Staring Our Way to Recognition

Have you ever seen something that you could not identify as anything familiar, and so all you could do was stare at it in a rather stupid way? When I was a teenager I once saw an apparition while walking at night on a country road. It looked as if someone in a white robe was floating above the soybean field. I was not one to see ghosts and I didn’t know whether to be terrified or fascinated. Then a car drove past and the headlights revealed the apparition to be a diamond-shaped sign posted in the field. It was a relief to be able to give a name to what I saw.

I’m guessing that the disciples who saw the risen Jesus stared stupidly for awhile. In a very short time they had to reconcile newly revealed truth with all their experience up to that point. And when you think of all the other people of the Bible who were given visions, the pattern is clear: at first they did not know what they were seeing. In addition to being really frightened, they were confused and speechless.

I think this is the typical pattern of human behavior when God becomes visible. The love or glory or wisdom that we see does not compute. All we can do is stare. There must be another explanation for what is happening—a fluke of good luck, or a misinterpretation of the facts. It couldn’t be as simple as God reaching into our lives and touching our souls, making us alive and joyful and unafraid.

But I’ve learned something about staring. After awhile, the patterns do emerge, and things begin to make sense. And so you name the vision: grace, or peace, or understanding. Then, as the months and years go by, those gifts reappear, again and again. You come to understand that what at first was a strange apparition is actually your very reality. God is here, right in your life, working wonders.

So don’t be ashamed to stand there and stare with a clueless expression on your face—it’s all part of reconciling the revelation we call Good News with our quite limited experience and vocabulary. Stare until you recognize that what you are beholding is holy love—looking right back at you.

Your exercise for the week, should you choose to try it, comes in two parts.

First, identify “sightings” that have not come clear for you. They could be:

  • Passages or stories from the Bible that are hard to understand
  • People in your life whose presence is a mystery to you—the kind of people about whom you say, “Why do I have to work with this person?” or “Why in the world is this person in my family?” or “What am I supposed to do with this friendship?”
  • Situations that have you dumbfounded, about which you say, “What could possibly be the purpose in this?”

Second, choose one of those sightings and just stare at it this week. Look at it patiently and closely. And as you look, pray: “God, if your love or wisdom or comfort or instruction exists here, please help me see. Help me recognize how you are here.”

About Vinita Hampton Wright 110 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

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