Fragment 3: Sight
This week, we reflect on light, the role of sight, blindness and Christ’s touch.
“Circles of Light” (John 9)
What is the first thing you open every morning? The medicine cabinet? The refrigerator door? Your Bible? How about your eyes?
We cannot even imagine all that our eyes take in. Maybe you’ve heard that the colors we register in our minds are only a fraction of what we might perceive. For all the abundance of light waves which reflect the countless flowers and various skin tones in the faces around us, there are countless other realms of light that we cannot even begin to perceive. This adds whole new meaning to the promise of scripture, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love God” (see Isaiah 40:13 and I Corinthians 2:9).
Still, this lack of perception does not keep us from wondering and from asking questions. When Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see someone who is blind, they ask a question based on their limited perception: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus, as he is apt to do, sheds new light on the “problem” at hand (which, in all actually, is not a problem but a person, precious in the eyes of God!). Jesus speaks of night and day – things that we and the disciples can understand – to reveal something that we cannot see: this man’s life will become a canvass for displaying the work of God. The very reason, in fact, that Jesus has come, is to shine a light on this canvass, to draw attention to this work of God. As long as he is in this world, he says, “I am the Light of the world.”
In these words, Jesus says something remarkable; but even more remarkable still is what Jesus does. E. Stanley Jones points out in a series of devotions on the life of Christ that we follow the Concrete Christ. Not “concrete” in the sense of immovable or unfeeling, like a stone statue casting blank eyes above a suffering landscape, but “concrete” in the sense of real and living and active. And so, Dr. Jones points out, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world” and then promptly causes the one who was born blind to see. What he says, he does. Who he is becomes manifest in his actions, in loving deeds that touch the lives of others.
You would think that this miracle would stand alone. In the other gospel accounts it might. But then again, John’s gospel is not like the others. For one thing, it does not contain any parables. If you don’t believe me, just look for yourself. You won’t find Jesus teaching on the Good Samaritan or the Sower and the Soils, the Prodigal Son or even the shortest parables, like the Mustard Seed or the Yeast in the Dough or the Pearl of Great Price. Instead, John’s gospel presents us with Jesus transforming people’s lives in the light of his life.
This transformation is not always as easy as changing water to wine, or as sudden as the woman at the well, whose life overflows into the streets of the Samaritan town of Sychar as Christ touches her heart. This new birth takes place more slowly in other lives, like the leader Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night (see John chapter 3) then speaks up on Jesus’ behalf again later (see John 7:50) before finally acting on his faith by taking Jesus from the cross to prepare for proper burial (John 19:39). There is so much going on in John’s gospel that we do not have time to trace it all!
Indeed, there is more than enough happening just in this Ninth chapter, where the Light of World opens the eyes of this man. His transformation is met with questioning and confusion, then opposition, and even outright rejection. In the end, when he finally sees Jesus for the first time, he has been excommunicated from the synagogue and disowned by his family. All he gains is this simple trust in Jesus, the gift of seeing him face to face. Of all that we might see, of all that we can possible comprehend, what more could we ask than a glimpse of that face?
The life of Jesus is marked by Miracles, by Overflowing, by the simple, profound gift of Sight. Jesus sees us. Jesus notices you, not you as a problem, but you as a person. Jesus is Light and Jesus brings Light. Open your eyes and you will see a lot of things wrong with this world. But I pray you can find the grace to see that smile, those eyes, full of love for you.
SIGHT: John 9
By Rev. Angela Flanagan
You see, I was born blind.
So I’ve been told
By you who speak as though you don’t even see me.
Standing. Right. Here.
Tell me again, just who is blind?
You talk amongst yourselves,
You neighbors of mine,
Theologizing my body, my family, my life while I am
Standing. Right. Here.
Sustaining my life by forfeiting my name.
THE blind man.
An object lesson.
Once you are THE anything, you are no longer yours any more.
So I listen to my story, foreign on your tongue.
Judge and jury.
You have me all figured out.
Generational sin. The cycle of poverty.
An efficient plotline, a script written before I was born.
Or so I’ve been told.
Tell me again, who is my neighbor?
But this rabbi…
He has changed the script.
Neither I nor my parents?
I wait for the other shoe to drop. The next to blame.
Born blind in order for God’s works to be revealed.
To be seen.
Tell me again, just who gets to see?
Smeared in mud.
Dirt and spit. The very stuff of my derision
into the salve of Siloam.
I’ve been Sent to see.
A partial miracle perhaps.
Because I see but still am not seen.
“I am the man.”
A broken record.
Failed attempts to reclaim my identity.
Tell me again, do you see me?
