When I was a child, I used to close my left eye to see what the world looked like from my right side. Then I would close my right eye to see what it would look like from my left side. I remember doing this for a season. When people saw me doing this – alternatively blinking my eyes while talking to them – they would occasionally wonder what the heck I was doing. This is odd behavior because we cannot isolate our eyes into two separate perspectives or focal points. Our eyes look at one thing at a time and they do so in unison. The thing upon which we gaze is our focus.
This simple limitation of our eyes has deep spiritual parallels. The eyes of our heart also cannot be divided. Our spiritual eyes cannot split their focus. We can only make one thing the object of our will or the focus of our devotion at a time.
Jesus suggests that we struggle to accept this limitation when he talks about the attention we give to money:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. ~Matthew 6:22-24
Jesus points out the impossibility of serving both God and money by highlighting our limitations of focus. When our spiritual eyes “look” to money, we set our will to getting it. We put our hope in it. We devote ourselves to it so that it drives our actions. Trying to then serve God while we gaze upon money is like trying to fall in love with two people at the same time or serve two masters. It can’t be done.
This limitation of gaze extends beyond just money. A workaholic will inevitably speak harshly to his family members because he can’t give work the attention he needs and live a life of love towards his family members. A relentless people-pleaser won’t be able to heed God’s call to speak the truth, because she will be too sensitive to other people’s feelings. We cannot set our spirit’s gaze on any two things at once.
We all know that it is important to look to the LORD. We know we are called to worship God and to gaze upon his beauty. However, what we often forget is that this requires us to stop looking at other things to do so. We cannot gaze upon two things at the same time.
“The two eyes of the soul of man cannot both perform their work at once: but if the soul shall see with the right eye into eternity, then the left eye must close itself and refrain from working, and be as though it were dead. For if the left eye be fulfilling its office toward outward things; that is holding converse with time and the creatures; then must the right eye be hindered in its working; that is in its contemplation. Therefore, whosoever will have the one must let the other go; for ‘no man can serve two masters.’”1
In my own life, my soul reflects the curious habit I engaged as a child. I often alternate back and forth between my two eyes of the soul. I try out life looking through one eye and then I close it and try life looking through the other eye. What I’ve noticed is that looking through these two eyes bears radically divergent fruit in my life.
When I look through the right eye, I am focused on the LORD. I am aware of his great love for me and I know who I am. I feel joyful. I am able to forgive offenses much more easily. I feel hopeful about my future. I generally feel peaceful about life in the now.
But while I do this I have my left eye closed. Usually something will happen that will remind me that I have this life in the world that I need to tend to. I will be reminded about status, networking, finances, my performance, or fitting in. When that happens, I will usually close my right eye, which had been gazing upon the LORD, so that I can open my left eye and check on these things. It feels urgent. I feel a compulsive need to look at theses things in the world. As I do, I notice a different set of soul fruit emerging. I start to feel anxious. I am easily offended. I often feel compelled to take control of situations to assure my desired outcome. I may even start to hate those around me who get in my way. This leaves me exhausted, wounded, and fearful about the future.
It’s about this time that I realize I need God in my life. As I struggle to turn back to the LORD, I realize I must close my left eye in order to gaze upon the LORD. In order to find the hope, joy, peace, and love for which I long, I must close the left eye that wants to tend to status, power, security, and control. I must let these things go.
The invitation Jesus makes to us is clear. We are invited to set our gaze upon the LORD alone and trust that He will care for our life in the world. In order to do this, you and I must turn our focus away from whatever “thing” in the external world catches our attention. Only then, can we turn our gaze back to the LORD.
I wonder, what do you do to help you tend to your gaze? Often times our gaze drifts. It’s essential that we stay aware of where we set our gaze. What practices of self-reflection help you pay attention to where your heart has set its focus? Spiritual direction offers a safe space to prayerfully explore your focus and turn your gaze back upon the LORD.
Quoted from Theologia Germanica in Evelyn Underhill’s book, Mysticism