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Spiritual Direction with Howard Thurman-Session 2

October 15, 2014
Photo by Chris Nickels

Photo by Chris Nickels

I am using the book 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman for regular reflection and meditation. Periodically I plan to share some thoughts and reflections that emerge from this time of engaging with selections of Thurman’s writings and various scripture passages.


Happy are those who trust in the Lord,
    who rely on the Lord.
They will be like trees planted by the streams,
    whose roots reach down to the water.
They won’t fear drought when it comes;
    their leaves will remain green.
They won’t be stressed in the time of drought
    or fail to bear fruit.      (Jeremiah 17:7-8 CEB)

“The prophet pictures the man who depends on God, who has God for his confidence, as a tree planted beside a stream sending his roots down to the water. He has no fear of scorching heat, his leaves are always green. He goes on bearing fruit when all around him is barren and lives serene. In other words such a man looks out on life with quiet eyes!”     -Howard Thurman

Thurman’s phrase about having “quiet eyes” has really stuck with me lately. When I find myself feeling stressed out or over tired (or sometimes both), one of the first indicators for me is that my eyes begin to twitch involuntarily. My eyes provide awareness and help me assess what’s going on in life, both through seeing (the intended function) and through this kind of annoying side effect (the response to stressful circumstances). So this mediation led me to reflect in a particular direction: What does it mean to be a person who “looks out on life with quiet eyes”? This eye image from Thurman helps provide a meaningful way to approach daily life.

Before saying more about “quiet eyes,” I want to briefly explore the opposite-let’s call them “anxious eyes.” I imagine anxious eyes as those which are constantly darting around all over the place, trying to focus on everything that moves in the periphery and probably missing important details right in front of them. These “eyes” have difficulty being still and therefore easily become exhausted or even fearful.

Quiet eyes, on the other hand, reflect a posture of tranquil, non-anxious presence. Thurman seems to connect “quiet” with a kind of deep composure and trust, a confidence in God that can be found even in the midst of struggle, pain, or suffering. Having “quiet eyes” is another way of thinking about and embodying the tree image from the prophet Jeremiah. I often need help with keeping my eyes “quiet,” so Thurman’s instruction is a helpful one.

There are spiritual disciplines I can practice to develop “quiet eyes.” Practices such as breath prayer or centering prayer are often helpful, as is one of my favorite disciplines, prayerwalking. Each of these practices can help to center one’s focus on God and root deeper into God’s presence.

I also wonder if having “quiet eyes” could refer to a posture of learning and listening to others? Rather than having anxious eyes which are constantly in motion, always looking to do more and more and more, these quiet eyes slow down, observe, listen, and focus. This posture could create space for learning, awareness, reflection, and changes in action where needed. Quiet eyes might help us see details or perspectives that we’ve never noticed before or maybe even chose to ignore.

Deeper connection with God and with others are valuable forms of “fruit” that can be produced in our lives. But I will continue to wonder: What other kinds of fruit might be produced by those who “look out on life with quiet eyes”?

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2014 8:03 am

    Quiet eyes come from a humble, hearing heart that listens to the One who gives peace when He speaks and imparts fresh, new ways of seeing our life, our circumstances, and the other people around us.

  2. November 1, 2014 2:38 pm

    That’s a good word, Steve. Thank you.

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