The Second Gaze

It has taken me much of my life to begin to get to the second gaze. By nature I have a critical mind and a demanding heart, and I am so impatient. These are both my gifts and my curses, as you might expect. Yet I cannot have one without the other, it seems. I cannot risk losing touch with either my angels or my demons. They are both good teachers.

I am convinced that guilt and shame are never from God. They are merely the defenses of the False Self as it is shocked at its own poverty—the defenses of a little man who wants to be a big man. God leads by compassion toward the soul, never by condemnation. If God would relate to us by severity and punitiveness, God would only be giving us permission to do the same (which is tragically, due to our mistaken images of God, exactly what has happened!). God offers us, instead, the grace to “weep” over our sins more than to ever perfectly overcome them, to humbly recognize our littleness. (St. Thérèse of Lisieux brought this Gospel message home in our time.) The spiritual journey is a kind of weeping and a kind of wandering that keeps us both askew and thus awake at the same time. Thérèse called it her “little way.”

So now in my later life, contemplation and compassion are finally coming together. This is my second gaze. It is well worth waiting for, because only the second gaze sees fully and truthfully. It sees itself, the other, and even God with God’s own eyes, which are always eyes of compassion. It is from this place that true action must spring. Otherwise, most of our action is merely re-action, and does not bear fruit or “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). It is all about me at that point, so I must hold out for the second gaze when it becomes all about God, about the suffering of our world, and is filled with compassion for all of it. Some high-level mystics, notably the Jewesses, Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum, actually “felt sorry” for God. Most Catholic mystics just want to actively join God in suffering for the world (Colossians 1:24).

The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of Divine Intimacy, is really all I have, and all I have to give back to God and back to the world.

May I see with eyes of compassion.

– Richard Rohr, adapted from “Contemplation and Compassion: The Second Gaze”


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