Gazing: The Artist Is Present

One of my (Gem) favorite activities as a child was going fishing with my dad on the beautiful Washougal River in Washington. Before we put on our gear and walked across the street to our fishing hole, it was my job to find worms in our garden. It was like a wriggly scavenger hunt. I would dig down into the rich, dark brown soil on a search for squiggly bait. I didn’t even care if I got dirt under my fingernails. Ah, the carefree life of a child in nature.

 

When I recall my childhood, I get in touch with a much simpler time. If I close my eyes, I can picture the garden, the dirt, the worms, and even my little darkened fingernails. I had so much leisure as a child. Pure time. No hurry. Go get worms? Okay.

 

Once we made our way to the river, my dad was really the only one who fished. He would set me up with my own rod and I might fish for a while.

 

But what I really liked to do was search for water skeeters in the eddies along the edge of the river. I’d crouch down on the rocks and watch the skeeters skate along the surface of the water. They moved surprisingly fast and were quite engaging.

 

Only a child would spend that much time gazing at something so small and seemingly insignificant. But I had the time then to really take it in. I was seeing the skeeters. I was experiencing them. And it was pure enjoyment.

 

Now there’s a word for you: GAZING. When was the last time you gazed at something? Maybe a sunset or a sleeping child? In your life, what makes you stop and gaze?

 

A while back I became aware of the performance artist Marina Abramovic. For three months in 2010 she sat in a room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She made herself available to be present and to gaze into people’s eyes. Some officials told her that she would be sitting there alone most of the time, that no one would show up. But it turned out to be exactly the opposite.

 

The extra chair was never empty. The room was always full, and people even slept on the street in order to get a turn to be in her presence and simply stare . . . to gaze.

 

Why?

 

In Abramovic’s words, there is “this enormous need of humans to actually have contact. . . . We are so alienated from each other. . . . Society makes us really distant. We are texting each other messages without seeing each other and we just live around the corner from each other. [There are] so many stories of loneliness.”

 

People would sit in the chair and cry. While there were probably many different reasons for their tears, my guess is that the main reason they cried was in response to the presence Marina provided. She prepared herself to be a peaceful, loving container for whatever needed to be expressed in those minutes. That was at least one of the purposes of the art piece. To provide presence and a meaningful gaze.

 

Presence. Gazing. It’s one thing to receive that gift from an artist like Marina. It is another to receive the gaze of the True Artist, Jesus himself, and to gaze upon him.

 

What do you sense if you close your eyes and picture the gaze of Jesus? My hope is that, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you will realize that you are seen in love. God is love, which means Jesus is love. Which means this is his posture toward you. Always and first, there is love.

 

Reflection 

  • How might you experience Jesus’ loving gaze today?
  • How might you then become a loving presence for those around you?
  • It might be good to take some time today to process this. It can be as simple as reminding yourself that you are looked upon always and first in love and then returning the favor by looking upon them in love.

 

This might be easier if you try to return to the simplicity of a child—just like my younger self, who had all the time in the world to dig for worms and gaze at skeeters in the river. That same spacious time is available to you today.

 

Click the Marina Abramovic link and be sure to watch the gentleman who sits down at the 1:16 minute mark. It’s quite moving.

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