Jesus said this about the eyes in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:22-23; Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (The Message). Or as it might be remembered from a more traditional translation; The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (NRSV)
A person’s eyes are said to be a window into their soul. That’s why that exercise of standing in front of a person and staring directly into their eyes for an extended period can be very disconcerting but also deeply personal and highly bonding. Writers on spirituality talk of soft eyes as compared to hard eyes. Soft eyes help us look at the world in a different way to the usual; they help us see things in a more soulful way. Seeing with soft eyes is a receptive mode. It is receiving and being open to what you are receiving. Seeing with hard eyes is the judgmental, analytical, harsh way of viewing the world. Soft eyes help us step into the world aware but compassionate, welcoming mystery and grace that we might otherwise miss with hard eyes alone.
Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren state in a training manual written on conflict resolution for schools in the US which uses this technique; Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision. We see the individual in front of us, but we also see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in everything and are distracted by nothing. Seeing in this way sends an entirely different set of signals to the brain from seeing with hard eyes. As our eyes see more, somehow our brains become more open to the diversity of possibilities that always surround us. Soft eyes also tend to have a calming effect on the people around us, and often on ourselves as well.
Physiologically, we normally use what’s known as our foveal vision. A tiny area of the retina which helps us see details in a focused, analytical way. Things like threading a needle, reading a newspaper or looking at a screen. Foveal vision is about actively retrieving information through our eyes. It’s great for detail but too much of it, and we end up with eye strain, tension around the eyes and in other parts of the body. When we use our soft eyes, we use our much neglected peripheral vision. The aim is to see the detail still but to maintain our wider field of vision so that we are in the moment, more fully are aware of what’s around us. Soft eyes can be particularly useful in a sport where players can receive a pass focusing on the ball while sensing where everyone else is positioned on the field, in their periphery.
Parker Palmer in “The Courage to Teach” writes; Soft eyes, it seems to me is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery.
Our eyes are a window to the soul, to God, to other people and how we view the world. As our sight is transformed through the grace of God, may we gaze on people, on the world with soft eyes as the light of Christ shines through us.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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