Looking at Sam, my grandson, has been a source of joy for six and a half years. I hear stories from other grandparents all the time so I know it’s not just me. Yesterday, while sharing FaceTime, he informed us he is not six but six and a half. He was holding an iPhone so that we could see his face and he could see ours. But being a full-blooded boy, he wasn’t just holding the camera still. He was moving all around, and especially having fun putting his face right up against the camera lens which made him look gigantic.
We laughed and laughed and my wife Carol did the same right back at him. He showed himself walking from the family truck into the apartment, as the camera image flailed all around because that’s how a boy does it. He showed us how Rocky, the new three month-old puppy, was running up and down the stairs of their apartment. He slurped up the truth and agreed with me when I said, “Rocky really likes you.” He is still at the age where we just know we are the center of the universe.
Looking at Sam has been a source of delight since the moment he was born. The family got to watch our son Ted give Sam his first bath through the hospital nursery windows. There must be something in our genetic code that usually brings an immediate attachment of full-hearted loving-kindness to our children and grandchildren from that first moment of their lives. This has nothing to do with performance. The love we feel is not earned. It just is!
The photo of looking at Sam above came when he was about three or four. We had each been looking out of the picture windows of our home on Doubloon Bayou with our own pair of binoculars. We watched for movements in the cypress trees and in the water, hoping to sight some beautiful bird or alligator or other swamp creature. Then Sam turned his binocular on me and we both looked at gigantic images of each other, just like we got to do last night on FaceTime.
So what is it about just looking at each other that can bring so much joy? And in case you can’t tell, my dad Ed is in the same pic above looking at both of us, his son and his great grandson, with that same joy. It’s a great picture moment, three generations of joy in just looking at each other. But really, what’s the big deal? We see each other, so what?
You would have to be a total goober to not get this. You don’t need me to explain how love of another is satisfied by simply drinking in the image of the beloved. But I also think there is a kernel of deeper spiritual truth in this business of beloved looking. I believe looking at Sam, and all those we treasure, is exactly like what happens in the heart of the One in whose image we are made.
Right now, with your hair messed up, and the sleep lines still creased into your face, and your most ragged t-shirt on, and with your morning coffee breath, I somehow know there is Someone looking at you and me with delight, cherishing, a full heart. This looking is God seeing you and me exactly as we are right now, with joy.
This truth defies all of those beliefs about an angry God seeing us only as sinners, evil to the core since our birth, who can’t bear to look at us. I have heard about that god from so many counseling clients and spiritual companions through the years. And they have been so wearied by that belief, even to the point of despair for some of them. I have also known people who thought God looked on them in disgust because of some specific thing, like having an abortion, or being gay, or not living up to their supposed potential, or whatever.
But looking at Sam, and watching him look at me, and seeing my dad looking at both of us in that picture reveals a very different God. This is a God who looks at us with fantastic pleasure. Looking at us gets God’s endorphins flowing freely, which gives God a body full of that sense of well-being. This God looks with pleasure, joy, happiness, delight, cherishing, and most especially love. Looking at Sam, who is made in God’s image, through my eyes, since I am made in God’s image, and through my dad’s eyes, who is made in God’s image, is seeing God’s image!
No wonder we treasure what we see. We, like God, see God’s image in each other. We, like God, see with eyes of love. We, like God, are in no way grading performance. The joy and love in the looking simply are. God’s true nature is revealed by what happens when God looks at us. And our true nature is revealed when we look at each other with that same joy and love.
So it turns out that looking at Sam might be more than just looking. Based on what I experience in the looking, dare I say this, when looking at Sam the very eyes and heart of God are in me. So I commend to you the practice of looking today. Maybe this is what defines contemplative living: people looking with the eyes and heart of God. Let’s try the practice today and see what happens.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now also available as a Kindle book.