Listening recently to the presenter at a workshop on spiritual mentoring, one sentence particularly struck me: “We begin our psychic growth in the gaze of a parent, in the embrace of a caretaker. From the very first moment of our lives, we are looked at and held. And we look back, focusing in on and following the cues of the face that first looks at us.” The speaker further developed his topic showing how our souls are imprinted with that gaze and embrace which begin the process of our growth in trust, mutuality and interpersonal relations. As the child progresses into adulthood, through every stage of life, it still seeks that affirmation and desires to know if “it is wanted, desired, and loved by that which it wants, desires, and loves.”
Wow! Well, of course, I have had enough basic psychology to know the importance of nurturing love in child development, have read the studies and seen the tragic results of what happens to those deprived of love and affirmation, but was deeply moved by the importance given to the human gaze. On the long trip home I began reflecting on its significance in my own personal development: the look of pride and approval by my parents on winning a state declam contest at age eleven; the look of approval on being accepted for a job; on coming home after months away, as well as a look once given that made me want the floor to swallow me up, etc. etc.
But soon my mind turned to the many times in the Psalms and other prayers where we beg God to look at us with kindness, mercy and pity. In meditating the Gospels, I’ve often pondered who this Jesus is whom I have pledged to follow. I try to internalize what lies behind such passages as “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him” ( the rich young man, Jerusalem Bible. Mark 10:21) or the denying disciple “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61) but again the look that must have been on Jesus’ face as three times. He asks the repentant Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15-17) or the look that Mary Magdalene must have seen when she turns and recognizes Jesus who has called her by name. It is that gaze, that look of unconditional love that we yearn for in this life and hope to enjoy in the next.
I began thinking of how often when preoccupied or hurrying I often fail to even look at someone, let alone look on them with the genuine love and acceptance with which Christ would look at them. “I’ve got to try harder to really look at people the way Jesus would,” I determined.
While passing through the airport, I made two simple purchases. In both cases, the clerk neither looked at me as I ordered or on giving me change, although one wished me the routine “Have a good day” as she stared blankly into the crowd.
We’ve got a lot of work to do!
Sister Mary Catherine Shambour
Sister Mary E. Catherine Shambour currently serves as Vocation Director for St. Scholastica Monastery. She had had many years of experience teaching on the secondary and college levels, and has frequently traveled to Russia and the Soviet Union as a student, teacher, tour leader, and volunteer church worker.