Healing the eye of the heart:

In 2011, Channel 4 aired an interesting (and at times very moving) series called Living with the Amish. Six British teenagers spent six weeks living with the Amish community in Ohio and each episode tracked the young people’s reactions to their brief immersion in a very different and more simple way of living.

One of the teenagers, Charlotte, said of her experience and what she had learnt about herself[1]:

“Before I went to live with the Amish, I had never washed a plate, done the laundry or cooked a meal. It sounds incredible, but it’s true. My parents did everything for me. The idea of getting back to basics really appealed to me, though I had no idea how much I would change. My Amish dress was very plain and down to my ankles — a complete contrast to the shorts and transparent floral shirt I’d arrived in. And all my make-up had to come off straight away. I hadn’t been completely make-up free during the daytime since I was 13, so that was a bit of a shock.

The couple we were staying with, Marietta and Jon, were both 26, had been married for six years but had no children. We stayed with another five families over the course of the six weeks, but Marietta and Jon had the most profound influence on me — they were so open, caring and patient and I really took to them.

I never thought housework would have made me as happy as it did. From a very young age, the Amish children do chores. It creates a lovely family bond, and means they work well as a unit and respect each other. And you don’t have to worry about whether your hair is perfect or your clothes are stylish enough. Everyone’s accepted.

The Amish men, too, were so different to the boys at home, so respectful and honest. Instead of rushing to try and kiss you, they are interested in getting to know who you are inside.

Socialising without alcohol was interesting, too. With the Amish, the main activity at parties is volleyball. We didn’t need alcohol to have fun, we were happy just playing and talking.

Marietta and I cried when I had to leave because we had built up such a strong bond. Marietta had such an uplifting, calm spirit and she was like a sister to me.

It was lovely to get home but I was determined not to go back to doing nothing. Mum was shocked when I automatically began to wash up after dinner and started cooking. Now I realise how hard my parents have worked and I want to spend more time with them. I have really learned to appreciate my family.

I’ve also come to appreciate the simple things in life and I’m more concerned with my inner beauty than my appearance. And I’ve stopped wasting money, too. Now I’m saving it for the important things in life — like going back to stay with my Amish friends.”

Charlotte’s time with the Amish, particularly with the loving and gentle Marietta and Jon, prompted an important opening of her heart. Her experience of a simpler and more connected life helped Charlotte see beyond many things she’d previously thought essential. She started to become aware of inner beauty.

St. Augustine liked to say that the purpose of the Christian life is “the healing of the eye of the heart so that God may be seen.” What Augustine meant by the “healing” of the inner eye is not so much its opening as the removal of what clutters its vision, which Jesus speaks of when he says we should remove the plank of wood from our eye before we try and remove the speck from our neighbour’s eye.[2]

When the eye of the heart is decluttered, we are able to see from the depths within, with the eye of love. We are able to see inner beauty. And one of the first things we begin to see is who we really are, our own inner beauty. “If your eye is sound,” Jesus taught, “your whole body will be full of light.”[3]

The purpose of meditation (and The School of Contemplative Life) is the healing, the decluttering, of the eye of the heart, so that we may see clearly and act with compassion.

The mental clutter of our concerns and anxieties, preferences and prejudices all too easily obstructs the vision of our heart and causes us to think we are separate, from God and from each other. The decluttered eye of the heart sees oneness, not separateness. It beholds the beauty and the wonder of creation as the radiance, the luminosity of God’s oneness.

Most of us, I think, recognise what Wordsworth is speaking of when he says in his famous poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey[4]:

“…with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.”

We might remember such moments, moments when we felt especially alive, connected, filled with a depth of meaning and wholeness and we saw into the life of things. It might have been in the moment of silence that follows a beautiful piece of music, or on reaching the top of a high hill and beholding an extraordinary view, or when we looked into the eyes of someone we love — a moment when boundaries seemed to dissolve and the silence seemed to open from within itself, embracing and enfolding us with everything.

A little later in his poem, Wordsworth continues to try and speak of what he has encountered with the luminous words:

“And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.”

As far as the eye of the heart is concerned, everything sings the glory of God. All creation and each of us bears witness to the invisible source of life, simply by being here. We are, everything is, the invisible made visible.

When we meditate, we become still and present within the depths of the present moment. We wait in expectant silence for God to reveal his life, flowing through us and all creation.[5] We cannot bring about this new way of seeing through our own striving. It’s all in God’s hands. He brings us to the open pastures of awareness. Our prayer of silence is our “Yes” to dwelling there with him.

The decluttered eye of the heart sees oneness not separateness. It sees the beauty and the wonder of the world as the radiance, the luminosity of God’s oneness.

And one of the first things we begin to see is who we really are, our own inner beauty.

[1] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2064064/Charlotte-Allison-From-spoilt-party-mad-British-teen-Amish-girl.html

[2] Matthew 7:5; Luke 6:42.

[3] Matthew 6:22. The Greek word aplouß (haplous), often translated as “sound”, has within its meaning simple, single, whole, fulfilling its purpose.

[4] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45527/lines-composed-a-few-miles-above-tintern-abbey-on-revisiting-the-banks-of-the-wye-during-a-tour-july-13-1798

[5] To explore this further, look at Chapter 4 of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.

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The School of Contemplative Life

The School of Contemplative Life

Chris Whittington is the Founder of the School of Contemplative Life. Visit our website: www.schoolofcontemplativelife.com