eyes to see, ears to hear

“People who see things through the eyes of artists have a lot to give to the rest of us…Artists open eyes and lift souls”

” Another goal (for her photography) is to ‘show how beautiful ordinary things are when you take time to notice’ A friend who looked over Elaine’s collection recently told her, “I sometimes think you must live on a different planet.” – Mt Gretna newsletter

For years I’ve heard that spiritual direction is an art. The books we read in our training programs were rife with the phrase ‘the art of spiritual direction’. We were taught that, while certain practical listening skills were learnable, and that with practice we could settle into trusting ourselves, it was NOT a science,     definitely not a formula.  Nor was it psychotherapy or even pastoral counseling. Google the phrase, ‘the art of spiritual direction’ and note how many books and programs use it to describe what it is we do.

For most of us, during those early years of practicing this ‘art’, it was hard to conceptualize ‘what it is we do’, to explain it to others or even to ourselves. Sitting with those first directees, or leading our first retreats, we were surrounded with self-doubt about our skills, or more honestly, our adequacy. (Perhaps ‘surrounded’ isn’t exactly the right word, since it feels somehow internal, this sense of anxiety about our worthiness to look for Godde.  Yet there is indeed some root of inner wisdom, that place from which we see through the eyes of Love, which indeed gets surrounded, clouded, blinded by our self-doubt.)

For some time now, whenever I find myself flitting and seeking some identity to cling to, I frequently alight upon the name ‘seer’ — of Beauty, that is. Beauty has been a powerfully sacred word for me, a transformed and transformative word for me. As a young woman I believed my beauty would secure me love. Of course, during that time of my life, my beauty attracted many other ‘less pure’ things to me as well….. predatory things, possessive things, objectifying things, oppressive things, binding things… and in truth filled me with more than doubt about my innate worthiness. ‘If only they knew the REAL me’, was my cry. It seems none of us escapes the need to learn that beauty has so little to do with the superficial, or even the apparent.

Some years ago, I received a dream, in which a woman’s voice told me ‘You are bound to beauty’. Since bondage had left such a terrible scar on me… physically and psychically…this was a potent message. I had at times in my life, some not very long before that dream, been bound to many things —fear, hopelessness, unworthiness, despair, grief, loss, inadequacy, shame, judgment. This dream came in the midst of the great opening in me… the great opening of all of that pain to Love. I was nearing the end of a five year journey in which I’d dragged so much of it up and into the light. And in the light of that loving gaze, I grew to embrace my life as Beauty.

Over the next several months and years following that dream, I was visited often by the dream-maker. Sometimes he came as Lover, with tender gaze, yearning to see me as I covered and cowered in shame, sometimes she came as wise woman, washing up the one who wanted to be lover to me. Thus, she cleaned up my image of both Love and me. But always she reminded me that I was bound to beauty….’ I could not be rent from it’, that was what she said.

In the last few years, I have taken to praying with my camera. I name it prayer because when I have my camera with me, on a solitary walk or at a gathering of family and friends, it helps me to pay attention, to gaze through the lens of Love, to see the beauty I might otherwise miss. It slows me down. It pulls me out of myself and into the world, where it grounds me in the beauty of the here and now. I recall with fondness the afternoon that one of our teachers, a mystic and lover of life, during our third year of deepening practice in spiritual direction, shared that looking for beauty was his way of practicing the Presence, of staying in the moment, of praying unceasingly.

­­Last week, I read a brief essay in a local newsletter, in which the author wrote about what it was like to walk with an artist. The artist he was walking with that particular day was a photographer, but he said his experience is the same whether the artist be a painter, a poet, or a music-maker…. the practice of any art form forces the artist to see things differently. Walking with an artist makes one ‘notice how interesting and beautiful ordinary things are when you take time to notice… (for instance) amid a jumble of tools and trucks and men at work she found a beauty that often goes unnoticed. Artists open eyes and lift souls”.

And there it was again, AHA! Artists see things differently, seeking the beauty that often goes unnoticed. Somehow I HAVE believed that deep inside of me there dwells the soul of an artist, for sometimes she comes out to speak in a line of poetry… noticing how the placement of two words next to each other draws one’s imagination into wonder. Sometimes she comes out behind the camera’s lens noticing the way the light, kissing the slender needles of a young pine, causes it to glimmer as if it were lit from within. Sometimes she gathers images or colors and wonders at the way one touches or flows into the other on the canvas, creating or connecting something previously unseen or unknown. but always she is noticing… beauty here or beauty there… that which otherwise may be missed.

And so, to weave this story into one garment (ahh… weaving, yet another art form of gathering loose strands of beauty and making them somehow visible) perhaps too the artist, whose craft is spiritual direction, is simply a gatherer and a seer of beauty, a seer of the beauty that might go unnoticed ( though beautiful nonetheless) if not for the artist’s prayerful attention. If I am prayerfully practicing my art while sitting with another… individually or in a retreat setting…paying attention, seeing ordinary things ‘differently’ than others see them, looking for beauty where it might be overlooked, seeing through eyes that are ‘in love’,  or if I am culling forth the strands, the colors, or the light, or capturing the image of what is suddenly seen, or placing one word of a story next to another in wonder, or watching the colors of a life flow onto the canvas and stepping aside to let them unfold, or weaving the strands of a story into the whole, or hearing the resonant hum…. then spiritual direction truly becomes an art. Seeing the way the light shines on the rubble … the grief, fear, despair, pain, sorrow, and shame… and causes it to seemingly glow from within is to gaze upon a life with eyes of Love, gently asking it to come out and be seen and be proclaimed as Beauty. To seek Godde, after all, is to recognize such sacred Beauty in our midst, and to find Her ‘amid the jumble’, bound to us and us to Her.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tammy
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 15:03:17

    again you put beautiful words to where I am, as well, it shows I am not alone.
    much gratitude.



  2. Carolyn
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 11:07:10

    Vicki, thanks so much for your eye that sees and your ear that hears.



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