Let’s begin today by looking at a painting. It’s called “The General’s Family” and it’s by the Mexican painter Octavio Ocampo. At first glance, it might seem like an ordinary painting, the profile of a man with a white beard. But look again. In fact, keeping looking. Can you find the NINE faces hidden in the painting? At the end of this reflection, I’ll tell you where all nine faces are in case you couldn’t find them all.
How important it is in life to look again. Jamake Hightower, a Blackfoot Indian, wrote, “You must learn to look at the world twice if you wish to see all there is to see.” Looking twice. I like that. I’ve had numerous occasions where I needed to look again to see what was really there. Here’s a concrete example.
In the 1980s I was studying at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Every day I had to take two buses to get from the Benedictine Priory where I lived to the University on the Bluff. This meant I had to stand in downtown Pittsburgh and wait for my second bus. The street where I stood was not a pleasant place to be. It had several bars and establishments that featured “adult” entertainment. I was wearing the habit in those days, and occasionally a passerby would make a crude remark to me. (I’ve heard the street was eventually “cleaned up.”)
One day I was standing there when I saw three young men walking towards me. They were very “scruffy looking.” Immediately I felt myself tense up. I just knew they were going to say something nasty to me as they passed. But when they got close to me, the middle young man smiled and said, “Hi, Sister Melannie!” I was shocked. I had no idea who he was. Seeing my lack of recognition he said, “It’s me,” and he gave his name. As soon as he said his name, I recognized him. He was the young man who had worked part-time in the priory kitchen the year before. I smiled and, saying his name, I said, “How nice to see you again. How are you?” And we had a good chat. But I had to look again—beneath the scruffy exterior—to see the pleasant young man I knew.
It’s important to look again at our life every day. We must look again at our spouse, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our co-workers, our clients, our community members. We must look again at our house, our parish, our neighborhood, our religious congregation. We must look again at the choices and decisions we are making. At all times we must resist the temptation to think, by looking once, we have seen all there is to see.
Looking twice is not a new idea. Jesus advocated this practice many times. “Consider the
lilies of the field,” he said. What he was really saying was, “Look again at the lilies. Don’t pass them by. Don’t take them for granted. See them more deeply for what they are: a sign of God’s exquisite love and tender care for you.”
Jesus also said to look again at people. By his word and example, he taught if you look again you will see that Roman soldiers can be kind even to their servants… tax collectors are worthy of salvation… Samaritans can be filled with compassion… women can be intelligent conversationalists and possess incredible loyalty… children can be models of trust and faith.
When we are struggling with an individual, maybe we can pray something like this: “Dear Lord, give me a new way of seeing him (her).” Or if we’re facing a difficult situation, we can pray, “Jesus, help me to see this situation with fresh eyes.” By looking again, by looking twice, we may see the person or the situation more clearly.
Did you find the nine faces? Here they are:
- the large head of the man
- the man carrying the walking stick
- the lady
- the baby
- the woman’s profile above the right column
- the mirror image of #5 above the left column
- another profile opposite #6
- another profile directly above #6 (the bird forms the nose and forehead)
- face looking towards you in the extreme left, to the side of #8
The song today is an old one by the Dameans. It’s called “Look Beyond.” Although it is a Eucharistic song, the song’s title “look beyond” can be another way of saying “look again.”
Did you find the nine faces in the painting?
Did anything stand out for you in this reflection?
Have you ever had the experience of seeing someone or something in a whole different way when you looked again?
Feel free to respond below. My readers tell me how much they enjoy reading the comments each week!
PS: I will be leading a retreat at St. Mary of the Pines in Chatawa, Mississippi from June 18-24. Once again I ask for your prayers for all the retreatants–and for me! Thank you very much!
Great reflection Sr. Melannie! I am dealing with a person who has a very different point of view politically from me. I am going to try to give her a second look.
God bless you. Praying your retreat goes well.
Good morning, Sr. Melannie. No, I did not find all nine faces, but when you pointed them out, I said to myself, “Of course, of course!” I have a friend who teaches a psychology, and when I showed her the picture, she said she’d like to include it in her sensation and perception unit. Yes, we must look deeper, longer, with a discerning eye. Like the faces in the painting, God is often hidden in plain sight. Prayers for your retreat, and the Cavs. They still live!
Mel, that photo is unique and a great way of inspiring one to taking a second look at persons and situations…to truly grasp the reality or open our heaerts……..to better involvememt or acceptance …..thank you
I used to have a negative impression of someone. Fortunately I took another look and have learned so much from this talented, compassionate woman. By the way, I graduated from Duquesne! A great experience!
This is wonderful! Your experience of meeting the young man you didn’t recognize at first and then being able to see beyond the scruffy exterior to see the person you knew was a practical, relatable analogy. It made the point! Thanks for the reminder. Love the song too.
Wonderful practical example of what we are all challenged to do!
Fifty years of priesthood have brought many opportunities to get a wrong first impression of people. I rejoice over every time I have been proven wrong, seeing a completely different person, by looking again, a little deeper.
Thank you for this exercise in slowing down enough to ignore all the trappings in daily life that distract us from really noticing God’s handiwork in nature & people we often overlook or judge. As I reflect on your words, I will add this prayer request for strength & grace from the Holy Spirit to help me pay better attention & “look” at what/who is before me each day.
Thanks for another inspiring insight to start my day! You are so right – we need to slow down, take a second (careful) look, and not be too quick to judge. May the Holy Spirit help us all!
Thanks, again, Sr. Melannie.
Yes, I’ve had the experience a few times of knowing someone who I didn’t care for, then some time went by, and I made their acquaintance later in life. As I came to know them better, (and probably we have both changed and become more accepting of others?) and found that I actually LIKE the person, and we have become friendly. Always take another look.