‘The Loving Gaze’
by Celia DeWoody
“…Christian contemplation means finding God in all things and all things in God. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite friar, called it ‘the loving gaze which finds God everywhere.'” (metanoia.org)
Those closest to me over the past year have heard me talk about my “new spiritual path.” It’s not truly a new path, but an ancient one.
I’ve been thinking, reading, talking with friends, praying — in ways that are different for me. And I’m excited about delving deeper into things that are, in some ways, very new for me, but also, in some essential ways, things that I’ve been acquainted with since I was a young girl. I feel like I’m coming home to something that’s always been part of me — to a way of seeing, to a way of thinking, to a way of praying, to a way of living, to a way of loving — that feels very familiar, but at the same time, very exciting and new. It’s like things that I’ve always known in my heart to be true, but didn’t think must be very important because nobody else I knew seemed to talk or think about them — have been validated.
Or — it’s like a lens that I’ve been looking through all of my life, but thought that I was a little bit crazy because I soon realized that everybody didn’t look through a lens like mine — turns out to be a legitimate lens that other really neat people much smarter and wiser than I am have also looked through.
This lens is contemplation. Some call it “mysticism,” but that word has, in some sections of the Christian culture, gained a connotation of unnerving things like occult practices. Since there’s nothing occult at all about this ancient Christian path, walked by believers since Jesus himself walked the earth as one of us, some prefer to avoid the word “mysticism” and just call the path something like “contemplative Christianity.” Personally, I love the words “mystic” and “mysticism,” and would be honored to ever be considered a mystic myself. When I think of Christian mystics, I think of amazing saints like Dame Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.
When I first read Thornton Wilder’s powerful play Our Town in the eleventh grade, one section jumped out at me, so I copied it into my journal, and have often quoted it over the almost 40 years that have gone by since I first read it:
Emily asks, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
And the Stage Manager replies: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”
I can remember being thrilled by the idea of “realizing life” while I lived it. I wrote poems about it. I longed to be one of those “saints and poets.” I think the Stage Manager was talking about mystics. The saints and poets. The people who “find God in all things, and all things in God.”
I hope to write regularly about what I’m thinking about, reading about, learning about, on this contemplative path. I invite you to come along with me as I try to develop the “loving gaze which finds God everywhere.”