Contemplating Jesus Among Us
It is interesting to note that on the Seventh Day of the Octave of Christmas (December 31) just before the beginning of the civil year (January 1) the Gospel reading comes from John (1:1 – 18). This Gospel reading narrated how the Word who is God was with God in eternity, how the whole universe was created through the Word, how the Word incarnated into flesh and how his own people rejected him. It tells us that John the Baptist recognized him and proclaimed him to the world as the Lamb of God. Indeed, it is a fitting lesson for the transition of the year because it reminds us that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things.
I would like to point out an important term used by the evangelist in describing the attitude of those who truly saw the Lord in contrast to those who rejected him. In John 1:14 we learned that "the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." The word used by John (Jn. 1, 14) was "Theaomai" (θεαομαι). This word is usually translated as "to see or to look." However, it has a deeper nuance depending on the context of the passage. In its more emphatic sense, this word can be understood as looking at things in a longer and deeper way or intently. The Gospel of John used this word in its stronger sense describing that those who have seen the glory of the Lord are those people who gave Jesus a "long, intent and deep look."
Two years ago during a seminar about spiritual direction, the facilitator mentioned about "contemplation" as a "long loving look at the real." For me it was a novel way of defining contemplation, which I often associated with the ecstatic and mystical experiences of the saints. In this definition, contemplation is considered an attitude, a way of looking at life with the intention of giving it a long and loving look so that in this manner the person is actively searching for God. It is giving time to the beloved in a manner that is gentle and not in a harried manner. Rather, it is a look of a lover intent on loving and enjoying the moments spent with the beloved.
In fact, the concept of contemplation as "long loving look at the real" is a modern way of describing "theaomai" as described in the first chapter of John. Those who gave Jesus a long and intent look were able to recognize his glory as the Word incarnate. This is in opposition to those who also looked at Jesus but it an inimical way like what the Pharisees did.
There are many instances in our lives that God manifested himself but often we missed him because we have not gazed upon him lovingly and intently. I remember one incident in my life that I considered as a sort of Epiphany.
A few years ago, I was a missionary volunteer in an orphanage. I came to the orpahange convinced that I would be the giver only to realize that I was in fact the recipient. In the orphanage, I was used to be very irritated with Jonel, whom I saw as an attention grabber and a real menace. Yet after learning his life story, I began to understand why he behaved in such a way. I devoted time daily to talk and play with him. Even if at times, I was drained me of energy, I felt happy when I saw him having fun.
One evening in the month of December, when the children had just been lavished by benefactors with gifts of clothes, toys and sweets, Jonel approached me in the TV room. I thought he was up to some mischief again. He took me by the hand and led me outside, and then extracted a small package from his pocket and handed it to me. "Kuya Deo," (Brother Deo) he said, "This is for you. You are my best friend." Inside the package were the best imported chocolates and candies he had saved during the entire week. That little gesture was a God-experience for me. Here was a boy showing me what true love meant— a love ready to deny one's own satisfaction for the sake of someone who was unworthy of it all. At such a young age, and with his burden of being abandoned and past tragic experiences, Jonel was able to show that true love meant the readiness to "die" to one's own self. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my mission.
My stay with the children in the orphanage was a struggle filled with many occasions of frustrations and difficulties. My first weeks in the orphanage proved to be a severe test to my resolve. The children's noise, their constant bickering, their tantrums, mood swings, and sudden flare of tempers made me feel miserable. Having been raised in a relatively peaceful home, I was taught as a child that shouting and quarreling were signs of bad manners, that answering back one's elders was disrespectful, and that a good child obeyed his/her elders. The behavior of the children in the orphanage was the complete opposite of what I had been taught as a child. I once intervened in a fight over toys by telling the children to talk out their differences among themselves. Instead of pacifying them, their quarrel escalated into intense bouts of shouting and cursing that were eventually directed to me. After that, I noticed that the children were distant and cold towards me. I felt unwelcome and unfit for the job. In this tension-filled environment I started to get sad, finding the daily routine almost unbearable. I wanted to go home. I began thinking that the children needed stricter discipline and punishment, if necessary, to make them behave. I thought I was assessing the situation correctly but, in fact, I was lost in the jungle of my own emotions and crumbling paradigms.
My stay in the orphanage was a transforming experience propelling me to see Jesus among the least and forsaken. Indeed, the words of John came alive for me that I was able to gaze into the unfolding presence of God among us. In a way, I can say that as I looked intently at the past events of my life I was able to see Jesus... to love himů be grateful for the past... and hopeful for the future. Better still by giving Jesus a long and loving look I was able to realize how real and true he is in my life and in the lives of others.