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Custody of the Eyes: A Holy Viewing

October 7, 2020 by Claire K. McKeever-Burgett (Tennessee)
Peace of the Wild Thing, 2020 © Lanecia Rouse Tinsley


Finally, dear ones, wholly direct your thoughts to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous, and worthy of praise. Live according to what you have learned and accepted... Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8


In a recent Online Academy Day Apart Retreat, faculty person, Dr. Amy Oden, reminded us of the monastic idea of having “custody of the eyes,” which is a concept that reminds us that we have control over what we look at, what we consume.

As Paul reminds the Philippians, “wholly direct your thoughts to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous, and worthy of praise.”

In our current reality of binary, either/or thinking, of the ways differing politics and theologies get weaponized to keep us divided, this feels deeply challenging and therefore profoundly invitational.

What might it look like to feast our minds, hearts, eyes, ears on that which is beautiful and worthy of our respect? And how might this kind of intentional practice help us as we navigate the very real pain that exists in both our personal and communal lives?

To be very clear, this practice is not meant to bypass the pain and oppression that permeate our realities. Rather, this practice is meant to help us make space for the dancing and laughing, the beauty and the creativity, the joy and the love needed to bring about God’s kin-dom here on earth. And there’s no way to bring about God’s kin-dom without an acknowledgement of all of the ways our hearts break and all of the ways we are complicit in breaking others’ hearts each and every day.

This practice, then, is a both/and, it is a confession: While I am heartbroken and weary, I will still praise God, I will still celebrate beauty. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy, buoyant joy, comes in the morning.

Multidisciplinary artist, Lanecia Rouse Tinsley, whose painting, “Peace of the Wild Thing, 2020” is photographed above, invites us, through color, texture, and play, to feast our eyes on that which is beautiful. In my time learning from Lanecia I’ve experienced no other artist more attuned to beauty in the midst of all of life’s sorrows and joys than she. You can follow along with her beautiful work, spiritual practices, and creative endeavors here.

Take a few moments today, the only day we have, to spend some time with Lanecia’s painting in a visio divina or holy vision practice.

What feelings does “Peace of the Wild Thing” evoke in you? What story does it long to tell, and how might that story connect with a story deep within you? How does this holy viewing affect your breath, your heart, your mind, your body?

In our feasting on beauty, may God the Encourager, God the Creator, God the Peacemaker reflect back to us our own beauty for the sake of the world God so loves.


Claire McKeever-Burgett is the associate director of the Academy for Spiritual Formation.

Lanecia Rouse Tinsley is a multidisciplinary visual artist, speaker and workshop leader based in Houston, Texas. Learn more about Lanecia and her work at larartphotography.com.

For a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism, we invite you to visit UpperRoom.org/OvercomingRacism.


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Our resolve must be different. My prayer is that we have finally reached a tipping point. My hope is that when the protests fade and the marches slow that our will as a church to truly eradicate the scourge of racism won’t dissipate but grows even stronger.” 

View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.