The Second Gaze

January 1st, 2021 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »

Contemplation and Action

The Second Gaze
Friday,  January 1, 2021
New Year’s Day

Contemplation happens to everyone. It happens in moments when we are open, undefended, and immediately present. —Gerald May

Even after fifty years of practicing contemplation, my immediate response to most situations includes attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis. I am better at calculating than contemplating. A good New Year’s practice for us would be to admit that that most of us start there. The false self seems to have the “first gaze” at almost everything.

On my better days, when I am “open, undefended, and immediately present,” [1] I can sometimes begin with a contemplative mind and heart. Most of the time I can get there later and even end there, but it is usually a second gaze. The True Self seems to always be ridden and blinded by the defensive needs of the separate self. It is an hour-by-hour battle, at least for me. I can see why all spiritual traditions insist on some form of daily prayer; in fact, morning, midday, evening, and before-we-go-to-bed prayer would be a good idea too! Otherwise, we can assume that we will fall right back in the cruise control of small and personal self-interest, the pitiable and fragile smaller self.

The first gaze is seldom compassionate. It is too busy weighing and feeling itself: “How will this affect me?” or “How does my self-image demand that I react to this?” or “How can I get back in control of this situation?” This leads to an implosion of self-preoccupation that cannot enter into communion with the other or the moment. In other words, we first feel our feelings before we can relate to the situation and emotion of the other. Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately (or at least more quickly) stand with and for the other, and for the moment.

It has taken me much of my life to begin to get to the second gaze. By nature, I have a critical mind and a demanding heart, and I am impatient. (I’m a One on the Enneagram!) These are both my gifts and my curses, as you might expect. Yet I cannot have one without the other, it seems. I cannot risk losing touch with either my angels or my demons. They are both good teachers. The practice of solitude and silence allows them both, and leads to the second gaze. The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of divine intimacy is really all I have, and all I have to give, even though I don’t always do it.

In the second gaze, critical thinking and compassion are finally coming together. It is well worth waiting for, because only the second gaze sees fully and truthfully. It sees itself, the other, and even God with God’s own eyes, the eyes of compassion, which always move us to act for peace and justice. But it does not reject the necessary clarity of critical thinking, either. Normally, we start with dualistic thinking, and then move toward nondual for an enlightened response. As always, both/and!

