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all [people] are at home.

Jones says that a common heresy among Christians is to think of Christmas as a once-and-for-all event. We try to limit God to entering human history for thirty-three years then returning to the realm “above.” We then struggle with how a miracle that happened two thousand years ago can transform our lives and world now. Christmas is not primarily about a remembrance of things past. We are not condemned to look backward, trying to give new life or add frills to an old story. The Christian God is the One who was and is and promises forever and always to be Emmanuel, God with us. The incarnation is what God does throughout time and space—in all dimensions of the cosmos and all moments of history. [Facets of Faith, pp. 26-27]

Today, carrying all my unanswered questions, along with those of a sister who cannot feel or hope in her season of grief, I stop at 1:00 p.m. to pray the prayer of peace with Community of Christ around the world. “Christ, bring peace,” I plead.

And today, at the prayer for peace, the Daystar shines into my darkness. I look up, see, know, and know I do not know. “Christ brings peace,” I proclaim:

It is you, Jesus, born of Mary, who grants us
to say “forgive me, please,” to our families.
You teach us to pronounce “healing”
in hospital rooms, to plead “reconcile”
in our places of work, to proclaim “justice”
when we call on government representatives.
And you, Christ, in the dark of our own
weary nights, whisper in us, “Shalom.”

God, Eternal Word made flesh,
speak the language of peace
stanza by stanza into all your creation
this Christmas, and always, we pray,
in Jesus’ name.

Spiritual Practice: Pause today to pray for peace as we anticipate the One who is already here and always coming.

Community of Christ Daily Prayer for Peace: