Aug 28 2011

3 Ways to View the Sunset

Yesterday I received a box of books in the mail from Amazon.  Two of the books I purchased were by Richard Rohr.  I have never read anything by this author but recently I keep coming across his name in other books and magazines so I decided to buy a couple of his books.  One of the books I purchased is called The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  When I was looking through this book I noticed that  there was a chapter called “Three Ways to View the Sunset.”  I knew right away I had to read it.

In this chapter Rohr discusses a variety of ways a person can experience a sunset.  Some, he says, see the physical beauty and enjoy the event in itself.  Others, he says, also enjoy the physical beauty but go on to employ reason and view it through imagination, intuition and reason.  Still others are able to see the sunset with both these capacities but also remain “in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness” that connect them with everything else. Rohr refers to this as the “third eye” which “is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing.”

In medieval times names were given to these three ways of seeing by Hugh of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor.  “The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation).”   It should be obvious that what is being discussed here transcends just viewing God’s Creation.  It takes in far more.  Still, I think that there are, indeed, different levels of seeing Creation and that we should strive to incorporate all three levels in our experience.

Rohr writes at one point: “If people have ignored the first and the second eyes, their hold on the third eye is often temporary, shallow, and incapable of being shared with anybody else.  We need true mystics who see with all three sets of eyes, not eccentrics, fanatics, or rebels.  The true mystic is always both humble and compassionate, for she knows that she does not know.”  If we want to truly “see” Creation we will need to use all three ways of seeing.  First, we must make good use of our senses (something we don’t always do).  Second, we should take the time to learn about what we are seeing.  Third, if we are wise we will also go on to make ourselves open to the God who is in, behind and above Creation.  We will not just use our senses and mind to experience Creation, we will also engage the soul.

A hymn I have sung since childhood is “Open My Eyes That I May See” by Clara H. Scott.  Although the words transcend seeing Creation, I feel that when we find ourselves in nature we might be wise to sing: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”  Doing so might very well make viewing sunsets, waterfalls, flowers, wildlife, or any other part of God’s Creation a truly marvelous occasion.  Doing so we may well see far more than we ever have before.


(Above I’ve included three sunset images I have taken.  The top one was photographed at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The middle one was taken on the banks of the Mississippi River in western Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken at Hensley Settlement in Cumberland Gap NHP.)