Look upon the Affliction


I’ve never been one to naturally gravitate towards the suffering of others. Looking people in the eyes under happier circumstances has been a learned skill for me – one which I’m still honing. The task of looking the afflicted in the eyes is especially intimidating. My first thought in a crisis is often: “Someone else will do that better than I will.” This isn’t at all a Moses-like meekness for me. It’s simply shirking. I don’t want to look like a fool by not helping “correctly,” no matter how great the need. The easiest way to avoid being enlisted is to turn away my face. “They don’t want me to stare at them anyway. And if I do, they’ll expect me to say something – and I’ll mess it up.” Perhaps there’s a sprinkle of genuine concern for others there, but overall I know I’m simply rationalizing in order to avoid losing face – because that’s more important to me than empathizing with the suffering of others, which must begin by looking on it. “They probably don’t even notice me walking right past them. I’ll just write them a Facebook comment or something.”
But the affection of God always begins with His very personal gaze. And likewise His displeasure is marked by the averting of His eyes. Our gaze barely holds a speck of the power that God’s does. But we fool ourselves if we think, relative to our other faculties and appendages, the strength of our gaze is insignificant. We can give our children our voice, our ears, and our embrace. Yet if they don’t have our eyes also, they won’t stop patting our chests and shouting “MOM!” until they do.

This same need is, while perhaps more restrained, still present in the afflicted around us. We aren’t responsible for them the way we are for our own children. Nevertheless, the cumulative gaze or aversion of a community can either improve or degrade the quality of that soul’s suffering. True, some will occasionally complain about feeling fatigued by the mass gaze of those around them. But nobody ever apostatized saying: “the Church was just too attentive to my affliction.”
Of course, the Father’s affection doesn’t simply end with His gaze, and neither should ours. But it begins there, and so should ours. Bless the afflicted around you – but begin by looking at them. Look on the mute autistic boy who never really makes eye contact with anyone. Look on the cancer sufferer whose body is a faint whisper of her former vitality. Look on the woman whose husband has abandoned her. If you can afford to do nothing else, you can still do that. You’re scared, and don’t want your gaze to offend anyone. Sublimate that fear into action, and be willing to risk making someone – not least yourself – uncomfortable with your reinforcing gaze. Inflicting your stricken brethren with thirty seconds of your own inelegance is infinitely better than sentencing them to invisibility.

“The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee…” - and may we likewise lift ours upon each other.


2 comments:

  1. Very well put. I myself tend to avoid eye contact, a remnant of my shy days, and am working to get over it and not ignore people, especially those who tend to be shunned, but to look at them and smile. Or even, as Olivia would, say "here, sweety, let me get that for you". You've made me realize that I need to work on it more. By the way, I love your page design.

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