Sight Is the Seed of Contemplation

glassesThe Examen begins with an awareness of God’s presence, imagining God gazing upon us with love. It’s this gaze that taps us into the importance of our sense of sight.

A large part of Jesus’ mission was helping people to see—physically and spiritually. Bartimaeus begs Jesus for the gift of sight, bringing him to faith in Christ. An entire chapter is devoted to sight and blindness in the Gospel of John. Jesus wants to open our eyes to the gaze of God. And at times he becomes frustrated even with his disciples when they fail to see more spiritually: “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (Mark 8:17–18)

Sight is the seed of contemplation, which Walter Burghardt, SJ, called “a long, loving look at the real.” I call it a seed of contemplation because one can look and see but not make that bridge to prayer. One can see beauty but fail to recognize God gazing back. For many of us, we must bring our sense of sight to our mind’s eye, “re-imaging” our day in the Examen in order to notice the presence of God. Yet we have those moments when seeing is believing, when the miracle of light waves entering our eyes moves us to an awareness of God’s presence.

After my wife and I learned we were pregnant, it was so hard to believe. It wasn’t until we saw a little human shape appear on a sonogram that we were brought to a true knowledge of the blessed reality before us. When we saw the outline of our baby on the screen, our eyes were opened and we saw God gazing back. It was a long, loving look at the real.

God touches us deeply through sight. Consider the father of the prodigal son, who sees his loved one at a distance and excitedly recognizes him long before he can make out the face. Consider Jesus telling us to look at our world for God’s truths: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26) Our vision is more than a perception of light waves. Like the parables, our sense of sight is a channel through which God is revealed to our hearts.

What visual images or memories do you often return to as reminders of God’s gaze on you?

Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, read How Spanish Class Taught Me About Finding God in All Things by Elizabeth Eiland Figueroa.

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Andy Otto
Andy Otto is an Ignatian blogger and spiritual director. He currently works in adult faith formation and retreat direction at a Jesuit parish and retreat center in Atlanta, GA, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Andy is the author of God Moments and holds a master’s degree in theology and ministry from Boston College.


  1. If I may, the prefix “con” (meaning ‘with’) before “templation” or contemplate, indicates a rhythm of thinking or “with tempo” of intentional thought as opposed to associative or reactive thinking, which is not thinking at all.
    One contemplates the life of an snail; contemplates the stars; whereas, one contemplates the life of being.

  2. I was struck by the phrase about contemplation: a long, loving look at the real. So often I think I don’t see God in my hectic life with all the things, activities, and emotions that distract me from him. But it is God who is real, and it is on him that my eyes need to be focused. Only then will I realize his presence in my life and where he is gazing at me. Thank you for this post. God bless.

  3. I see and remember the joy in the smiles of my parents when they would see me coming. Like the father of the prodigal son, their spontaneous joy to embrace me no matter what was always there. They are both with God now and even though they are with me in my heart, I miss seeing them, hearing them, and embracing them. Their unconditional love is what I miss and long for and know now what I had that can never be replaced.

  4. After reading this, I imagine God recognizing my gait long before my steps bring me within sight of Divine Majesty.

  5. Today so many want to erase God even the idea of God from life. How much more important that we strive to see Him in the world, active, loving, forgiving merciful.. I think of the disciples when they tried to destroy Jesus. Thanks for the reminder to open my eyes wider, and to hang on to Him, remember and to live hope. be blessed, mary ann

  6. This is such a beautiful reflection today! The comment about seeing the baby on a sonogram filled me with a sense of Gods deep love for us.”A long loving look at the real.”
    Please open our eyes, Lord. Alleluia for all that is….
    With gratitude, Suzanne

  7. Thanks Andy for reminding me to look more deeply at the world around me to see God in all things. So easy to just walk past things and people that are always there; to take there presence for granted. But they have a purpose too – to show us God. And it is for us to reflect that God -ness in our own lives so others may see Him.


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