Eyes to See
by Louise Westfall
The unfolding news this week has made me feel a bit like Kevin in Home Alone, or the Edvard Munch Screamer on the bridge…except you’re not supposed to touch your face. [I’m indebted to Geoff Dyer for this evocative image, from the New Yorker March 23] We’re all living into new realities and new practices, with a whole lot of uncertainty thrown in: how long will this last? How severe are things going to get? When will life get back to some semblance of normalcy?
Not surprisingly I have no answers. We are wandering in a wilderness of not-knowing; there’s a whole lot of reacting, responding and simply getting through. So today’s Scripture text spoke to me in a different way than it might have in “normal” times. It’s a story of Jesus healing a man who had been unsighted from birth. I invite you to close your eyes as I read it. If you fall asleep, good, because you probably need it. If you stay awake, connect with the disorientation of darkness. I think you’ll know when to open your eyes. A reading from John, chapter nine at the first verse. Listen for God’s Word to us. [READ JOHN 9:1-7]
Friends, could we stipulate first of all that human suffering, natural disasters, and viral pandemics are NOT of Divine origin? Jesus says so plainly here. This latest crisis is NOT punishment for anything; or God’s virulent attempt to get our attention. Instead, Jesus reminds us that we are all created in God’s image to be instruments of divine peace, love, and justice. Jesus called himself “the Light of the World,” and he also declared, YOU–all of you–are the light of the world.”
But somehow, the good news is greeted not with relief and gratitude but disbelief and hostility. The plot thickens as neighbors and religious leaders weigh in. [John 9: 8-16]
The narrative actually continues for many more verses, while the religious leaders tie themselves in pretzel knots to discredit the man’s claim of sight at the hands of Jesus. But here’s the thing: what scared those religious leaders wasn’t the fact of healing, but the implications of it. For the former blind man, as he grows in the knowledge of God’s love and grace, and experiences a seismic shift in his now-sighted perspective. For Jesus, as he becomes identified with the One who “gives sight to the blind,” and life to the world.
We can read this story on many levels. If you are in need of healing today, hear in it Jesus’ power to transform human brokenness, even of long-standing origin. Many of the prayers that poured in this week were intercessions for those with COVID-19; prayers for those who have died and their grieving families; prayers for medical and health care professionals on the front lines of patient care. There is spiritual power at work in tandem with science to heal and soothe and comfort.
It suggests that healing may be gradual; the dawning of awareness of truths we hadn’t seen or admitted to ourselves; new insights brought about through the very difficulties and challenges of illness.
But we can also read more into this story. It suggests that healing may be gradual; the dawning of awareness of truths we hadn’t seen or admitted to ourselves; new insights brought about through the very difficulties and challenges of illness. New ways to care for another–the schools are closed; but school districts are boxing up meals for students to eat at home–thousands of them. Among the calls this week were ones to offer help; another sent an email full of gentle humor from Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang. When my arms can’t reach people who are close to my heart, I hug them with my prayers. One member encouraged her FB friends to give themselves “pandemic names” –by combining one word that describes how you’re feeling, and a second word of the food you ate most recently. The huge number of responses clearly showed that it wasn’t just “Tired Pasta” who benefitted from laughter. [Okay, I know you’re all going to take a break right now and say your pandemic name. Go ahead!] On Tuesday the Session met via Google Hangouts and conducted a full agenda, including receiving 4 new members, who know they’ll have to wait to be introduced in “live” worship, but who nevertheless wanted to join Central’s mission now.
With eyes wide open, Theology on Tap met “virtually”–and enjoyed conversation and mutual support. In a dining and entertainment hub like Denver, restaurants and bars had to be shut down for everything but take out. Illegal Pete’s restaurant generously offered their toilet paper supplies to New Genesis. A distillery in Lyons donated 2 gallons of hand sanitizer—they are redirecting some of their alcohol into hygiene products (I know there’s a joke in there, but it’s all true!). Yes, there’s the other side too–price gouging of needed materials, unloading stock, scams of all kinds. Fear is a powerful motivator, friends, and can blind us to any good but our own. I’m with those instead who are figuring out how to pay employees temporarily or “pay it forward” for future work. I am glad that both national and state governments are directly addressing longer-term economic challenges that as Governor Polis noted “will affect all of us.” We must learn to see in new and different ways a world that is deeply, inextricably connected, and in a real sense will heal from this pandemic only when we treat it together.
I guess the point is there are many ways to “see” and this text encourages us not to get too rigid in our interpretation. Though we often speak of “conversion” as if it were a once-for-all experience, this text suggests a continual correction process; just as we get annual eye exams, so we can reflect on our spiritual sight, to identify blind spots, myopia, and whatever the spiritual equivalent of pink eye is. I think I know. A church member texted me this week because he’d heard I’d been under the weather. “Hey I made a pot of soup, and would be happy to bring you some, and just leave it by your door.” But my “old eyes” kicked in–the ones that insist on taking care of things myself; of not being needy; of being a helper, not the helped. So I said, “No, no, thank you. I’m fine.” I too need the gift of sight to recognize our beautiful, God created humanity in which we BOTH give and receive, sometimes we’re strong and sometimes we aren’t.
Friends, God gives us “new eyes” to see something else in the pain and suffering of this present moment: the light of Christ. But don’t take my word for it. Open your eyes to amazing grace and discover what starts to look different. And don’t ever refuse the soup.