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Contemplation was something I had difficulty relating to. That is until I first came across the Jesuit Walter Burghardt’s description. “Contemplation is taking a long, loving look at the real.”

Isn’t that what lovers often do as they sit, perhaps even in silence, simply enjoying one another?

In this Vincentian Mindwalk let’s look at what we often don’t see.

Long… Loving… Look!

Long! It is not the look at an office cocktail party. So often, these looks are fleeting as we scan the room to see who else is there. It speaks of focus and paying attention. It speaks of more than just a passing glance. It is in the classic sense of appreciation.

Loving! It is not the look of an angry third-grade teacher or a demanding employer. It speaks of a relationship. Not just any relationship but a tender and appreciative relationship.

Look! It is not a look through either rose-colored or heavily tinted dark sunglasses. It is more like the clear-eyed look of a person who sees not only what he or she wants to see. It is the look that sees the beauty beneath the disfiguration of another person.

I suspect you can relate to your own awareness of some person’s loving look at you.  Stop for a moment. Remember such an experience. Let the feeling sink in. Rejoice… and give thanks!

Does God contemplate me?

I must admit when I thought of contemplation and God, I thought of one-way traffic.

Now I try to think of my call to sit still long enough to become aware of God’s loving look. I never thought of God contemplating me! What a thought!

God takes the time to focus on me.

Imagine! God’s seeing the “real me” not just what I want God to see… God seeing… and loving me.

The “Courage to Be”

Paul Tillich, a great Protestant theologian of the last century, titled an influential book, “The Courage to Be.” Now I realize his phrase might be adapted to my understanding of contemplation. It takes courage to believe in God’s long, loving look at me.

We seem infected with the deeply ingrained habit of not looking at our faults (original sin?).

We imagine that If God sees our faults, God will not love us. So, we look for fig leaves to cover up our self-centerednessWe make God into our own image and likeness. God can only love us if we are perfect. It takes courage to look at ourselves with God’s “long, loving look”!

As I write this, I remember the Jesuit John Powell. He wrote, “Why Am I afraid To Tell You Who I Am?” His direct answer was because, “If I tell you who I really am, you may not like me.” He spends the rest of the book describing a multi-stage process of increasing risk in communication until we come to a mutual long, loving look. His companion book Fully Human, Fully Alive: A New Life Through a New Vision further develops this insight.

I am certain that all of our founders and holy ones in our Vincentian family had the courage to rest in God’s loving look at them. I also think it is what changed them. 

I also think that loving look of God is what opened their eyes to take a long loving look at each person they saw. They learned to see God beneath the scars and disfigurement of the person they were looking at.

Two simple questions…

Have I ever thought of God’s long, loving look at me?

How often do I take a long, loving look at someone different from me?

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