Monday, June 10, 2013

Custody of the eyes

Last week, a friend posted a link to a blog post by Simcha Fisher over at the National Catholic Register.

Fisher wrote about "custody of the eyes," but not just in the sense of thinking impure thoughts. Instead, she talked about the temptation of snap-judging others for what you see as their failures. Here's a few graphs of it, because it's just too good to try and paraphrase:

"Many of us, men and women, could use practice keeping custody of the eyes when we're looking at someone whom we are NOT attracted to, lustfully otherwise -- someone whose dress or behavior we don't approve of. Lust isn't the only passion that needs reining in.

Here's an example. When I was shopping yesterday, I saw an enormously fat woman wearing short shorts and a cherry red shirt that was cut so low, it was hardly a shirt at all.  I mean, gravity was being disrupted.  Light was going there to die. Whatever you're picturing right now, it was more outrageous than that.  I mean!

So, as someone who takes modesty seriously, what did I do? I thought bad things about her. I jeered at her in my head. I imagined how annoyed I would be if I had had one of my young sons with me. I compared my weight with her weight. And I concluded that she --  not people like her, but she herself -- was what was wrong with America today.

This was all in a matter of a split second, of course. I didn't stand there gawping at her; and pretty quick, I caught myself. I made a conscious effort to think about something else, and I moved along. But if I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have moved along much sooner, because I need to protect myself -- not against lust, but against the sins of nastiness, cattiness, and disdain. If I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have just moved along automatically when I realized my weaknesses were being exposed.

But that's not the best I can do. How much better would it have been if I focused on protecting not only myself, but this woman: if, by long, well-established habits of charity in my thoughts, words, and deeds, I had found it very easy to see this woman simply as another child of God. This should be our goal whether we're gazing at someone who is immodest, or sloppy, or whose style is too trendy, or too pricey, or too pretentious, or old fashioned, or bizarre, or too anything."

I don't know if it's because I'd read Fisher's post earlier in the week -- I don't always get a chance to read her posts, but I usually enjoy them when I do, because she is is both funny and honest about faith and life -- but I found myself thinking of it several times over the past weekend when confronted with similar situations. 

First, I was at a store when an adult man (in his 30s or 40s) yelled at his mother for interrupting his tally of the cost of movies he was planning to buy. Somewhat horrified, my first thought was, "how rude is this man?" But what if he had some sort of developmental disability and couldn't control his outbursts?

Or when I was leaving another store and saw a woman with her three children in the wet parking lot. She had shoes on, but none of them did. My first thought was "How lazy, that's so dangerous," not, "Maybe they can't afford shoes."

Finally, yesterday at mass, the cell phone of a man several pews away went off during the reading of the Gospel, and he answered it (what?!) and had a brief conversation before hanging up. As I sat there, trying to focus on the reading, all I could think of was "don't judge him, you don't know what's going on....but couldn't he at least have taken it out into the narthex?" Mentioning it to my best friend later, she said wisely, "I try to give someone the benefit of the doubt when that happens. Maybe there was an emergency, or someone's in the hospital?"

I think we've all been there. We see someone wearing or doing something really inappropriate, and our first thought isn't to pray for them, but to ridicule, to judge, to gloat that we're superior and would never, ever do the same thing. But would we? We don't know circumstances, and Fisher's post reminded me of that. It's something I plan to remember in the future, too.

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