Recently I asked some of my undergraduate students: how do you see the world? Is it getting better or more violent? Surprisingly, they all agreed the world is getting better because we are more globally connected to one another and more collaborative on common issues such as water justice and global warming. I thought to myself, “a vision of the world from the hilltop of Georgetown in Washington, D.C.”
Shortly after, I heard a tragic story of a mother and daughter in war-torn Syria who decided to go to Mass one Sunday because the fighting in the area had ceased. On returning home they were confronted by radical fundamentalists. The mother was beaten and the daughter kidnapped and raped. When the daughter returned home, she was rebuked by her father who said she had brought shame on the household. The mother took the daughter and fled to Lebanon to seek refuge – a different reality in another part of the world.
One world, two realities, unrelated except for the humanity and earth between them.
How do we see the world? Out of what center do we judge the world? The Gospels are replete with stories of vision. Jesus chastised the Jews for their arrogant blindness: “Because you say you see your blindness remains.” He restored sight to the blind man Bartimeus through the power of desire: “What do you want?” he asked. “Lord, I want to see.”
The question of Jesus to the blind man is a question to us as well. What do we want? Do we want to see? How much do we want to see?
The type of vision Jesus calls us to is cor vision, to see with the eyes of the heart.
“It is with the heart that one sees rightly,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The medieval theologian, Bonaventure, spoke of the eye of contemplation, vision that gets to the truth of reality. This type of vision takes time and space; it requires withdrawal from the busy world and entering into the heart, the core of one’s being. Heart vision is depth vision; the inner eye sees God where the physical eye sees only darkness. In this respect Karl Rahner’s words ring true: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”
The mystic sees in a different way and loves out of a deeper center because she or he has spent long periods of wrestling with God. Modern psychology helps us understand this wrestling process as a growth in consciousness of non-duality.
The Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, described this consciousness as a radical emptying of self, that is, of everything that is self-separate. It is a breakthrough into oneness with God in which the self becomes entirely centered in God and God in self.
The mystic sees the world pregnant with God because self and God share an inner unity of love. The tragedies of the world are not negated nor are they problems to be solved. Rather the mystic carries the pain and sufferings of the world in the inner womb of the heart. Compassion becomes the cosmic thread of healing love.
The other day, one of my students who is leading a fundraising project for clean water, stood up and said, “We may not know the people we are trying to help by name but we are related to them because we are all created in the image of God. We are all connected in the web of life.” She expressed a consciousness of deep relationality, a oneness with God, a mystic’s vision. To see deeply into the heart of life is to know that love has the power to create a new future together.
[Ilia Delio, OSF, a Sister of St. Francis of Washington, D.C., is Haub Director of Catholic Studies and Visiting Professor at Georgetown University. Her recent publications include From Teilhard to Omega: Cocreating an Unfinished Universe and The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love.]
Check out Horizons, featuring reflections from younger sisters.