Custody of the Eyes

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There is a popular idea that is frequently referred to in recovery groups: take things one day at a time. Regardless of the addiction (choose your poison – alcohol, drugs, work, food, sex) it is imperative that one “stay on the wagon.” A year of sobriety may feel impossible, but a day is more manageable. I would add: if a day feels too long, take it hour by hour or even minute by minute – or even better, “thought by thought.”

It was Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church that wrote: and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Taking every thought captive may seem like a tall order, but it reminds us that salvation is a “way” of living, not a possession we carry around like some kind of membership card in the local gym.

Don’t “feel” saved? That’s OK. Feelings are overrated anyway. What is more important is that you continue to travel the way of salvation, step by step, thought by thought, and prayer by prayer. Again, it may seem an impossible task – impossible until we remember that it is not achieved by human strength, ingenuity, or resolve. It is accomplished only in and through Jesus Christ, living in and through us, so that we might be able to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5).

One spiritual discipline that can aid us on “the way” is paying closer attention to visual stimuli. There is an Irish Jesuit prayer site that says it better than I can:

Those who entered religious life as novices (in the days when there were lots of novices and noviciates) were introduced to a notion that nowadays may seem quaint: custody of the eyes. We were advised that in preparation for prayer it is useful to limit our exposure to distracting sights and sounds; in fact for the most part it would be useful to keep our eyes on the ground. In other words, we were warned against rubber-necking. This was at a time when there were fewer visual distractions than today: there was no TV or Internet, radios were limited to the living room at home, and newspapers carried few illustrations. With this in mind, look at your own day-by-day experience. Are you hungry for visual stimulation, or can you control what enters your mind via your eyes? Do you feel besieged by advertisements and seductive screens? Do you resist the siege, or, on the contrary, feel a hunger for distractions? (From Sacred Space)

Custody of the eyes. What would happen if we were to take such a notion seriously? In a previous post I alluded to the growing internet porn epidemic that is largely being ignored by the church. How can we reclaim our eyes for God? How can we be more intentional about all the visual stimuli that we allow into our homes via T.V., internet, books, and magazines?

The quote above seems to suggest that simply decreasing visual stimuli can be a good thing. No doubt this is true, but I would also argue that changing the types of images one dwells upon could be equally beneficial. Why does a computer screen seem to be more captivating than a sunset? Why are we more often on a couch in front of a T.V. then on a rock alongside a bubbling stream? For that matter, I am convinced that a generation hungry for visual stimulation should seek to rediscover an ancient church tradition that uses images, not as distraction, but precisely for the glorification and edification of believers. It is the practice of praying with Icons.

The Icon of the Trinity by Rublev above is one of my favorites. It is an image that, if given enough time, can broaden and deepen one’s prayer life and invite one into the mystery of God’s divine love. Try it. You may discover that praying with icons is one way the body of Christ can seek to regain “custody of the eyes.”

Click here for a guided meditation on this Icon.
Click here for a fuller history of interpretation (Make sure and scroll to the bottom and read the quote from Henri Nouwen).

For those that think porn is just a problem with men, check out this article entitled It’s a Women’s Problem, Too by Lauren F. Winner. Earlier this year, I read her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chasity which I would highly recommend for personal and group study.

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