Jesus Calling Introduction

I FIRST EXPERIENCED THE PRESENCE OF GOD in a setting of exquisite beauty. I was studying at a Christian community in a tiny Alpine village in France. This was a branch of L’Abri, an international ministry that began in Switzerland through Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s work. During my stay at L’Abri, I often explored the fairyland-like environment all around me. It was late winter, and the noonday sun was warm enough for sunbathing, but the depth of the snow kept it from melting. Brilliant sunlight reflecting from pure white snow was cleansing my mind of the darkness that had held it captive for years. Every day I climbed up a steep hill to attain a view that delighted my soul. As I stood at the top, I would lose myself in a panorama of unbroken beauty. Below me was the village that had become my home. Viewed from this height, the village was dominated by a high-steepled church. Turning 180 degrees, I could see Lake Geneva far below me, shouting greetings in refracted sunbeams. When I looked up, I saw icy tips of Alpine mountains encircling me. I would turn round and round, absorbing as much as I could with two eyes and a finite mind. The daughter of a college professor, I had been encouraged to read widely and think for myself. I had majored in philosophy at Wellesley College and had almost completed my master’s degree in child development at Tufts University. A few months earlier, my brother had asked me to read Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason. To my great surprise and delight, that small book had answered questions I’d long before dismissed as unanswerable. It was the intellectual integrity of Schaeffer’s books that had drawn me to this pristine place. I was searching for absolute, unchanging truth—a foundation on which to build my life. Shortly after I settled into the home I shared with other students, I met a gifted counselor who had come from the Swiss branch of L’Abri to talk with some of us. I went into the room where she was waiting, and she told me to close the door. Before I even had time to sit down, she asked her first question: “Are you a Christian?” I answered that I wasn’t sure; I wanted to be a Christian, but I didn’t really understand why I needed Jesus. I thought that knowing God might be enough. Her second question was: “What can you not forgive yourself for?” This question brought me face to face with my sinfulness, and immediately I understood my need for Jesus—to save me from my many sins. Later, when I was alone, I asked Him to forgive all my sins and to be my Savior-God. One night I found myself leaving the warmth of our cozy chalet to walk alone in the snowy mountains. I went into a deeply wooded area, feeling vulnerable and awed by cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. After a while, I came into an open area and I stopped walking. Time seemed to stand still as I gazed around me in wonder—soaking in the beauty of this place. Suddenly I became aware of a lovely Presence with me, and my involuntary response was to whisper, “Sweet Jesus.” This experience of Jesus’ Presence was far more personal than the intellectual answers for which I’d been searching. This was a relationship with the Creator of the universe—the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6 NKJV). The following year, back in the United States, I had another encounter with the Presence of Jesus. I was grieving the loss of a serious dating relationship and wondering whether being a Christian made much difference in the quality of my life. At that time I was working as a technical writer in Virginia. My boss sent me to Atlanta to attend a conference. I accepted this assignment dutifully and checked into the hotel without enthusiasm. Alone in my room, I felt waves of desolation wash over me. So I began walking the streets of Atlanta aimlessly, trying to escape my solitude. I glanced at some books in an outdoor stall and was drawn to Beyond Our Selves by Catherine Marshall. That night, as I read the book, I no longer felt alone. I knelt beside the bed in that sterile room and felt an overwhelming Presence of peace and love come over me. I knew that Jesus was with me and that He sympathized with my heartache. This was unquestionably the same “Sweet Jesus” I had encountered in the snowy splendor of the Alps. During the next sixteen years, I lived what many people might consider an exemplary Christian life. I went to Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where I earned a master’s degree in counseling and biblical studies. While there, I met my husband, Steve, a third-generation missionary to Japan. After graduation, we spent two four-year terms in Japan doing church-planting ministry. We had a baby girl during our first term and a baby boy during our furlough in the United States. After our second term, we returned to the US for three years. We lived in Atlanta, where Steve worked with a local Japanese church and I earned a further degree in counseling at Georgia State University. As part of my training, I worked at a Christian counseling center in the Atlanta area. I cherished my experiences of helping deeply wounded women find healing in Christ. I was also thankful for my kind, loving husband and our two delightful children, who were the main joys of my life. However, not once during those sixteen years did I vividly experience the Presence of Jesus. So I was ready to begin a new spiritual quest. It started with delving into a devotional book, The Secret of the Abiding Presence by Andrew Murray. The theme of this book is that God’s Presence is meant to be the continual experience of Christians. Murray emphasizes the importance of spending time alone with God in quiet, uninterrupted communion. I began reading the book at a very unstructured time in my life. We were waiting for our Australian visas to be approved so that we could begin a church among Japanese people living in Melbourne. I had quit my counseling job to prepare for the move overseas, so I was adjusting to the loss of this fulfilling work. In the midst of those momentous changes, I began seeking God’s Presence in earnest. My days started alone with God, equipped with Bible, devotional book, prayer journal, pen, and coffee. An hour or two alone with Him seemed too brief. The uncertainties I faced at that time deepened my increasing closeness to God. My husband and I had no idea how long it would take to receive permanent residency visas, so the waiting period seemed to stretch indefinitely into the future. During that period, I had four surgeries, including two for melanoma. A Bible verse that comforted me during this difficult time of waiting also accompanied me on the seemingly endless flight to Australia: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:12). We settled in Australia and began our dual ministries. I supported Steve in planting the first-ever Japanese church in Melbourne, but my main ministry focus was counseling Australian women, some of whom were coming out of terrible abuse and spiritual bondage. Our combined ministries subjected our family to intense spiritual warfare, and I prayed for protection every morning. One morning as I prayed, I visualized God protecting each of us. I pictured first our daughter, then our son, and then Steve encircled by God’s protective Presence. When I prayed for myself, I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace. I had not sought this powerful experience of God’s Presence, but I received it gratefully and was strengthened by it. Only two or three days later, a counseling client who was an incest survivor began remembering experiences of satanic ritual abuse. This form of Satan worship involves subjecting victims (who are often young children) to incredibly evil, degrading tortures. My courageous client and I walked together into the darkness of her memories. But God had prepared me for stepping into deep darkness by first bathing me in His glorious light. I realized that experiences of God’s Presence were not only for my benefit but were also preparation for helping others. The following year, I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind. As J. I. Packer wrote in his book Your Father Loves You: “God . . . guides our minds as we think things out in his presence.” This is how I was listening to Him—by focusing on Jesus and His Word, while asking Him to guide my thoughts. I was not listening for an audible voice; I was spending time seeking God’s Face (Psalm 27:8 NKJV). My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day. Of course, I knew my writings were not inspired—as only Scripture is—but they were helping me grow closer to God. This became a delightful way to encourage myself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6 KJV). As I was learning to seek God’s Face, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) became a life-changing verse. Alternate readings for “Be still” are “Relax,” “Let go,” and “Cease striving” (NASB). This is an enticing invitation from God to lay down our cares and seek His Presence. Among other resources, Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight has been helpful. This book, written by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, contains a wonderful quote from Martin Luther—“If the Holy Spirit should come and begin to preach to your heart, giving you rich and enlightened thoughts, . . . be quiet and listen to him who can talk better than you; and note what he proclaims and write it down; so will you experience miracles as David says: ‘Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law’ (Psalm 119:18).” During the years that I’ve been waiting in God’s Presence and listening with pen in hand, I have found themes of His Peace becoming more prominent in my writing. I’m sure this tendency reflects, in part, my personal need. However, when people open up to me, I find that most of them also desire the balm of Jesus’ Peace. This practice of being still in God’s Presence has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the writings I have gleaned from these quiet moments. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The devotions that follow address that felt need. The Bible is the only infallible, inerrant Word of God, and I endeavor to keep my writings consistent with that unchanging standard. I have written from the perspective of Jesus speaking, to help readers feel more personally connected with Him. So the first person singular (“I,” “Me,” “My,” “Mine”) always refers to Christ; “you” refers to you, the reader. I have included Scripture references after each daily reading. As I waited in God’s Presence, Bible verses or fragments of verses often came to mind. So I interwove these into the devotions. Words from the Scriptures (some paraphrased, some quoted) are indicated in italics. Certain Bible verses figure rather heavily in my writing. That is because God often uses these passages to strengthen and encourage me, raising my sights from my “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17) to His eternal perspective. Themes of thankfulness and trust recurred often during my listening times. These themes are quite prevalent in the Bible, and they are essential for a close relationship with the Lord. The devotions in this book are meant to be read slowly, preferably in a quiet place—with your Bible open. Remember that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. May you enjoy His Presence and His Peace in ever-increasing measure. —Sarah Young

