Mud in our Eyes Sometimes Helps us See! By The Rev. Margaret Rose
For the scholars among us, it is likely that a reflection on the healing of the blind man in John 9 might more readily emphasize a study of sin and sickness and the relationship—or lack thereof--between the two. For me, however it sparked a reflection on seeing and its seeming opposite, blindness.
I can’t see the way I use to be able to. This morning, I attempted to thread a needle—hurriedly of course, to hem what I needed for work today, After repeated failures, I went in search of glasses. At my age, I can’t see as well to read the small print, in the bookstore or on the bus or subway. I am not happy about that, but console myself with the idea that I am offered the opportunity to look wider—to open my eyes to what is going on around me rather than bury my eyes in a book or newspaper. At first this new “blindness” was frustrating and I was angry that my age was showing in such a concrete way. More recently however, as my gaze moves outward, I am aware as never before of richness in the relationships around me. I notice things I hadn’t before. And such noticing has become a spiritual exercize. What do I really see on my way to work? Sometimes it is a preponderance of UGG shoes, another day it seems I pass an inordinate number of short people. ( That is always comforting to me, a short person.) Or people in wheelchairs—they are the brave ones in my view. Or the homeless woman bundled against the cold, mumbling to herself, refusing offered help. Or just this week, the incredible event of two Chinese tourists who boarded my bus. Dressed in twin L.L. Bean jackets, they struggled at length to communicate with the bus driver who struggled similarly to understand, but didn’t. In minutes however, a quiet voice came up to them to help, speaking not only Chinese, but it turns out, their own dialect. I watched the gratitude spread over their faces. And the amazed looks of others on the bus. Near this couple, was a man with two children. He, clearly Caucasian, they most likely Chinese. As I began to speculate on this relationship and the rich diversity of this United Nations like gathering, the man and the children began speaking French together! And who knows how many other languages were represented on that bus. No longer able to see as I had before, I was hearing new things, aware of the caring if fleeting relationships going on around me and the richer for being engaged, even peripherally in these encounters. It was almost as if my aged eyes were the mud that Jesus put on that of the blind man and I was opened to a new world around me.
At a deeper level, my experience with the needle or on the bus invites me to ask where I am blind in other places. What are the ways I need to see? If Jesus were to spit on the ground and cover my eyes with healing mud, what new truths would emerge?
This week in New York is the annual gathering of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And for the 5th year we ( the Office of Women’s Ministries and the United Nations Observer’s Office) have hosted women from around the Anglican Communion to participate as a Non Governmental Organization in the UN meetings. I have already spoken of the incredible unity of Anglican the Communion who refuse to join the polarizing dynamics of those holding more institutional power in our church. And of the resolution for gender equity they have gotten through many conventions votes.
This week 100 Anglican women from six continents gather with other NGOs to discuss this year’s theme: Gender Budgeting and Financing for Empowerment and to search for solutions to the problems of violence, poverty, AIDS around the world. I am grateful for the acute vision they have offered to me. Not always in the predictable ways either. This week not only was I more aware than ever of the forgivable, yet unwitting domination of the American desire to help, of our desire to fix the problem quickly, of how hard it is to listen, of our subtle yet nevertheless patronizing ways. Yet I was also aware of the cultural competitions going on among those who are not American. And of the demand that somehow the “problems” could be fixed if only those in charge or with more financial power could do the right thing. I am aware of how hard it is not to fall into the dichotomizing ways which polarize and divide the church, the world, civil societies and families. As the week of our gathering has progressed, we are working hard to call one another to account on all these levels. What does real mutuality and solidarity mean. How do we claim authority without patronizing or authoritarian behavior. How do we refuse to act in this way even when it is asked for?
New ways of seeing—not only the solutions but also the problems__ invite us to travel new ground which seeks unity and truth but not sameness, conformity or even necessarily agreement in all things.
In John’s Gospel, when the Pharisees seem not to accept Jesus’ explanation that the purpose of this healing was to reveal God’s grace and so the question the man’s parents. The parents tell their joyful story but more importantly, they respond, “Go ask him yourself. He is of age.” These are empowering words from parents. Even though he may have been blind, he can still speak for himself. Too often in our desire to help, we forget that. People tell their own stories best—if they are able or allowed to do so. And new ways of seeing, hearing and interacting among people of many cultures will I hope help us to listen and act in new ways as well.
Often of course this is easier said than done. Frank Griswold, preaching in London, in September of 2006, only months after the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, in another sermon on healing of a blind man, said, “How easy it is for us, personally, ecclesially and nationally, to live with blinded sight. Unquestioningly and uncritically we accept prevailing attitudes, opinions and biases as self-evident, as true. The dullness of the familiar can so easily keep us from seeing the inequities, the untruths, the injustices that surround us. Yet seeing, or rather, “to be delivered from blinded sight involves a cost.” In the text today, the man was ridiculed. And the healing itself was fodder for those who wanted to discredit Jesus.
“Unawareness is the root of all evil.” Said one of the Desert fathers of the fourth century. Bishop Griswold continues, “ How true this can be. The tactic of the evil one whose nature, Jesus tells us, is to lie, to keep us from the truth, invites us not to notice certain things, or, if we do take notice of them, to deny their reality or not to give them room in our consciousness.”
As I claim the truth of the healing of the man born blind, I also ask for the courage to see God’s world as it truly is. And from that place to count on the Holy Spirit to work in us that which we cannot yet imagine. I am grateful this week for women who have had the imagination and the courage to call blindness to account and who refuse to be unaware.
Margaret Rose 2/29/08