I am a little bit vertically challenged. Other than performing the occasional circus act on our kitchen countertops, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. (I can reach the clutch of my 5-speed SUV just fine, thank you very much.) In fact, there has been just one period of time when I was consistently aware of my height (or lack thereof). In my first “real” job just after college, I worked as an administrative assistant in an office full of men. Very tall men, as I recall. I passed plenty of people in the hall while trotting around the suite all day, but it was a while before I knew their faces better than their silk ties! It was kind of strange to constantly aim a smile, nod, or hello at a passing suit coat or shirtsleeve – basically as high as I could direct my eyes in the time it took to brush by – instead of a human face.
In reading a familiar passage from Psalms over the weekend, I was once again struck by the imagery of the face of God. It’s one of those phrases that has made its way from Scripture into the common dictionary of Christianese, but really, what an intimate thing to contemplate. For it is in the course of looking someone in the face that the transition from knowing about to knowing takes place. Sure, you can observe a distinct voice, a muscular arm, or an item of clothing that proclaims fabulous taste, but you don’t really know someone until you spend some time face-to-face.
The Old Testament is full of things about God – His power, holiness, and other attributes – but it is His face that is a very personal symbol of presence and relationship. His people are commanded to seek it; by turns its fearsome glory is hidden and revealed to them; in anguish they beg God not to turn it away. 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 tell how that in Christ, the barriers that prevented God’s people from looking into His glorious face are gone; in their place is a beckoning to gaze openly, to know intimately. What a thought! But before I can get caught up in its rapture, I am confronted with the reality that, too often, I do not avail myself of the invitation.
What are the things that keep us from looking into the face of a dear one? I think of the shame and defiance of a little child, turning away from his mother. I think of the hubbub that distracts a couple of friends as they attempt to engage in a busy environment. I think of the familiarity that causes one family member to pass over the face of another without really pausing to contemplate it as an object. I think of the awed shyness of a girl, averting her eyes from the open, honest tenderness in the eyes of her lover when it is just too much to comprehend.
I think that, at different times, these could all apply to me in my relationship with Jesus. A willingness to settle for knowing about, rather than knowing. Defiance that sometimes perpetuates my willfulness, and shame that retards confession and restoration. Distractions that keep me from catching more than a glimpse of Him throughout my day. Familiarity that, sadly, breeds contempt – or at least forgetfulness. An awe that is slow to explore the depths of the wondrous mystery that is His love for me.
By contrast, we remember the moments when peripheral things fade and we come to a full stop to gaze at another, face-to-face. Those moments are intense. Personal. Breathtaking. Worth savoring. They establish connections that, once formed, become something we crave to deepen. I want to hunger for that kind of relationship with my Savior; to not flit my gaze about at a hundred lesser things, but to stop and begin to know His glorious presence.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” (Helen H. Lemmel)