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sarah Young’s devotional writings are personal reflections from her daily quiet time of Bible reading, praying, and writing in prayer journals. With sales of more than 15 million books worldwide, Jesus Calling® has appeared on all major bestseller lists. Sarah’s writings include Jesus Calling®, Jesus Today®, Jesus Lives™, Dear Jesus, Jesus Calling® for Little Ones, Jesus Calling® Bible Storybook, Jesus Calling®: 365 Devotions for Kids, and Peace in His Presence—each encouraging readers in their journey toward intimacy with Christ. Sarah and her husband were missionaries in Japan and Australia for many years. They currently live in the United States. Jesus Calling® was written to help people connect not only with Jesus, the living Word, but also with the Bible—the only infallible, inerrant Word of God. Sarah endeavors to keep her devotional writing consistent with that unchanging standard. Many readers have shared that Sarah’s books have helped them grow to love God’s Word. As Sarah states in the introduction to Jesus Calling®, “The devotions . . . are meant to be read slowly, preferably in a quiet place—with your Bible open.” Sarah is biblically conservative in her faith and reformed in her doctrine. She earned a master’s degree in biblical studies and counseling from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. She is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), where her husband, Stephen, is an ordained minister. Stephen and Sarah continue to be missionaries with Mission to the World, the PCA mission board. Sarah spends a great deal of time in prayer, reading the Bible, and memorizing Scripture. She especially enjoys praying daily for readers of all her books.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling – Deluxe Edition Pink Cover: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Jesus Calling®) (pp. 382-384). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


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