Gazing upon one another in love

February 17th, 2016

I recently went to a contemplative prayer meeting led by an adorable, elderly, spunky Catholic priest. He opened us in prayer, rang a bell and sat down. After about 20 or so minutes of silence, he rang the bell again, said another prayer, gave a brief devotional thought, invited verbal responses and then summoned us to gather up front for a time of closing prayer.

Everyone circled around the altar and automatically went to hold hands. The priest instructed us: “Now, we will each say our name as we look upon others gazing lovingly upon us.” What?!! I’m not sure I’ve ever willingly let someone “gaze lovingly upon me”, except maybe my husband, my mother, or my dogs when I have treats.

I began to scan the room in desperation for the nearest exit door, but quickly realized I’d need to climb over ten people to make my escape. I was stuck. No running from the loving gaze for me. Not sure I’ve ever felt more awkward, except perhaps on a first date or when I trip while walking up stairs (which happens, a lot).

The priest, Father Vinny, started the process. He said his name, very slowly and purposefully. “Vinny”. Then, one by one, he looked us each in the eye, going around the circle, while we all gazed lovingly upon him. I instantly made up my mind that I would never be returning to this prayer experience again.

There was one other person between Father Vinny and me. I don’t remember his name. When it was his turn, I was too busy breathing deeply to avoid a panic attack, so his name slipped my mind.

Then my turn came. I said my name. “Tina.” I looked around the circle. They actually were gazing upon me in love. It was sweet … and weird … but mostly sweet.

I had met up with a dear friend that day at the prayer group. She was standing next to me during this experience and later told me that my “gazing” was perhaps the fastest gazing in the history of awkwardly looking at strangers who are lovingly looking at me in response. However speedy my gaze, I didn’t pass out from sheer terror, so I was proud of my accomplishment.

After I got my turn out of the way, I relaxed and stopped fighting the process so much. I found it much easier to offer a loving gaze to others than to receive it. I didn’t like the receiving part … AT ALL. Other people seemed noticeably moved by all this gazing. Each person would say their name aloud and then, very slowly, look intently at each person in the circle, while we each gazed lovingly upon them in response.

While looking people directly in the eye, many people started to cry. By the end, I felt a few stray tears escape my own eyes. It caught me off guard, because I really thought the whole idea was weird beyond belief and way out of my comfort zone. Did the fact that I felt emotionally moved by the experience mean that I actually liked it?

In a world where we are usually looking at technological devices or so busy that we don’t take the time to notice each other, it was nice to see and be seen. How often do we actually see the people around us? I walked past several, random people later that day, trying intentionally to make eye contact, to smile and say “Hi.”

It’s amazing how many people refuse to look you in the eyes. It’s always possible that I looked creepy, trying to my best to smile at them lovingly. They were probably hoping to avoid being drafted into a cult by not looking at me.

I’m not sure the reasoning behind avoiding one another’s gaze so often. I do know that we could all benefit from seeing one another  and being seen by one another  more often.

One of my favorite names for God is “El-roi.” It is what Hagar (servant of Sarai, mother of Ishmael) calls God after she has run away, in total despair for how she’s being treated and wondering how life will ever work out. God comes to her and speaks personally to her. This is her response to God: “Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me’”(Genesis 16:13 NLT).

Hagar’s circumstances didn’t really change after that encounter, but knowing that God heard her cries, and was with her in her plight, made all the difference. God saw her. God gazed upon her lovingly and nothing was ever the same for her again.

I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t struggle with some kind of pain, insecurity or brokenness. We all need to be seen as we are, and gazed upon with love. I’m not God and therefore cannot bear the weight of one person’s pain, yet alone the pain of the world, but I can notice people. I can look them in the eyes, lovingly, right where they are, just as they are.

It brings to mind the prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

One way I can seek to console, understand, and love is simply to look someone in the eye, and let them know that I see them — not in an analyzing, diminishing kind of way, but it a loving, comforting, “you are not alone” kind of way. Maybe gazing upon one another in love isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Tina Fox blogs at

comments powered by Disqus