Why do we look up when we pray? It could be because the sky or the heavens have always hinted at something that is greater than we are. Or, looking up may be our way of turning away from what is troubling us, up and away from the natural life’s pain and burden.
In one of his last sermons, Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven” as he prayed (KJV John 17:1). He was talking directly to God, asking the Father to look after his disciples and all who would follow. He wanted them to “be one” with the Father and with himself (21). And at another time, when Jesus was raising Lazarus, our Lord “lifted up his eyes” to his Father as well (KJV John 11:41).
But I think the most interesting encounter with this image of lifted eyes was a rather abstract comment Jesus made to his disciples after his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples were being literal, not understanding at all how Jesus could have “meat to eat” if no one had brought him food. When he responded to their concern with “I have meat to eat you know not of” (KJV John 4:32), he was using a metaphor, as he often did. He was saying that he was being sustained by something other than food.
And then he added an even more challenging abstraction, telling his disciples: “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (35). Jesus was challenging them to look through their mind’s eye, where the fruits of their labor and the spiritual harvest were always visible.
This ability to visualize, to “see” things with the mind, is unique to human consciousness, to the consciousness that God breathed into us with “his breath of life.” And so, lifting up our eyes means consciously turning away from what the world is showing us. When we do that, as Jesus assures us, we’ll see that the thing we most need is already here.