Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Custody of the Eyes

One of the themes left over from the blogging workshop at the March meeting of the FWCC Section on the Americas is one Friend's writing about how she practices "custody of the eyes" by which she means trying not to look up every time aFriend enters Meeting for Worship.

RantWoman could be predicted to bounce from custody of anything either to tirades about the prison industrial complex or to meditations on sundered spouses' disputes about the children they have in common.

But custody of the eyes in RantWoman's case has whole other dimensions. First, let us consider the, cough, highly entertaining natual state of RantWoman's eyes:


The Reader's Digest version: RantWoman's eyes are an adventure in their own right. They have been so all of RantWoman's life, but approaching middle age and DNA lotto have added hitherto undreamed-of thrills and spills. Under the circumstances, "custody" of anything in the eyeball realm would be vanity.

RantWoman has a lifetime of experience recognizing people by their gait, shape, and a combination of features much cruder than facial characteristics. It would not even occur to RantWoman to suppress the reflexes such as they still are in the direction of recognizing people, not only because her eyes would never stand for it, but also because the sight of every person coming through the door is a fresh opportunity for prayerful appreciation, reflection, fondness or a raft of other emotions related to sharing our experiences of God within Meeting for Worship.

Here is the other part of RantWoman's problem with "custody of the eyes." It is at times physically painful for RantWoman to sit in the worship room. There are two issues here. One relates to the pointless, headache-inducing reflex of trying to focus despite the fact that RantWoman cannot, despite the fact that we added grey chairs to a grey room just to enhance the general level of visual fog. The other issue relates to light. RantWoman is happier in as much daylight as she can get. However, her pupils do not adjust normally to changed light conditions under the best circumstances and the high narrow band of windows in the worship room present a constant sharp distinction between bright and dark that is especially difficult. Strangely enough this problem is worse on cloudy days when the worship room is comparatively dark and the outdoor light especially full of glare.

Focusing on something close up such as Sudoku helps RantWoman settle into worship, prevents headaches, and generally improves her ability to participate as a worshipper. Sometimes this involves finishing a puzzle she has been working on on the bus. RantWoman considers many elements of bus experience part of worship: the exercise of walking to and from stops, the people RantWoman meets and talks to, the general Sunday crowd of people going to different houses of worship and sometimes other events more stressful and considerably more in need of worshipful energy.

RantWoman is clear that neither daily eye issues nor every element of life on the bus belong in meeting for worship in spoken form every Sunday. For one thing, RantWoman might find it alarmingly easy to channel slam poetry, some old-testament prophet or John Woolman. RantWoman is open, to a point, to information about others' worship experience and her impact on it. RantWoman is aware that other people knit, sew, read, warble tunelessly and probably do a whole bunch of other annoying things she blessedly cannot see during Meeting for Worship. RantWoman has learned that lots of what goes on in Meeting for Worship does not need her attention and yet it still feels important to make the effort every week to come and be part of corporate worship. RantWoman spends a lot of time in the rest of life filtering inputs and sometimes appreciate the skill when the experience extends to Meeting for Worship.

RantWoman has another blunter perspective: someone distressed by another person doing Sudoku needs to ask themselves whether someone else doing sudoku is the worst problem in their life. If the answer is no, they almost certainly should focus on their other problems; if the answer is yes, maybe they should say a prayer of gratitude that that is the biggest problem they have. Then they should return to step two and focus on things they can affect, either that or say a general prayer for all the needs and challenges of people on the bus and all the ways many of them trundle bravely on.

But perhaps the proper response, before unleashing full RantWoman rant mode would be "well, Friend, how does 'custody of the eyes' help you worship?"

1 comment:

  1. Hi. For anyone who's interested, the original post on custody of the eyes is available here: http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2006/12/custody-of-eyes.html Several of the commenters on that post were not at all in favor of the practice.

    For me, the idea was more an opportunity to experiment with a physical form of spiritual discipline than a clear leading to do it or not. I think it is important to me that I can choose to look up or not, rather than it being a reflex. Do I allow myself to be distracted from my focus on God in meeting for worship by every little noise or movement? And I don't have a lot of self-discipline in most things, so this was a small chance to try it out. I think I became more conscious of my tendency to let anything distract me in worship. I haven't overcome that tendency but I think I'm getting better.

    Sudoku don't tempt me at all. I only like the very easy ones because they are over quickly. But I could see how they could become a means to collect oneself, like reciting a mantra or the rosary. It's all in your attitude, whether you're washing dishes or doing puzzles or contemplating scripture.