Blindness and Sight

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Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:7-8

 But Jesus took him aside privately away from the crowd; then he put his fingers in his ears, and then he spat and touched the man’s tongue. Then gazing heavenward, he sighed deeply and said to him: “Ephphatha!”; that is, “Be opened.” At that moment his ears were opened, and his tongue was loosened, and he spoke correctly.

Mark 7: 33-35

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. . . .” Were Adam and Eve then blind before they they were seduced by the false promises of the serpent? Were they, as the man in today’s gospel, also “born blind”? Clearly the blindness and sight that are spoken of the two readings today are different, perhaps actually opposite in meaning.

Many years ago, I discovered in my parents’ home some old 8 millimeter films of home video. One of them pictured me as a young boy of perhaps ten or eleven merely walking across the back yard. Seeing this from the perspective of decades of life, I was struck by how comfortable, relaxed, and free that boy was. There was a certain at-oneness with my environment, and a grace and smoothness in my gait that I knew as an adult had disappeared within just a few years of that film. It was an amazing and illuminating experience to see myself before the onset of the intense self-consciousness of adolescence. I found myself aware that this was a time of life before my eyes were opened to those aspects of my body, mind, and spirit that became the sources of self-doubt and shame, the awareness of my own “nakedness.”

As with Adam and Eve, we all come to a “moment” in life when we experience a gap between who we are and who we, and the society and culture that is forming us, think we ought to be. That is, we all know the experience of feeling ashamed of who we are. As wonderful as the gaze of the mother who loves us unconditionally has been, we come to know a societal gaze that judges and depreciates us. We, then, internalize that gaze and begin to live with varying degrees of self-judgment and self-depreciation. This is the socially and culturally conditioned “sight” that Adam and Eve gain after the Fall. The simple sight with which they were created, and to some degree that we can vaguely remember from childhood, is lost; that is, the ability to see reality directly and simply and not through the reflection of our own self-consciousness and self-depreciation.

In today’s gospel we see Jesus empathically and effectively suffering the powerlessness of the man born blind and through the sighs and groans of that experience offering the man the power of healing. Jesus takes the man “aside privately away from the crowd” where there can be the intimacy and identification with his suffering that makes healing possible.  And so it is for us.

Our way to simplicity and ordinariness can come only by stepping away from the consciousness of the crowd and into our own vulnerability, fear, and shame. It is there that we discover one who loves and calls us as we are to the service and healing of others.  It is there that we discover that what we self-consciously perceive as our limits are, as Adrian van Kaam points out, “the outlines of our call.” St. Francis Xavier once wrote that his way of serving others was to express to them the struggles of his own “lamentable past.” Why?  Because it is in the sighs and authentic prayer that arise out of our unique limitations that we know most intimately the sustaining grace and love of God for us and for the life we have been given.

In his poem Letter, January 1998, Franz Wright concludes:

. . . I do
notice the more I lose touch
with what I previously saw as my life
the more real my spot in the dark winter pew becomes—
it is infinite. What we experience
as space, the sky
that is, the sun, the stars
is intimate and rather small by comparison.
When I step outside the ugliness is so shattering
It has become dear to me, like a retarded
child, precious to me.
If only I could tell someone.
The humiliation I go through
when I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.

Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, pp. 38-39

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