A Sensory Prayer:
Gracious God, in a mirror dimly, that’s how we see you. Sometimes we see you dimly because of the cloudiness of our own sin. Our sin like cataracts clouds our own vision, we cannot make you out clearly because of all that gets in the way. Dimmed over time, calloused, it is a world that we are comfortable seeing because we have grown used to how it looks to us.
At other times our blindness is one that is imposed upon us by what we do not want to see. We turn our head away. “No, not that one Lord, don’t forgive THAT one! Don’t show your mercy there!” Blinded by our own hatred, or prejudice, or desires.
Still again, we also stumble in the darkness of our own making. The choices we have made about where to let our own lights shine, or the dimly burning wicks that we have all to eagerly snuffed out before they could sputter to flame. The words that hurt. The looks that kill. The attitudes that close out any chance of illumination.
Forgive us for our blindness Lord, but more than that — heal us of it. Bring us into the light of your love and grace, and we pray, do it gently so that our eyes can adjust, and so that we can truly take you in. Amen.
“I can see men, but they are like trees walking.”
That is perhaps the strangest response to someone touched by Jesus found in the whole of the Gospels. In almost all the other Gospel stories of miraculous healings, or casting out of demons, or events where Jesus intervenes in people’s lives we get responses of surprise, or astonishment, or joy and gratitude, or amazement.
But here, there is confusion, and a surprising lack of clarity!
Did Jesus just have a harder time with this man? Could he only half heal him with the first try so let’s give this another shot?
Or is it that the person healed doesn’t know what exactly to make of what he sees? This is not the man who was “blind from birth” as in another Gospel story, so evidently this person has seen before, and presumably at least should know a tree from a man…, but he cannot quite make it out.
Whenever I read this Gospel story I cannot help but picture my Uncle Norman. He’s my strange uncle (actually I have more than one now that I think about it) but Norman stands out. He was my favorite uncle as a child because he was single, quick with a comment or joke and always seemed to have some funny story or pun just waiting for the right moment.
And, as a bonus… he looked funny.
He had these coke bottle thick glasses and an eye that wandered, so you were never quite sure which eye he might be looking out of at any given time. Was he looking right at you, or was he watching something over to his right… or his left….as the eyes would shift back and forth?
As a young child it was a source of unending amusement.
So when I read this Gospel story it is Norman’s voice that I hear coming from the man freshly, almost healed… and I can’t quite tell if he’s complaining about what he can’t quite make out – “I see men, but they are like trees walking…..
Or, whether he’s making a joke about how his eyesight is coming into focus. “Hey, I see men, but they are like trees walking…”
Uncle Norman supplemented his impaired vision with an awful lot of other senses, primarily touch. It’s hard to believe that he still had all of his fingers in fact, since working on farm equipment involved him not just looking but also feeling around on it, sharp edges and sometimes spinning steel and all. He would squint at a piece of machinery, try to locate the bolts or the screws he had to loosen or tighten, or where to put the grease gun tip with his eyes, and then proceed to feel around to find the right size and location for where to apply the wrench, screwdriver or grease connector to the zerk.
The tactile and the visual often played an intricate dance of back and forth reliance.
The more I think about it, the more this kind of “Uncle Norman Vision” makes sense in the world of faith and of Jesus, for when it comes to faith seldom is “seeing believing” anymore, at least not for me.
We are skeptical beings, and our eyes are not accustomed to seeing such things, at least not clearly.
Or we see something that looks pretty spectacular, looks like someone acting in faith, or doing something out of a sense of altruism, but our B.S. detector kicks in and says, “that just can’t be all there is to it?” “There must be some ulterior motive, some a price to pay, something hidden in the fine print.”
Grace cannot be the reason.
A life touched by God cannot be story behind what I’m seeing, because everyone has something hidden in their background and some measure of “what’s in it for me?”
We often feel we have to “feel around” a bit more than rely on what we see.
I get this story now.
My “Uncle Norman vision” is what we all have in the end.
Jesus touches us and even when it happens to us first hand we can’t quite believe it, or we question it, or we need a just little more of whatever it is that Jesus is doing to let it really sink in.
That’s why Jesus comes as flesh and blood, as one of us, to let us grasp a hand and touch a garment hem if needed or perhaps feel the warmth of his breath upon us when the Spirit is conferred.
It takes more than just seeing to take this all in.
In John’s Gospel in that long narrative of the healing of the man born blind, there is a long section in the middle of the story when Jesus is physically absent.
Jesus heals, and then leaves before the man even sets eyes on Jesus.
The man must come to terms with what has happened to him, and also try to convince the Pharisees and his own family of who he is and what has happened, how he got his sight.
At the end of the story he ends up cast out of the community, and Jesus finds him questioning himself.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks him.
“And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Ah, there is that Uncle Norman Vision right there. Jesus standing right in front of you but not sure what you’re looking at, or where your eyes are focused… on Jesus or on your own troubles.
And Jesus said to him “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” And now looking up and hearing the voice and seeing him, the man responds, “Lord, I believe!”
It takes more than one sense to talk in the grace of God fully, and begin to understand.
It takes more than just seeing, it takes spending time to use your whole self to take in God’s grace.