HUDDLED in a sodden tent with my best friend’s family, wind howling like a ravenous dog on the shoreline, I was pretty sure I’d never see my parents again.
At age nine, I hadn’t yet realised that rain doesn’t cause tsunamis, and so it only took about four seconds for the first bolt of lightning across the sea to convince me that this camping trip would end in certain death.
The more terrifying thing, though – the thing that made my blood run cold – was that I had forgotten what my parents looked like.
After a mere two days away from home, I was drawing a blank – how did Dad smile? What colour were Mum’s eyes again?
Miraculously, I had packed a photo, and it was this I clung to as I fell asleep, reassured that, should I perish before morning, I had at least seen their faces one last time.
We survived the saturated camping trip. But it wasn’t the last time I felt my blood chill at the thought that I couldn’t remember what my parents looked like.
Now living overseas for the fourth year in a row, I’m grateful for the technologies my parents and I rely on: digital photo albums stretching from my childhood to this Christmas; easy access to Skype and Facetime.
But there’s still a barrier – the stagnancy of the photos, the indirectness of eye contact through a webcam.
There’s an extent to which, like the photo I clung to on a stormy night in 2006, they can never serve the same purpose as the real faces of the ones I love.
Eye contact confirms our humanity.
We acknowledge that others exist when we meet their eyes.
We connect with them, perhaps even at the level of empathy or intimacy.
Rehearsing for the Sound of Music in Year 12, the director forced my co-actor and me to spend 10 minutes in unflinching eye contact until we stopped giggling at how awkward we felt.
Eye contact links souls.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Gospels repeatedly draw our attention to Jesus’ eyes?
From “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” (Mark 10:21) to “Jesus turned and saw her,” (Matthew 9:22) to “Jesus looked intently at them” (Luke 20:17) we have the chance to journey with an observant, present God.
He looks, and sees, and meets our gaze.
He confirms the dignity of our humanity, and connects intimately with it.
For me, the eye contact of Christ remains one of the most compelling aspects of the Incarnation.
As much as a Skype date with or crumpled photo of a loved one appeases something of the need for human contact within us, it cannot rival the intimate connection we discover with someone who, in the flesh, gazes upon us with love.
It’s why Eucharistic Adoration is so powerful: we look at Him looking at us, loving us.
It’s why I love reading through the Gospels with the specific intention of tracing Jesus’ eye contact: we see that he sees us.
And we see how he sees others.
If we spend our lives relying on spiritual photographs – foggy memories of that time we gave our life to Jesus, or “caricature-ish” notions of a God who can’t really journey intimately with us – we deny ourselves the fullness of relationship.
My parents visited a few weeks ago, and I caught myself from time to time just watching them as they moved around a room.
They were really there (three-dimensional and everything!), and they were captivating.
On those days when God’s feeling a bit distant, don’t settle for Skype – go be with Him face-to-face.
Eye contact reminds us of His three-dimensional love.
Kate Gilday is a university student and youth leader in the Brisbane archdiocese. Her dream is to write for the Catholic Church.