We loathe the moment when our conversation partner looks distractedly over our shoulder. Or fidgets with his keys. Or gives the appearance of listening, but with her eyes empty as clouds, her thoughts elsewhere.
We long for eye contact. We were made for face-to-face.
The biblical psalms acknowledge the deeply relational nature of life in YHWH’s company. In their finest moments—whether out of strength or shattering weakness—the pray-ers of these prayers seek the Lord’s face. And they long for him to look back at them, divine attentiveness proving sufficient for a world of needs.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! (Psalm 27:7–9 ESV)
Relationship brings with it a terrifying right of refusal. We can look away. Pretend not to see. Humiliate with inattention. Not return the call.
This awesome power is written into the architecture of interaction between persons. We can kill with it, exercising our right to refuse eye contact, our right to fail to notice.
Or we can give life with it, laying aside the busy thing or the lingering wound, and making eye contact. The psalms are full of the fear that the Lord might hide his face. The same literature rejoices when he lifts his eyes to greet those who need him most, indeed when he lifts their face so that intimate conversation can take shape.
In this same psalm, the writer sketches out the quiet beauty of such habitual communion as the object of his most energetic quest:
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:4–5 ESV)
Inquiry and response, contemplation and conversation. The person who knows such intimacy with YHWH wants never to lose it.
The worst outcome, one imagines, is to give up on the whole conversation. To stop seeking YHWH’s face. To decide, in bitter silence, that he doesn’t see. Doesn’t speak. Doesn’t care.
Against that dead stop, this assurance:
Though my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will take me in. (Psalm 27:10 JPS)