Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing right now, pause. Take a moment to collect your attention. Settle into a space of inner quiet.
Now, look at the photo below. Keep looking.
Where is your eye drawn to first? Where would you place yourself in the photo? Invite God to meet you wherever you are in the photo. What stirs within you as you gaze? Notice any emotions, memories, or associations rising.
Sit for a moment with whatever comes up––without judgment or critique. Breathe. Rest.
Take some time to journal as you reflect on your experience. Share in the comments below.
Seeing and Being Seen
I took the photo above on a recent visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City where a friend of mine hosts an occasional guided visio divina experience. On this particular night, I wandered around the museum longer than usual, wondering what would capture my gaze and trying to stay open and attentive. I entered one room and then another and another until I saw it, the photo above, there at the end of a long hallway, staring me down.
I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious as I walked down the hallway, closer and closer to the image. I noticed my discomfort and realized with reluctance that this was my image for the evening, so I pulled a stool up to the wall, sat down across from the photo, and opened my journal to sketch what I saw, per the instructions of the guided spiritual practice.
Now, I’m no artist, not even by elementary school standards, but I dutifully drew and drew, filling the page with my honest attempt to focus, notice, and capture every detail of what I saw. I reflected as I drew on the intensity and intimacy of the gaze in the photo, the unashamed revealing of the signs of age, and the unapologetic boldness of the photographer. I imagined my shape in the reflection of his large dark eyes and observed my feeling of exposure as I held his gaze, looked away, and looked again.
And as I drew, a man passed behind me in the hallway and paused to peek down with interest at my sketch. Reflexively, I hid the drawing against my chest as I looked up at him in horror, wondering how much he had seen in his brief glance and what criticism and judgment were flitting through his mind when he realized my utter lack of talent here surrounded by these monuments of artistic expression. He started at my abrupt response, apologized, and rushed on his way around the corner as I laughed and called after him that it was okay, really.
I laughed again to myself as I turned the page in my journal and began to reflect on this serendipitous interruption to my spiritual practice. I noted the overwhelming discomfort and exposure I felt at having someone, especially a stranger, see my poor performance in an activity I was attempting with genuine effort despite my certain failure. And I laughed at myself as I realized that here in the very moment I was reflecting seriously on the experience of seeing and being seen, revealing and being revealed, I was exposed as a poor artist by a stranger just as I was exposing my vulnerable, imperfect self before God. I took gladly the opportunity to poke gentle fun at myself and shake off the veil of the serious and studious contemplative to see a bit of my true self peeking out underneath.
I looked at Pablo Picasso’s face again, the unapologetic expression in his eyes, and saw in them the invitation to drop the veil a bit more often, to embrace the imperfections in myself, and to approach my spiritual practice with a bit more childlike spirit. It was an invitation to embrace the artless (both literally and figuratively) elements of myself. And I realized I was being invited to see myself as I really am and to allow myself to be seen just as I am, flaws and all, not only by God but also by those around me, even strangers at the museum. It may feel like uncomfortable exposure in the moment, but it is really just another layer peeling back to reveal a little more of who I am, of who have been created to be.
Questions to ponder:
What was your experience gazing at the photo?
What comes up for you as you imagine seeing and being seen?
How might God be inviting you to see yourself right now? To see others?