Hungry Eyes (The Lust of the Eyes and the Scrolling Culture)
In our culture, people are starving. Yet, they feast and feast, but still remain hungry. It is kind of like that old adage about eating Chinese food, where you eat it and a half hour later you’re hungry again. Maybe that’s just me – chubby, chubby me. I am talking, however, about a different spiritual malady than basic gluttony. Many of us remember that 80’s musical classic Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen. In that song he declares:
I’ve been meaning to tell you,
I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside,
I look at you and I fantasize,
You’re mine tonight
Now I’ve got you in my sights
With these hungry eyes
One look at you and I can’t disguise
I’ve got hungry eyes…
You might think I’m going to simply talk about lust in the sexual sense, but I’m not Matt Fradd (I could never be that dashing…or that Australian). I want to talk a little more about simply hungry eyes and what that means for us. Today, I saw a young couple talking to each other. The young lady would say what looked like kind words to her boyfriend, he’d smile and as he’d respond, the young lady would look down at her phone, and begin to scroll. After he was finished speaking, she would then look up, smile, respond, and then go back to her phone. The two of them shortly departed with a hug and a kiss, and without skipping a beat she was back to her phone as she walked away. Sound familiar? Here’s another story. I recently went for dinner with my wife, and as we sat there, I instinctively reached for my phone to check Facebook. What’s the newest cool thing happening? What’s the hot debate? Who commented on the picture of the food that I just took? I’m hungering for something, yet nothing satisfies. My beautiful wife right there, and I’m more interested in Buzzfeed? What the heck is wrong with me? I set the phone aside, but still felt the nagging desire to pick it up, just to check it. Chris has a problem.
Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat cash in, in a very particular way on this reality. It’s the quick fix to the hungry eye that is looking to devour something, anything. We love to see. We are truly a visually overstimulated culture. We can’t go to a regular restaurant without there being TVs everywhere. Our screens have gone from monstrously heavy entertainment boxes (remember those days), to fitting in our pockets. We binge watch Netflix like its our business. We scroll until there is nothing left and then we refresh the screen waiting for the newest thing to show up. We are ferociously bored, and try to inoculate ourselves with a hit off of the WiFi like a crack addict. You don’t need to fly to the Congo to see starving kids; go to a high school cafeteria and you will see crowds of young people starving for something. Yet, no matter how much we surf, scroll, watch, vine, snap or see, nothing ever satisfies. Our eyes become more and more hungry.
Pornography is an epidemic. That is abundantly clear. The multi-billion dollar industry makes their money on this very reality. It took off with the magazines. The magazines were made to be gazed and flipped through. The addiction began and the more dirty mags people would buy and stuff under their bed. With the introduction of the internet, the hungry eye could feast endlessly upon the flesh of the broken, hurting women in the industry and close their browser when done. Yet, the eyes began looking elsewhere first. Getting into pornography finds its roots in a person with hungry eyes. I know because I’ve been there and struggled with it.
Recently I was hanging with a group of non-Christian married guys, and we were driving downtown. The guys began checking out every single good looking woman going down the street, commenting “I’d tap that” or the equivalent. Frankly, at first it sickened me. I was the only one in the car actually seeing the spiritual implications. I remembered that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matthew 5:28). Yet, as I saw these guys lusting after these women that weren’t their wives, I looked at myself and thought, “How often do I do a double take when I see a good looking woman?” All I have to do is take stock of myself and I see that I too have hungry eyes, just like them, but to a different degree. Yet, we all have one thing in common – we’re hungry. But what is it that all of us are hungry for?
We hunger for the Beatific.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines the Beatific Vision as:
“the immediate knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven. It is called “vision” to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life. And since in beholding God face to face the created intelligence finds perfect happiness, the vision is termed “beatific”.
Our physical eyes, like or physical bodies, were made for the reality of being with God, seeing Him face to face. This is primarily a spiritual reality because God is spirit, however, our eyes were meant to gaze upon perfect beauty. Original sin and concupiscence have marred that reality for us. Yet as Catholics we believe that Christ, at the end of time, will raise our physical bodies from the dead, and unite our souls with them once more, but now, our bodies will be like His in a glorified, immortal state. God has always wanted to be united with us and to make us like Him. Our bodies have an eschatological dimension. Our eyes are meant to behold in wonder the sheer beauty of God in the Person of Jesus and that alone will be beyond all we have ever hungered for. Yet, what good does that do for us now as we live in this “vale of tears.”
The very vision of the Lord is the inheritance of the chaste. Jesus in the Beatitudes tells us that, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”. The lust of the eyes begins with a lust in the heart. We may not even be lustful of another. We can be lustful of another person’s position, state of life, possessions, status, experiences, etc. We fantasize about what it would be like to live another life, or have that certain thing. We can even look upon good things and want them selfishly, such as children, a good job, a future spouse, a perfect vocation. Even those seemingly good things, even if they relate to our vocations, can become idols for us, and turn our gaze away from the place where it belongs.
The Church in her wisdom has placed before us countless things of authentic beauty, not to simply amaze us, but to draw our hearts and minds into a deeper reality – that this is what we were made for. The Sistine Chapel, for example, is simply a marvelous feat of artistry to many, yet for the faithful we know that the art depicts not only past realities, but future realities for us, such as the painting of the Last Judgement which sits above the high altar. Yet, even those things which contain great intrinsic beauty like catholic art, the beauty of creation, even another human being will never satisfy us, because they are simply not God.
Those who have followed our blog have heard us mention the analogy of the two wolves before, but it bears repeating. Within us are two wolves, the pure and the impure. The one that survives is the one that you feed. So often we get caught up in gazing upon the things of the world. Yet, just as through the mouth, the body becomes fat and can poison itself, so too, through the eyes, do we “batten on spoil” as the scripture says, and become spiritually dull.
The reality for those of us who are baptized and in state of grace is that the very One upon whom we shall gaze upon in Heaven truly dwells within us. So, we must not simply realize why we are hungry and perhaps cut back or cut out completely those things to which we turn our eyes, but we must turn our gaze inward, and open the eyes of our hearts to the reality of God dwelling in us. The proper care for the eye of the heart, referred to as the “Nous” in Eastern Christian Monasticism, must be of paramount importance for us in this age of over-stimulation. Simply being Catholic is not enough. We have to fight our natural inclinations to look for the sake of looking. We must guard what our eyes see on the outside so as to better dispose ourselves to seeing the blessed Trinity dwelling inside of us. If we want to truly be satisfied, we have to consume the right thing. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of this reality at every Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet, although He is physically present within us in the Eucharist when we receive Him, we have to remember and constantly call to mind that His spiritual presence in our soul in the state of grace is very much real, and we must open the eye of our heart to recognize that reality. But, if we fill our physical eyes with things of the world, we will remain blind to the reality of God within us. We must learn to close the eye of our hearts to the desires of the world, and open them to the reality of Blessed Trinity dwelling inside. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”.
“You O struggler and imitator of Christ’s suffering, fight within yourself, that you may be deemed worthy of tasting His glory. For if we suffer with Him, then we are glorified with Him. The nous is not glorified with Jesus, if the body does not suffer with Christ. He therefore who disdains human glory is deemed worthy of the glory of God and his body is glorified with his soul.”
(St. Isaac the Syrian)