I’m reminded by this passage of my favorite Psalm (the translation is Robert Alters):
One thing do I ask of the Lord,
it is this that I seek –
that I dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the Lord’s sweetness
and to gaze on his palace. . . .
Hear, O Lord, my voice when I call,
and grant me grace and answer me.
Of you, my heart said: “Seek My face.”
Your face, Lord, I do seek.
Do not hide your face far from me
(Ps. 27:4, 7-8)
In general, however, I’m not sure where to begin with respect to the question of the “face.”
Here we have a face that is “seen” and no longer hidden by a veil of any kind. Yet (as in Emmanuel Levinas’ profound phenomenological analyses of the face-to-face encounter) there are few moments when we are more struck by the transcendent inaccessibility of the other person than when we are brought face to face with them.
In the other person’s absence it is not so difficult to pretend that we “know” them, have taken their measure, and have a handle on who they are. But, brought face to face with the other, this pretension evaporates.
Why? Because when we come face to face with the other, it is no longer the case that we are simply seeing them. Rather, face to face, we see them and we see ourselves being seen. Face to face, we find ourselves gripped by their inaccessible gaze. We discover that there is another perspective from which the world unfolds and that, in fact, we are not (as we pretend) the center of the universe.
There is a kind of nakedness in this revelation as we bear our own bareness in the eyes of the other. Exposed to what we see required of us (and from us) in the other’s face - exposed to our responsibility to them and for them - we are simultaneously exposed to what we cannot see in this face that exceeds us.
The revelatory intimacy of this face to face encounter hinges on just such an exposure: I both see and see myself being seen by something that I cannot see.
Of the immense number of things, then, that could be said about having “his name on our foreheads,” I’ll suggest only this: it is the essence of such a face to face encounter that it inscribes the other’s name in us.
Having seen their face, having seen ourselves being seen, we continue to bear both the other’s name and a responsibility for what that name/face revealed to us about them and ourselves. And here, insofar as God’s name is a metonym for every other face - “inasmuch as you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me” - bearing God’s name on our foreheads means that we bear the name of all the other others who need assistance from us.
A final note: it is especially interesting that we bear this name in a place where it will be visible to everyone else we see . . . but, simultaneously, in a place where it is not visible to us. Our only access to this name (this name that we bear inscribed in our own flesh!) is through the eyes of others.
Verse 5: “And night will no longer be, and they have no need of the light of a lamp or the light of the sun because the Lord God will give forth light on them, and they will reign into the ages of the ages.”
This recapitulation of the promise already given in 21:23 nicely rounds out the end of the vision proper.
Verse 6-7: “And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true, and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. Behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is the one keeping the words of the prophecy of this book.’”
These verses mark the end of the vision and the transition to the book’s “concluding sayings.” They call our attention back to the role of the messenger/angel, the status of the recipients as “servants,” and emphasize the imminence of all of the dread/beautiful events that were foretold.
“The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets” is an interesting locution. God is here identified as “the one who is on the side of the prophets.” Also, insofar as the “spirits” (pneumaton) are cognate with breath, we might hear an echo of God’s being on the side of the “breath” of the prophets (i.e., on the side of the words that they breathed out on God’s own behalf).
Interesting, also, that blessedness is here directly tied to a text/book. Righteous living in general is not addressed. Rather, blessedness is tied to “keeping” the words of the prophecy of the book. I’d like to address this further (in connection with the rest of what we’ve hinted about the importance of words, writing, texts, etc.), but I’m simply out of time. So, for the moment, I’ll simply lay down another (hopeful!) promissory marker with respect to this question.