“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that “the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and evil in every place”. St Benedict goes on to say that we should believe this even more strongly when we are at prayer so that we may be wholehearted in that essential activity of the human person – with mind and voice in harmony.
God has the ‘right’ to look at everything going on in creation but it is exercised for our good, to assist us in coming to that state of integration in which we can become one with God. For our part we should imitate God but not try to compete. This is where people overstepped the mark at Babel and not only brought down their great observation tower but became incomprehensible to each other. Like Babel like Prism. The American surveillance system, whose unlimited applications have been recently exposed by a young conscience-driven operative, seeks to be able to see everything that is going on – not only the evil that men do in plotting terrorist crimes but the good they do in chatting with family and friends – because, who knows?, the evil might be hiding behind the good.
While security is a good in that it protects the innocent it is also a necessary evil. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? No better example exists today of the need for the custodians to be accountable and to be controlled. Security, however, claims to be the new infallibility and just as the rich part of ourselves always wants more so the power-full part is never satisfied. Any law can be broken in the name of security.
The rich young man in the gospel who was asking Jesus for the way of eternal life imagined that it was something else he could add to his portfolio. When Jesus pointed out that it was only to be found by dispossession, the vulnerability of letting go, he left confused and sad. And also, perhaps, angry at the ‘good master’ – just as those who expand their unfettered intrusion into the lives of others are enraged by suggestions that their efforts to achieve peace by denying freedom are counter-productive – apart from simply being wrong.
In medieval theology there was a part of the inmost heart that the devil could never pry into. He had limited powers of observation and had to do the best he could to devise his stratagems for undermining the individuals. But in the “cave of the heart’ there was no eye to observe except the benevolent and caring mind of God. Solitude is an integral element of human dignity – even more significant to our well-being than the “political right to privacy”. What is at stake here is nothing less than the soul.
After a great national sporting victory (as for the Scots and their fellow Brits at Wimbledon this week) the media chatter is all about the soul of the nation – soul often being mistaken for moods, good or bad. Certainly we respond with a strong collective instinct at times – the mourning over Princess Diana or the Twin Towers – but the soul is something more subtle than even the strongest or noblest feeling. There are moments – that can now be broadcast and magnified by the media that communicate a message, globally and instantly, that awaken an unprecedented sense of communion among those receiving it. The first two minutes of Pope Francis on the balcony after his election must rank as a historical milestone in such events. But the soul is still more than that.
We don’t know how to describe the soul but we know what it is. It is anyway about being a subject – a free person with the strange human blend of autonomy and interdependence – not an object. Prism, like the medieval Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, or the Stasi, polluted the soul of their people by a blasphemous attempt to replace the eye of God with human omniscience.
In fact as St Benedict, whose Feast is another cause to celebrate this week, well knew it’s not just about God watching us from a great height. His eye is not a cold roving camera but a gaze of heart-opening affection. Immersed in this gaze and becoming more conscious under its influence we learn trustingly to return it – and so move into the heart of all reality which is the reciprocal love of the community we call the Trinity. There is no need for secrecy in the solitude of the heart because there we discover that universal friendship already exists. Once the mystery of love has been seen at work there is no more need for secrecy and paranoia. We discover that while suspicion may make us feel safer, trust makes us feel much better.
Laurence Freeman OSB
Laurence Freeman is a Benedictine and the Director of The World Community for Christian Mediation. His daily readings for Lent are available online: www.wccm.org