Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
The Gospels are filled with stories about seeing, or not seeing, as the case may be. On the road to Emmaus the disciples are walking with Jesus and breaking bread with him. We read that their "eyes were prevented from recognizing him." (Luke 24:16) When Jesus returns in resurrected form, he is fully embodied, yet hard for them to see clearly. The disciples do not expect their dear friend to be among them again and so they miss this truth with their limited vision.
We find a similar emphasis on vision in the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. The burning light that once appeared to Moses in the bush now radiates from Jesus himself: "His face shone like the sun." For the ancient writer Gregory Palamas, it was the disciples who changed at the Transfiguration, not Christ. Christ was transfigured "not by the addition of something he was not, but by the manifestation to his disciples of what he really was. He opened their eyes so that instead of being blind they could see." Because their perception grew sharper, they were able to behold Christ as he truly is.
This speaks of an invitation to see the world in a different way. When we rush from thing to thing, never pausing, never allowing space, we see only what we expect to find. We see to grasp at the information we need. We see the stereotypes embedded in our minds. We miss the opportunity to see beyond what we want. We walk by a thousand ordinary revelations every day in our busyness and preoccupation.
We move through our lives, often at such speed, that our perception of time becomes contorted. We begin to believe that life is about rushing as fast as we can, about getting as much done as possible. We are essentially skating across life's surface, exhausted, and disoriented.
The World Breaks In
You may have had an experience where you are moving through a most ordinary day, when suddenly something shifts. Where there was drudgery and habit, suddenly you become aware of the way sunlight is spilling across the living room rug and your heart breaks open at the splendor of it all. Or you see a loved one in a new way and revel in their beauty. Or maybe it is as simple as savoring the steam rising from your morning coffee like incense lifting the longings of your heart.
Contemplative practice calls us to change our perspective and awaken to a different reality, one that is governed by spaciousness, slowness, stillness, and presence. Contemplation invites us to tend the moments and see what is there, rather than what we expect.
Moments are holy doorways where we are lifted out of time and we encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of acts. Moments invite us to pause and linger because there is a different sense of time experienced. Moments are those openings we experience, where time suddenly loses its linear march and seems to wrap us in an experience of the eternal.
We are called to open ourselves to these moments of eternity, or better yet, how we allow the moment to find us. We only need to make ourselves available to them, to receive them as the gifts that they are, rather than seek them out as something we are entitled to have.
(This reflection first appeared in an issue of Weavings journal)
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With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner