in God’s gaze

Aug 4, 2021

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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.

5 Comments

  1. We have a log-burner
    One of the wonderful things is to sit in front of it:
    Watching the ever changing flames
    Feeling the warmth
    I think it is teaching us about the gaze of God

    Reply
  2. Thank you Father John for that it is so beautiful ! The Gaze of God’s amazing love is always on me ! What a comfort

    Reply
  3. I have to admit, the other day when I was listening to John Foley’s song ‘Take Lord and Receive’ (St Ignatius Prayer). I heard, ‘… your love and your ‘gaze’, that’s enough for me…’.
    I hope I didn’t offend St Ignatius by getting his words wrong, as I seemed to have lost ‘grace’. The word that is. Anyway, I received a lot of peace out of the gaze, as I guess the old man that St Vianney encountered, had. So I guess that’s a grace after all.

    Reply
  4. I wonder if Job felt Our Lord’s loving gaze when he was suffering and all his family fell ill and died?

    Reply
  5. I remember gazing on the small body of St John Vianney in his
    glass coffin and thinking of his prayerful and holy life, Just sitting and gazing at this holy man of
    God placed me in prayerful contemplation with the Lord and why I follow this Saints guidance before I pray and gaze!Happy feast day to Him today. !

    Reply

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