“Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” Psalm 139:1 (NIV)
My husband and I recently watched Avatar for the second time, and I was struck again by the indigenous peoples’ traditional greeting – “I see you.” For this native tribe, these words meant something much more than our American culture’s typical “Hi, how are you?” When they said “I see you”, it was a recognition of the soul of the other, an acknowledgement of the whole person, a deeper knowing. This concept touched something in me, but soon got jostled aside by a crowd of other thoughts. In the way that things sometimes happen, a few days later, our pastor, who is from South Africa, spoke of a similar greeting in the Xhosa language. When two people meet as they cross the vast expanses of the African veldt, they say to one another, “sawubhona.” Literally translated, this means, “I see you.” Surprised, I began to wonder how God might be speaking to me through this “coincidence.”
When I hear the words, “I see you,” something inside me hums. It’s like the sounding board of a guitar or violin. When the musician plays something on the strings, the hollow space inside the instrument picks up the vibration and amplifies it, transforming bare notes into a lovely resonance, into music. As a therapist, it was essential to be this sounding board for my clients. By not just listening, but truly hearing their stories and understanding their reality, I was able to receive the notes of their life, resonate with them and transform them into something healing. In the mental health field, it’s called “feeling felt,” that moment when you sense that someone really gets you, that they see, understand, and care about you. It creates a space of safety and trust. It feels amazing to be known in such a way. But in order to give this gift to others, it requires a quality of inner stillness that is not easy to achieve. If I can’t quiet myself, if I am vibrating with my own thoughts and problems, I can’t receive the other person. When our minds are preoccupied with the details of our busy lives, we fail to really see the people we come in contact with. Sometimes that includes our family members or closest friends, a sad commentary on how closed off we have become. It is as if we had tacked a piece of cardboard over the hole in the violin, so that when others speak to us, the sound is deadened, and we fail to receive the beauty they have to offer. And far too often, we do the same with God.
We are often too distracted to notice God’s presence in our lives. I confess that sometimes I rush through my morning devotions, reading a short Scripture passage and uttering a quick prayer before moving on to the rest of my day. Frankly, I think God would like it better if I merely sat in silence and stillness and said, “I see you.” Thomas Merton says “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless.” So many times, my words get in the way of truly communing with God, gazing at God adoringly and being gazed upon in return. The thing is that God is always there, waiting, longing to fix her Divine and knowing gaze upon us. God embodies the essence of “I see you” in a way that no human ever could. God knows all of our stories from beginning to end. God knows our joys and our sorrows and understands us completely. God recognizes our soul, hidden though it may be behind all our masks and walls. But we keep dodging, never sitting still long enough to receive God’s deep knowing, his love and compassion. Imagine the vibrations, the resonance that would begin to sing if we were to be still, turn our full attention to the Beloved and lift up a three word prayer, “I see you.”
And what kind of difference would it make to the way we greet others if we were to bathe ourselves in the Divine light on a regular basis? Perhaps then we would be able to greet each person we meet with the Hindi salutation, “Namaste,” which, roughly translated, means “The Divine within me perceives and adores the Divine within you.” Namaste. Sawubhona. I see you.
 The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, ed. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart, and James Laughlin (New York: New Directions, 1973), 308.