Let me start off with a confession: I do not believe that the call for wearing face masks is part of a conspiracy to diminish the liberties and rights of law-abiding citizens. For me face masks are not political pawns but health-care considerations (once a nurse always a nurse, I suppose). But, even if reasons other than of health-care nature would hide behind these face mask encouragements, the benefit cannot be denied. Yes, I also have read widely about the limitations of masks and know that not all masks are created equal. Besides: I do not like wearing a mask. It is uncomfortable for the most part and as a person who is very hard of hearing, ‘catching’ nuances spoken through face masks is a chore. So, yes, I hope we soon find ourselves in a position where we can safely do away with face masks once and for all!
However, have you noticed that we now are forced to pay attention to peoples’ eyes? Not being able to read lips, our eyes are quickly becoming our most important facial feature. Eyes are very expressive. There is a reason why we say: If looks could kill; or Where words are restrained, the eyes often talk a great deal. Indeed, our eyes can tell a thousand stories even if we never say a word. They tell stories of fear, anger, hope, love, excitement, distrust, joy, sadness… and they usually tell these stories much more forthrightly than our words could or would. Our eyes can indeed belie our words and give away what we are trying to hide.
When I was a pastoral Intern I showed pictures of a congregational event I had organized to a good friend of mine. One of my parishioners, Mary, was in several close-up shots. As we were going through the pictures my friend suddenly took one of the pictures into his hand, studied it carefully and then said: “Look at that lady’s eyes. She is telling you something as she is looking into your camera. Notice the despair in her eyes? You should visit with her when you get a chance.” Since I trusted my friend’s instinct and, recalling some other ‘strange’ things I had observed about Mary as of late, I indeed sought her out only to learn of her husband’s particularly cruel infidelity and the struggles that came with that for Mary.
Greater theological minds than mine have rightfully pointed to the fact that our compassion for our neighbors begin with our eyes. It’s a two-way street, isn’t it? Mary’s eyes told of her pain and my friend’s eyes gave me the push to pursue what I had deemed ‘weird’ in my interaction with Mary.
Matthew 6:22 The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.
In these words our Lord describes the eye as a lamp which lights the entire body. Our eyes are the windows to our hearts and minds and, as such, they provide a doorway to our very souls. If our eyes are clear the light they let through will illumine. If they are distorted the light will be hindered. There are many things that can distort our vision: prejudice, jealousy, anger, self-conceit, grudges, distrust….Our eyes can be used to see that which is good or evil, that which is beneficial or harmful, and the things we see and perceive affect our whole being. If we perceive goodness, that will radiate outward from within our hearts and minds. But if we allow our eyes to linger on evil, we are so affected by what we see that darkness actually begins to emanate from within and can corrupt us and those around us.
Going back to what I wrote above: wearing a face mask makes human interaction much more complicated. Yet, we can still see each other’s eyes. And every eye we see gives us cues about life. Our own eyes need to be mindful of what they behold.
Perhaps this horrible pandemic with all of the very unfortunate and un-welcomed restrictions it places on us nevertheless helps us see each other more clearly. I pray it may be so. Amen