Learning to see as God sees:

In my late twenties, I spent a year living in a small cottage in the village of Witham Friary in Somerset. One bright Spring morning I decided to take a long walk out through the surrounding countryside.

As I was walking down a country lane a couple of miles out from village, I heard a cow mooing loudly and persistently. Looking into the field, I saw the cow lying down and in the process of giving birth. Two legs of the calf were clearly visible, and I thought it best to carry on walking and leave the cow in peace.

Three hours later on my way back to village, I passed the field again. The cow was lying in the same place with the birth no further on, but much quieter now and appearing very tired. I had no mobile phone to look for help and couldn’t see any sign of a nearby farm.

Having been brought up on a small-holding and having helped various animals giving birth, I walked carefully up to the cow, took hold of the calf’s legs and gently pulled. The cow looked at me. I looked at the cow. We were both completely involved in the moment. I forgot myself.

And then the calf joined us.

Almost immediately, the cow started to sniff and lick and bond with her new calf, so I withdrew to the edge of the field and sat for a while watching them. A little while later I made my way home, filled with the sense that I had shared in something marvellous. I have no idea how long the cow and I were together. As I thought about it later, time had fallen away. Everything seemed to have happened within a quiet stillness.

A very ancient way of speaking about meditation is to call it the practice of stillness.

The practice of stillness doesn’t mean being physically still, though physical stillness is an important support for the practice. And stillness doesn’t mean the absence of thoughts. Good luck with that!

Stillness is about how we meet our thoughts. Stillness means stilling the activity of the thinking mind — how it reacts to thoughts and chats to itself about them.

Very simply, when we meditate, we focus our whole attention on saying our prayer word and following our breath. Whenever we notice that we have become distracted by a thought, a feeling or some content of experience and have started chatting to ourselves about them, we simply return our attention to our practice. This is all we do. By this simple means, the mind becomes progressively more still, and awareness opens.

Stillness helps bring us to interior peace. And stillness clears a space in which we can know. “Be still and know that I am God” we hear the Psalmist sing.[1]

A second century document called the Protogospel of James[2], beautifully expresses how stillness and knowing, stillness and the blossoming of awareness are woven together.

While Mary waits in a cave, Joseph goes searching for a midwife, and as he enters a village, everything suddenly stops and becomes still. Joseph describes how he sees a bird overhead, stopped in its flight; a shepherd in a field who is dipping his bread into a bowl and his hand has halted half way to his mouth. In that moment everything is still. Then, movement begins again. And Joseph knows that the birth has happened, that everything has changed.

Sometimes circumstances seem to give us no option but to be fully immersed in what’s happening. Focus and stillness seem to arise quite naturally.

At other times it can take real courage at first to be still. It can be difficult if we are carrying pain; if we don’t see any goodness and value in ourselves; if we think other people don’t see any goodness or value in us; if we see ourselves as unacceptable or unlovable for some reason.

It can be difficult at first if we have been given the very strange (very un-Christian) idea that we might not be acceptable in God’s eyes.

In meditation we learn to still our busy minds and let go of our stories about ourselves and life. We learn to let go of how we see things, and allow ourselves to be brought into the light of how God sees things — which can come as quite a surprise.

As we come to see ourselves in the loving-light of God’s gaze, we begin to see the pristine beauty of our deepest identity. As Julian of Norwich exclaimed, “I saw no difference between the divine substance and the human substance; it was all God.”[3]

A great many people (a great many Christians) find this almost impossible to believe. And even those who sense it might be true have to go forward in trust. God’s healing work takes place in the depths of our being, in silence, largely without our notice, although those who love us may notice.

Little by little, we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. We sense our inherent value and worth, and grow in compassion towards ourselves.

If we have spent years gripping tightly to critical pictures of ourselves, it may take seasons of practice and the loving support of others to help us loosen our grip and let go of them. But even to glimpse the radiant beauty of our being, changes everything. And we are given all we need for the journey

In meditation we are learning to know, to be at peace with, to love who we really are.

We are learning to see as God sees.

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This blog is adapted from the talk given by Chris Whittington during Saturday’s online practice group meeting.

A growing number of people of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs gather online to meditate each Saturday from 08:30–09:30 UK time. Each session includes a short talk, outline of the simple practice and 20 minutes of silent meditation. The last part allows for conversation and shared exploration of any questions that arise.

You will find the group welcoming, warm and supportive. If you don’t already come but might be interested in joining us, please
click this link. There is no charge.

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[1] Psalm 46:10.

[2] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gospel_of_James

[3] Julian of Norwich: The Showings, translated by Mirabai Starr (Canterbury Press, 2014), p. 149.

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