“It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.” ― Annie Dillard
Only twice in my life can I say that I had the sense of someone looking into my soul through my eyes. One was back in 1991 with an elderly woman who was a Holocaust survivor. She was unquestionably a mystic, a person whose life was highly porous to the spiritual world. She had suffered greatly in her life. A priest I knew connected me with her, and offered me an opportunity to pray alone with her. It was at once terrifying and thrilling.
She took my hands into hers and prayed for me to God the Father. As she prayed, she mentioned in vivid detail an event from my childhood that was very difficult and, looking in my eyes, said, “God wants you to know He saw what happened to you and was with you. And wants you to know that He will bring great good from what you suffered. But first you must forgive and you must give it to Him. Only then can He bring good from it.” Then she said, “Through the cross to the Father.”
Needless to say, I was stunned and shaken. I had never encountered anything like this in my life. But what stood out most to me was that awareness of being “seen into,” of being known in such detail. How can I best describe it? It was like the feeling of being intensely loved by someone who really cares about you, and having them ask you to reveal some painful memory to them. You feel safe letting them in, not violated or ashamed, even though you’re absolutely vulnerable.
And to receive counsel to “let go and forgive” from a woman who had endured what she did?
When I shared this with my spiritual director later, he said, “Well, remember, mystics simply remind us in an extraordinary way what is already ordinarily the case. Granting God admittance to your deepest self and allowing Him to see you is prayer. He doesn’t want to know facts about you, He wants to know you. To get into your stuff and just be with you. If you give it over, as she said, He can recycle the raw materials of your soul into treasures that enrich others.”
Then he said, “Now all that’s nice, but it’s had its effect. Let it go. Don’t focus on the extraordinary details and do the hard work of the cross now. And remember, this didn’t happen because you’re special, but because the people who rely on you having your act together are…”