“Man’s inability to ‘see’ is in decline,” writes the late German philosopher Josef Pieper in his little book, “Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation.”
He speaks not of the “physiological sensitivity of the human eye,” but “the spiritual capacity to perceive the visible reality as it truly is.”
In the chapter, “Learning How to See Again,” derived from a talk in 1952, Pieper offers reasons for this lack of “sight,” including, simply, that “there is too much to see,” preventing us from taking in what is most true.
Preceding this, he says, we’ve lost our ability to behold, noting, “…the most perfect expression of being alive, the deepest satisfaction, and the fullest achievement of human existence” happen “in an instant of beholding…”
Pieper looks to the artist to further illustrate, explaining that before an artist can express anything in tangible form, she first needs “eyes to see.” This is true even in writing, he says. “We sense the intensity of observation required simply to say, ‘The girl’s eyes were gleaming like wet currants,’” referencing a Leo Tolstoy line.
Not only the artist, but everyone, ought to take time to enter into this “intensity of observation” to see truth, not to mention convey it. But how do we do that in a rushing world?
At an October retreat at a monastery in Hankinson, N.D., I found on my nightstand a little card propped up with these words by Saint Faustina Kowalska: “Patience, prayer, and silence – these are what give strength to the soul.” Here, I discovered an answer to my question.
So, in January, I began diving deeper into my prayer life, accepting an invitation to begin following a new podcast, Ascension’s “Bible in a Year,” with Fr. Mike Schmitz of Duluth, Minn. Then, for Valentine’s Day, I gave my husband a DVD guiding couples in learning to pray together. Now, in addition to separately reading through the Bible with Fr. Mike, we’ve begun ending each night in prayer – a gift that has brought untold graces into our marriage.
One would think that would be enough, yet I recently said “Yes” to University of St. Thomas professor and spiritual director Elizabeth Kelly’s invitation to take part in an online summer prayer practicum using “lectio divina,” an imaginative, contemplative form of praying with Scripture, with others across the country, requiring another hour of daily prayer.
Assessing all these prayer commitments, I realize that, though it might seem like a lot, my soul is thirsty, and my eyes long to “see” more than what has been possible in these last months of constant activity and busyness.
I welcome the chance to retreat this summer with God’s words and the gift of time, in the hope that my eyes might become more attuned to what has been hidden from view, but which, I suspect, God can’t wait to reveal, with the richness and meaning that come with all his good gifts.
Please pray that through this, I might “see” more. I’ll pray for you.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 21, 2021.]