Jesus did more than restore the man’s sight; Jesus called him to a new vision of life, an entirely different way of seeing. It seems that the cured man embraced this invitation for he responds: “I believe” and then worshiped him”. Jesus confronted the narrow vision of the Pharisees, but we don’t know if any of them took his words to heart.
If there is anything Jesus came to give us, it was a new way of seeing. His entire life, his words and actions, were meant to open to us the possibility of living a vision that would guide us through every joy and sorrow in life. As far back as our baptism and as recently as our last time of prayer and lectio, we said “yes” to living this vision.
As I was reflecting on what it means to live the Gospel vision, a physical condition came to mind that most likely everyone in this chapel has experienced except Novice Emily – and sooner or later she will! It’s a rather annoying condition! Remember the time you picked up a medicine bottle and discovered you could no longer read the small print? I looked up what causes this and found out that as our body ages, the lens becomes harder and less elastic which makes it more difficult for the eye to focus on close objects. The print appears to shrink on us and we begin to squint. The medical term for this is presbyopia.
Like the fearful parents or the smug Pharisees, I think we can develop spiritual presbyopia. It happens when we focus primarily on ourselves and slide into me-centered behaviors. What could be some outward signs of this condition? Maybe we become less flexible or we stubbornly cling to our own opinion or we are overly judgmental (I’ve perfected that one!) or we frequently succumb to fear or grumbling or to staying in our comfort zone. Whatever it may be, the results are a heart that is less elastic, a monastic focus that is cloudy and a Gospel vision that is shrinking. We’ve become a spiritual squinter. We’ve contracted spiritual presbyopia!
St. Benedict was very aware of the danger of losing our Gospel vision. In the Prologue, he urges us to open our eyes to the light that comes from God, not to harden our hearts and to run while we have the light of life that the darkness of death may not overtake us.
Centuries ago the desert mothers and fathers described this loss of vision in terms of the “passions.” For them, the passions were any emotions, habits and attitudes that prevented us from loving as God loves. They believed that when these passions dominate our lives we begin to spiritually squint, not only in our dealings with ourselves, but in our dealings with others. It’s no surprise that the desert ammas and abbas taught that the greatest battle is the one within. Abba Anthony, said: “When you sit quietly alone you escape three wars: hearing, speaking and seeing. The one thing you will fight all the time is your own heart.”
Lent is about preparing for Easter. One way we get ready is by scrutinizing the ways our Gospel vision may need some re-focusing. Lest we become discouraged in our efforts, the Lenten scriptures constantly reassure us that no matter how many times our vision may have narrowed, God’s mercy and forgiveness are ever-present. 93 year old Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast says it well: “The bad news is that we can’t make up for what we have done in the past. But the good news is that we don’t have to.”
As we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, this Lent is like no other. We don’t need to go looking for additional ascetical practices; they’ve come to us. In the days ahead, it will be tempting to begin to spiritually squint, to allow our vision to narrow and focus on our restrictions and personal inconveniences. Yet, as women of faith, this is a time for widening our vision, for growing in gratitude for the ordinary of life, for deepening our compassion for our brothers and sisters in the world community and for stretching our hearts to be a joyful presence to one another. It is a time to be living reminders to one another that at our very core we are Christ bearers, light bearers.
At the beginning of the Easter Vigil – the Service of Light – the presider lights the Paschal Candle from the new fire. Raising this Candle, he proclaims: May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds. We don’t need to wait for the Triduum to hear these words; they would be good to pray now, every day. May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds!
Helen Keller was so right: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”