The Ritual Gaze

lordI hear amazing stories of energy exchange between people and people, people and animals, people and trees, people and those in the imaginal realm.

On a body level when a profound gaze happens I believe we are gaining much more than “meaning” in the transference. There is an energetic calling forth into power. We bond, connect, and organize in ways we do and don’t like. For those of us who witness and gaze professionally, we need to be aware of the power of gazing.

Remember Spock’s mind meld? A deep gaze is a mysterious transfer process. Are we ready to meet the gaze of the holy? Are we getting confused as the Holy?

The mind likes to think that everything can be sorted out with words. But the body knows better. Physical experience tells us that every gaze, every ritual image has more than one reality in it, both presence and absence.

“According to liturgical scholar Nathan Mitchell, the human need to be seen is fundamental to the nature of symbols. Basing his understanding on the psychology of Erik Erikson, he speaks of the primal urge to gaze and be gazed upon by the parent. Humans develop “rituals of recognition” to insure the presence of the gazing other, but this presence always implies a threatened separation, as the child grows and separates from the parent. Thus ritual symbols may signify a presence, but their shadows simultaneously signify an absence, and the symbol’s double effect can put together realities that appear to be contradictory. “A symbol,” Mitchell says, “is thus a kind of pivot, a point of exchange that permits people to confront an enormous range of ambiguous experiences: presence and absence, belonging and separation, acceptance and abandonment, and ultimately life and death.”Nathan Mitchell, O.S.B. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1982), 377-382.

The most reliable gaze I have found is the unconditional neutral regard of divinity. It holds steady and this helps steady me. I feel it as a presence so that when I gaze on it I see nothing at all, and yet it is there.

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