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A Long, Loving Look
Author: Chad Glang
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with compassion. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Mark 1:40-43
“…in the course of your lives, you’ll come to see suffering that will break your heart. When it happens, and it will, don’t turn away from it; turn toward it. That is the moment when change is born.” Melinda Gates, 2014 Stanford University commencement address
In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, a U.S. Army physician reported for duty. Upon arrival in Saigon, he was immediately surrounded by a throng of begging children. In prior years, many GIs had transacted with local prostitutes. The resulting Amerasian children were untouchables, outcasts in Vietnamese society. The children were caring for the toddlers and infants, and all were pleading for his attention.
Overwhelmed and horrified, he reached into his pockets, threw all his money at them, and ran to his quarters. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to pray: “Help me pay attention to this problem long enough to know what to do about it.” The result was an adoption agency which gave birth to tens of thousands of families around the world, including ours.
Two things strike me about his prayer.
First, he knew where he was stuck and asked for help at that point. He knew what form his “leprosy” was taking at the moment: emotional reactivity was interfering with his ability to see and think clearly. Many Jesus stories begin with a stated need: “I’m lame…I’m blind…I’ve got a sick kid.” Jesus then heals what needs healing. Sometimes we are able pray like this. Other times we are just hurting and can’t name our need; in those cases, “Help” or “Hold me” may be our best prayer. When we do have the self-awareness to ask for what we need, that specific invitation can open us up in an important way.
Second: “pay attention long enough.” Jesuit priest Walter Burghardt says “Prayer is a long, loving look at the real.” Long, loving look. When we are in pain, or encounter pain in others, we often don’t want to look. Or if we do look, we may do so briefly and not lovingly…protecting ourselves with denial, rationalization, blaming, etc. A long, loving look moves us toward seeing as God sees.
Prayer: Help us to be present to suffering: our own and others.’ Help us to see as you see, and be moved to action.