POSTED ON MAY 26, 2010:
It's All in the Eyes
Given a little eye contact, you don't know what you might find
Spirituality flows through the eyes. None of us have the ability to see into the heart, mind or soul, but we can see the eyes.
Eye contact is underrated these days. Most of us are not even willing to make eye contact with "regular" people. When we pass them on the street, in the airport or stand near them in line at the grocery store, we often find other things to hold our stare.
That being said, we certainly don't lock oculars with the irregulars. If the choice of whether to cross their path presents itself, we usually opt for the latter route.
That changes when we turn our gaze from the sidewalk to the eyes. When we look into the eyes of need, we don't see dirt. We don't see matted hair or unfashionable clothing. We see raw, genuine humanity.
We can see deep into something that goes beyond any superficial observation. Sometimes, it is uncomfortable to look into the eyes of another for too long. In many cases it becomes a race to see who will look away first, lest any of us be found guilty of breaking any social code of presumption. It doesn't take long, however, to see the true person when our eyes meet with another.
In the Book of Matthew in The Bible, Jesus calls the eye "the lamp of the body." He teaches that there is a direct connection between a person's eyes and what is inside. What goes into the eyes from the outside affects what is inside to be sure. But there is more. The eyes themselves reflect what is already there.
You can tell a lot from the eyes. Kindness is in the eyes. Hurt is in the eyes. Confusion is in the eyes. Crazy is in the eyes. Fear is in the eyes.
When we look the indigent in the eyes long enough, all of our once firm principles begin to have less substance. All of our thoughts regarding their plight and what is and isn't deserved are shaken -- because we see it. For a brief moment, we see what God sees. We see that each person is vulnerable, even if their eyes make us uncomfortable.
The under resourced are kind of a big deal in America right now. All of us have our opinions, and it is easy for us to make matter-of-fact statements over coffee or a glass of fine wine that we feel ready to defend. But when poverty has a face; when we look it in the eye; our arguments seem to lose their rigidity.
Every religious system has something to say about the indigent.
One says the poor ought to remain destitute in order to earn some sort of eternal royalty. Another says that giving to the needy will secure a better life for the giver -- either now, later, or in the afterlife. Still another says that the poor are getting what they deserve from a previous life and we, therefore, ought to let them be.
Yet, there is something in all of us that disagrees with all of them. Something deep. Something visceral. Something that finds areas of each religious system lacking in their approach to the poor. We begin to think that if the poor really mattered to our spiritual enterprises the way they mattered to Jesus, maybe their eyes would tell a different story. So we decide to learn more.
As we dig a little deeper, we realize that human need is not a top priority to most of our religious institutions. At best, charity is usually tertiary to doctrine and housekeeping. It is much easier to become preoccupied with principles and blinded by buildings.
The temptation is always to make sure our establishments are tightly put together and well-maintained in both theory and form. But neither ideologies nor structures have a spirit.
On the contrary, the well-being of individuals both inside and outside of our systems bears a value that cannot be matched by any other concern with the exception of our relationship with God.
The eyes tell us that our whole system is often backwards. We realize that our doctrines, cathedrals and mission statements are worthless if they don't drive us to action. If they don't drive us to look into the eyes of need and do something about it.
I'm convinced that solution has nothing to do with money. We can give until it hurts and usually end up hurting the needy. Investment is what matters. To invest in something, or someone, we must be willing to take a risk. We must be willing to give up something that could prove costly for us to lose. The eyes tell us it is worth it. The eyes tell us that we all matter, and we all have value.
Start with eye contact. Move to a smile. Introduce yourself. Learn their names. Give them your time. Be amazed at the different story their eyes will soon tell.
Eric Costanzo is the minister of Community Ministries and a teaching pastor at First Baptist Church of Tulsa.
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