One of the principal truths of Christianity a truth that goes almost unrecognized today, is that looking is what saves us.
One of the prominent turns in contemporary theology has involved the call for a renewed relationship between Christian spirituality and socio-political concerns. This renewal has been described in various ways in terms of the unity between mysticism and politics (Edward Schillebeeckx), contemplation and prophecy (Gustavo Gutierrez), mysticism and resistance (Dorothee Soelle), the mystical and prophetic (David Tracy), in terms of being a contemplative in liberation (Leonardo Boff) or a contemplative in action for justice (Ignacio Ellacuría).1 Each of these pairings represents an attempt to bring traditional resources of Christian spirituality into conversation with urgent social, political, and economic issues in the world today. The German political theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, has also contributed to this discussion insisting on the importance of both the “mystical and political”2 in Christian spirituality and has described a “face seeking mysticism”3 or a “mysticism of open eyes”4 as the proper Christian response to a suffering world. Writing from El Salvador, Jon Sobrino has argued that “mysticism and politics, the transcendent and the historical, can and must converge” and that this convergence occurs in the cultivation of a spirituality that is honest with the reality of oppression and unjust suffering in the third world.5
In this essay, I consider the theologies of Metz and Sobrino as attempts to cultivate a mysticism of open eyes in response to a suffering world.6 According to Metz, a mysticism of open eyes “sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and—convenient or not—pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it . . .”7 This mysticism involves both awakening to the reality of suffering in the world and
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responding to this suffering in terms of a praxis of responsibility for those who suffer unjustly. Metz and Sobrino utilize the parable of the Good Samaritan as the paradigmatic example of the mysticism of open eyes in which the Samaritan responds to the wounded victim lying on the side of the road with compassion (Metz) or mercy (Sobrino). Because Metz and Sobrino describe the response of the Samaritan as visceral and immediate, I also explore the critical question of which embodied practices or spiritual exercises enable a person to see a suffering world and respond to it with compassion. Specifically, I analyze the practice of silent, wordless prayer as an often overlooked, but nevertheless important resource for the development of this open-eyed mysticism by engaging the work of Sarah Coakley and Simone Weil. Weil’s reflections on the relationship between prayer and socio-political action are particularly relevant for this essay because, as David Tracy has observed, “she was the foremost predecessor of all the recent attempts—in political and liberation theologies and more recently in many other new forms of Christian thought—to reunite the mystical and prophetic strands of the Christian tradition into a coherent mystical-prophetic philosophy and theology.”8
The argument of this essay proceeds in three sections. First, I describe the encounter with experiences of suffering in history that led both Metz and Sobrino to focus their theologies on the problem of suffering and call for an open-eyed or awake spirituality. In the second section, I examine Metz’s and Sobrino’s analyses of the significance of the parable of the Good Samaritan as a description of an authentic Christian response to suffering in the world. In the third section of this essay I analyze the significance of contemplative prayer as a spiritual exercise which possesses the capacity to cultivate this mysticism of open eyes by examining the reflections of Sarah Coakley and Simone Weil on the socio-political implications of prayer. The end purpose of this essay is to affirm the centrality of the mysticism of open eyes, while also pointing to the significance of a mysticism of closed eyes as a resource for political and liberation spiritualities.
Metz and Sobrino...