in God’s gaze

There is a story told of the holy French priest Jean Vianney whose feast we celebrate today (Ćure d’Ars d.1859). He noticed an elderly man who would spend hours in the church before the Blessed Sacrament.

The ćure was curious about what happened in this man’s prayer. ‘What do you do when you are praying” he asked the man. The old man’s answer has become the classic instruction for contemplative prayer: “I look at Him, and He looks at me.”

The simplicity of the man’s prayer is deeply appealing. So much that is taught and written about prayer serves only to convince us that prayer is a complex project to be mastered.

While the ultimate in our relationship with God is experienced when we are able to return the loving and merciful gaze of God, the life-giving fact is that even when our gaze is averted or occupied elsewhere, our knowledge that God is gazing at us with love is enough to soothe our aching hearts.

We forget that prayer is the most natural human activity. Prayer is the ‘default-setting’ for humans. Prayer is always God’s action in us.

Our desire for the divine life within us is the purest prayer we can pray. To sit in silence and stillness before God is the best we can do.

When I think about the ćure’s conversation with the elderly man, I see that he was deeply at home with God; much more at peace with God than I often am. Most times I feel unable to look at God. My guilt and shame renders me more like Adam in the garden who took to cover, unable to return the divine gaze.

But there is hope for me. God does not need me to do anything in my prayer. I simply give God the gift of time, and I sit or kneel. If looking at God is difficult for whatever reason, I need not be concerned. In these moments I simply know that however preoccupied my own vision, God is always looking at me with gentle love and mercy.

God’s gaze on me is the heart of prayer. God does all the work—and I am transformed.

To know that we are held firmly in God’s vision is the most comforting human experience. In this gaze we see our sin and weakness. In humble shame we cast our eyes downward. But the God of love continues to look upon us with transforming love.

This posture before God is the heart of contemplative prayer.

2 Responses to "in God’s gaze"
  1. John, thanks for this reflection on prayer. The story about Jean Vianney and the old man sitting before the Blessed Sacrament is one that Adrienne and I both recall from our school days. Our parish priest is away for a few days (Jean Vianney is the patron Saint of parish priests). This morning I was leading our Service of the Word with Holy Communion, so I was able to share this reflection with the group of mainly elderly parishioners that were present. Then over several minutes a number of them shared how their prayer experiences echoed your reflection. It spoke a great deal to each of us.

  2. What an amazing reply !

    A priest once told me of an equally good one :

    He had asked daily communicant why it was he always left the church in such a hurry : the reply he got was

    “I just want to take Christ to my Mates”

    At school,aeons ago, we had a teacher who specialised in Liturgy and he had an encouraging phrase which gave me a life-long enthusiasm

    ‘”Liturgy is one of the greatest links we have to Christ because He invented it so that we could have a DIRECT path to HIS Kingdom where what is on offer is Union with Him”

    (That teacher later found himself rushed to Rome in 1964 by one of the Vatican 2 Council Fathers who had heard of his inspirational writing, to contribute to the wording of the Document on Our Lady)

    To-day’s ‘In God’s gaze’ was a lovely contribution : I wonder wonder if I could be told who was the Author : I feel he/she is someone I would llike to contact

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