Windows into the Soul
“Anyone who has looked upon the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help will notice her eyes so sadly sweet,” gazing at us, while the child Jesus turns his upon the cross that one of the angels is carrying. Eyes are the windows into the soul, as
many would say, but to encounter Our Blessed Mother and her steady, inquiring gaze, is an invitation to look into our own. As much as her eyes plead for her Son, they ask something
more of us.”
Anyone who has looked upon the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help will notice “her eyes so sadly sweet, gazing at us, while the child Jesus turns his upon the cross that one of the angels is carrying. Eyes are the windows into the soul, as many would say, but to encounter Our Blessed Mother and her steady, inquiring gaze, is an invitation to look into our own. As much as her eyes plead for her Son, they ask something more of us.
For most of us who embark on the traditional nine-week novena to Our Blessed Mother, we are seeking her intercession for our petitions, which are often desperate. In that sense, we are asking for the help of our most gracious advocate, to bring our needs closer to God. And so it was that I ended up at Novena Church for the first time this year with two petition letters for my friends, and absolutely no idea how a devotion might work. Frankly, it took me a long time to get there and since God sees everything, I might as well admit that I was half hearted and full of excuses (it’s so far away, I can pray at home, I go to Sunday mass anyway). But because God sees right through us, and knows I am a compulsive micromanager of my schedule, somehow, I found myself between two meetings that required me to go up on the red MRT line, which is where Novena Church is. Meeting her eyes for the first time, in that intensely personal way in the Prayer Garden, would be the start of many encounters. What I’ve since realised is that when we bring our needs to Mother Mary, we offer up, at the same time, our heart and minds to our Lord Jesus, and so free ourselves to return to our lives, refreshed and strengthened. In a reversal of the usual sequence, I ended up writing a thanksgiving letter first – my petitions are still underway—but it was I who needed healing to begin with.
What kind of teacher was Mary? And what kind of educator can we be, following her example? We are more accustomed to thinking of Jesus as a teacher, among the elders in the temple, and later, speaking to the crowds who were drawn to him. Unlike our usual understanding of the classroom teacher who is the focus of everyone’s attention, Mary seems exceptionally silent. At the Annunciation and at the foot of the cross, she is often waiting, with deep patience and in quiet grace. If I can venture an opinion, Mary is the teacher who uses silence, not as a threat, but as an invitation for us students to reconsider how we are, and who we are. By extension, an educator in her example is someone who demonstrates an intentional, and at times, provocative listening.
Perhaps Mary’s gaze is not quite the death-stare we give that one student who habitually comes in late, but she reminds us that we have aspirations for our students that go beyond task-performance and academic learning. I wonder how often our questions (or our jokes) reach into a dimension of learning that touches the soul with all its living curiosity, its desire for knowledge and understanding; and a smiling sense of play. Just as the timetabled lesson does, the rosary, the devotion and the mass must end, though the icon of Mary and our prayers remain timeless. And so, we send our students away, and as educators we return again to the classroom, to do God’s work with words generously leavened with the most inviting silence.