“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love…” — St. Therese of Lisieux
You may have come across the New York Times article in which the author, mimicking an experiment by social psychologist Arthur Aron, tries to see if she can fall in love by following a few simple techniques.
While out for drinks, the author and her date performed two exercises: they shared intimate, personal details from their lives and they gazed into each other’s eyes in silence for 4 minutes. Now to be clear, I think that the author’s suggestion that these techniques cause you to “fall in love” is a misnomer. The exercises she describes seem to function as a means of lowering defensiveness, increasing vulnerability, and increasing intimacy. Certainly these are important components of romantically falling in love, but they are also important components of good relationships in general–holy, loving, friendships (of which marriage is a unique kind).
In the NYT’s piece, the author describes the experience of looking into the eyes (and having her eyes looked into) of another person. She captures the subjective experience–the uncomfortable feeling of not being able to escape the gaze of another. Recently, I came across a YouTube video (see above) that captures the same experience (note in particular the elderly couple and the African American couple).
There is some evidence suggesting that sustained direct-gaze eye contact can help sustain and create feelings of connectedness and intimacy (here, and here). Averted eye glances can, in certain cultures and contexts, create feelings of alienation, rejection, and isolation. It is also pretty well established that eye contact, as one of the foundations of social interaction, is important for mother-infant attachment as well as social development.
If you have never tried the above exercise, I suggest perhaps giving it a try. Find someone with whom you are comfortable or find someone you don’t know well who is willing to give it a try. I have had this experience with strangers in clinical training seminars as well as with clients in therapy. Recently, I even tried it with my fiancée! The experience of being held by the gaze of another–being taken in, without a place to hide or without being distracted yourself by glancing away in order to ignore uncomfortable thoughts about what the other might be thinking–and beholding another. It is a deeply vulnerable and revealing feeling–uncomfortable, yes, but in my experience also an experience for which I deeply longed. I want to see and be seen by others, but I often fail to trust that they will see my beauty in the midst of my brokenness.
All of this got me thinking about prayer–sitting with Jesus, holding the gaze of the Son of God, allowing Him to gaze at me and take me into His stare, while I looked at Him, intently examining His eyes as well as the other features of the face of God. How often do I allow myself to feel the uncomfortable excitement and unease, and the eventual peace and closeness that can accompany directly gazing at God and being gazed at by God?
How wonderful it was to just sit here and look…
The African American husband in the video notes that he enjoyed the chance to just look at his wife without having to talk about work or situations or life problems–just look.
As we try to grow deeper in prayer, I wonder if we might challenge ourselves to take time to put aside our petitions and just sit with Jesus and look at Him–experience how wonderful it is to just look at someone who loves us so much.
When I look at you really closely I realize how much I need you.
The elderly husband in the video notes that when he takes the time to allow himself to gaze at his wife intently he realizes how much he needs her and what she means to him.
As we sit with Jesus and experience being gazed at and gazing at Him, we will, as we try to simply look closely at Him, realize how much we need Him and how much He means to us.
The quote by Therese at the start of this article captures something of the ability of a gaze to create intimacy. Therese gazes at Heaven and allows Heaven to gaze at her. She looks deeply into the eyes of our Lord and allows Him to look deeply into her eyes–and in that gaze she has a foretaste Heaven.
So, who is willing to try this experiment first with a friend/willing partner and then with our Lord? Having the earthly experience of this phenomenon first can help you carry salient aspects of the experience into your spiritual time with the Lord.
We would love to hear your experiences of sustained gazing at and being gazed at by another! What was it like? What is uncomfortable about it? What is nice about it? Does the experience change as time goes on?
This article originally appeared on PsychedCatholic and is republished with permission.