The Gaze

It is easier to make judgements and generalizations when you are distanced from the situation, when you see a mass of people, in which there are numbers and not names. However, when this distance is erased, everything changes. There is great power in the act of naming. In the giving of a name, one says, “You matter. Not just as an interwoven thread in an ocean-sized quilt, indiscernible from afar, but as a person, an individual, a distinct and unrepeated breath of beauty.” This calls to mind the divine voice of Matthew 3:17, which says of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

When we are given a name, we are loved alone, not loved from afar, not loved in theory, out of principle or from duty, but set apart and loved in startling singularity. This is the deepest desire of the human heart: to be loved alone. When we hear the name of another, be it that of a stranger (perhaps in the news) of whom we have no personal experience or claim to knowledge, the name calls forth and reminds us of that person’s individuality, of their singularity, of their personhood and all of the “inalienable rights” that go along with this.

On this level, we experience a deep and inexplicably intimate connection with a person we may have never met and will never meet. Such a connection is so profound because it is at the fundamental level of personhood. We say, “I am a person with the desire, though often buried, to be loved alone, to be seen and heard for the distinct and unmatched voice within my breast. Here too is a person named as a Beloved and loved into being, with an equally individual voice and story- here is a person, not a number, but a name.”

How much more loving and selfless would we, could we be if we called each other by name? Not just throwing names around flippantly as old and familiar currency, but with a thrill of wonder and joy each time that name appears on our lips, with the recognition that this name is his or hers alone, that it belongs to this person, near to me or very far away, but desiring and deserving of this same “set-apart” love of which I dream.

We also treat ourselves with less love than is our birthright, when we forget to call ourselves by name. Listen, be still and listen to that unstirred voice within you, whispering your name and the unshakeable truth that you matter, not a universal “you” spouted off in songs or on posters, but the very small and uncertain “you” often unheard, often weak and fearful, unappreciated, flawed… yes, this “you,” and not select parts of it but the whole. Say to yourself, “I am the beloved.” Not a beloved but the beloved, because you are important and not to be confused with the people to whom you falsely compare yourself.

We also see this divine imprint through the face and especially the eyes. There is such a nakedness, a rawness, a natural beauty to the face, such that cannot be disguised nor taken for granted, if one truly looks at it. Whatever the rest of the body, the material trappings, the actions or words or surrounding circumstances say, the face, the eyes are tirelessly crying out, “I am the beloved. I am a person, loved into being and before you now.” How can we see this face, and gaze into these eyes without feeling moved? It is easy to pass by, to brush aside the call of personhood, but if we truly look, if we really see, it is much harder to hate, to judge, to dismiss the person as strange, useless, a “failure,” to mock them, or feel ourselves much the higher.

Here, as we stand face to face, we are entirely equal, person to person, entirely loved, because we are made of love and the image of Divine Love is shining forth from those eyes, no matter where or how far below the surface. In these eyes, nothing else matters, and love holds the most power and thus the highest responsibility. The eyes tell us, “I am a life. I want to be loved, I deserve to be loved. Please love me. Please show my life the dignity with which it was intended to be treated.” In this moment of such an intimate encounter, we have a choice: to look away and forget the reflection of ourselves and of God in these eyes, to look away and walk on; or to respond with love, whether in word, in deed or in thought, because no beautiful thought is ever wasted. In this vulnerable gaze, we are being called to recognize a fellow person, another child of God, a beautiful existence not to be denied or rejected but to be loved for and in and of itself, rather than for how it affects our own interests or intersects with our earthly standards of “deserving.”