Daylight sears into our desert interrogation.
Once a suspect, I’ve turned useful witness.
Coaxed to implicate this man
who has muddied his hands in my healing.
Now I see why he is different than the rest—
this man of Light
against a world of willful darkness.
My sight inconvenient
to a world that prefers status quo blinders.
My immediate healing an affront
to the self-righteous systems that provide care
with conditions and prescriptions attached.
Now that I see,
I cannot unsee.
I repeat my story unchanged until
you tire of me and my stubborn joy.
Tell me again, why do you squint in the Light?
You pushed me out but there is One who seeks me.
Who sees me.
Basking in this Light of the New Creation.
The blind see. The seeing blind.
Tell me again, which are you?
Inspiration: Desktop wallpaper
By Melissa Lauber
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.
— Helen Keller
Vision and blindness are among the most powerful metaphors in Scripture. Part of seeing with the eyes of God requires looking through the lens of mercy, grace and love.
The group 20-20-20 knows this. Their mission is to provide vision to 20 million people in the poorest countries in the world. The people they help, adults and children, are called the “needlessly blind” because the only reason they remain blind is they are too poor to afford a simple, low-cost surgery that could restore their eyesight in as little as 15 minutes.
While blindness is rare in developed countries, it is 500 percent more prevalent in the developing world. The amount of pain and suffering caused by blindness is staggering. In a developing country, when you go blind, your eyesight is just the first thing you lose. Children are often forced to become beggars. The World Health Organization reports that 60 percent of children die within one to two years of going blind.
Half of the blind children and adults in the world could have their eyesight restored through a simple, surgery that costs as little as $300. The surgery provided by 20-20-20 takes less than 15 minutes. Through a small incision, a surgeon removes the defective lens that’s causing the blindness and replaces it with an artificial lens that costs as little as $2. No stitches needed – just a bandage to protect the eye for a few hours. When it’s removed, the patient opens their eyes and they can see!
The only problem is, the poorest people in the world, who live on $1 a day, could never afford to pay for a $300 surgery. So they will remain blind for the rest of their lives – unless someone helps them – someone with a vision.
Reflect more on blindness:
- See a video of when blind people see the first time
- Look deeply at the following portraits and reflect on the role of sight, blindness and Christ’s touch. See Paul Strand’s 1916 photograph, “Blind,” and Gioacchino Assereto’s 1640 painting of Christ Healing the Blind Man and Brian Jekel’s Healing of a Blind Man
- Hear the Blind Boys of Alabama sing “Down by the Riverside”
Spiritual Disciplines: A D-I-Y Guide to Scripture, Prayer and Faith Formation
Week Four: The Labyrinth
By Rev. Kyle Durbin, Frostburg UMC
For many of us, the word “labyrinth” brings one of two distinct pictures to mind. The first is the prehistoric maze described in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur on the island of Crete. For others, the words conjures images of David Bowie, along with his hair in all its feather-tipped glory, commanding a horde of Jim Henson’s muppets, as the Goblin King in the aptly-titled 1986 film, “Labyrinth.” Neither of those images, of course, quite capture the definition of the modern Christian Labyrinth, a spiritual practice that has been steadily gaining popularity over the past several decades.
While the concept of the ancient labyrinth, a daunting maze that could easily confuse and trap willing or unwilling entrants within its intricate structure, most certainly predates the turn of the century, the modern Christian design, which often includes no false passageways or dead ends, and instead always leads to a final destination, has most likely only existed for just over a thousand years. Appearing on church floors and walls around 1000 AD, there is no uniform consensus as to their original purpose, though many associate their presence with a sort of ritual path towards Easter Sunday. As the practice developed during Medieval times, Labyrinths became associated with a sort of, “mini-pilgrimage,” especially for those who could not undertake the journey to Jerusalem.
Currently, labyrinths continue to exist, not only as a sort of alternative to the spiritual discipline of pilgrimage, but also as a guided prayer exercise. In this manner, prayer and devotion via this method can be practiced individually, both through walking full-sized labyrinths, often carved or painted onto the floors of churches, or designed using talented landscaping or architecture, or, simply by tracing the outline on a handheld, paper-sized labyrinth using one’s own hand. Either way, the intention is to draw closer to God with each pace, each turn, and each step, closer into communion with our living Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
More labyrinth resources:
- Labyrinth locator
- How to make an inexpensive portable labyrinth
- Directions to make a labyrinth
- How to make a finger labyrinth (that is also a piece of art)
- Finger Labyrinths: Small, But Powerful!
Labyrinths within the Baltimore-Washington Conference area: