Returning Sight

We all have a tendency to be wise after the event, the gift of hindsight being much more common than foresight, especially where our public discourse is concerned. But to reappraise something is not the same as seeing or understanding it for the first time. We all have a store of personal epiphanies  — when we ‘discovered’ a poet or a painter or a composer for the first time and the world seemed new-minted, shimmering with fresh glory and beauty. But the occasions when we reconsidered earlier judgements or revised our former opinions are not usually quite so joyous. There is often a reluctance to accept that we may have misjudged someone or been wrong about the consequences of something. Part of us is glad we know the truth, but part of us would still rather hide from it. Seeing aright can be for us a mixed blessing.

I wonder whether the blind men in today’s gospel (Matthew 9.27-31) were prepared for the gift they received. The text implies that they recovered their sight, i.e. they had not always been blind. Did the world look very different from what they remembered? How did they cope with what most of us would regard as sensory overload, being suddenly able to see? As an image of the transformation wrought by grace, it works very well; and we can say that our Advent journey should lead us to a clearer vision. But — and it is an important but — part of me wants to add that I am not wholly convinced by that idea. Most of us muddle along as best we can, neither seeing very clearly nor deliberately hiding from the truth, just hoping that at the end of the journey we shall have made some progress even if we ourselves cannot see it (as, indeed, we cannot). The best we can do is what we can do, not what we can’t; and if God is at all as we believe him to be, he is satisfied with that.

We can take encouragement from today’s first reading (Isaiah 29.17-24). It is easy to lose ourselves in its lyricism, but at its heart is the solemn reminder about hallowing the Holy One of Israel. To hold God’s name holy means more than showing reverence in our worship or trying to live an upright life. It means seeing and understanding something of the purposes of God, not in the crackpot way of some fundamentalist preachers, but as the saints have always seen and understood, owning the mystery and humble in his presence.

I began with a reference to the disconnect we often experience in our public discourse. May I end with a suggestion? If we are trying to open our hearts and minds to whatever it is the Lord wants to teach us this Advent, it must spill over into every aspect of our lives. Our public discourse must be transformed every bit as much as our inner selves. A challenge for today would be to try to think through how we contribute to that public discourse. Do we add to the blindness, prejudice or sheer aggressiveness we encounter or do we defuse the tension, and allow light and healing to flood in? Do we even try?

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A Blindness Lifted

The two men in today’s gospel who begged Jesus to restore their sight cannot have found life easy once their request had been granted. (Matt 9.27-31) We might speak today of ‘sensory overload’ and the challenge of relearning social and other skills, but more disconcerting even than that must have been the consciousness of a miracle, a miracle wrought in their own flesh. Sometimes prayer works like that. Our blindness is suddenly lifted and everything changes: we see, and with the new-found vision comes a new set of imperatives that makes our old life seem unreal, unworthy. We see gossip and scoffing for what it is, a destructive misuse of speech; the cleverness we used to applaud is revealed in its true colorus as scheming and trickery. (cf Isaiah 29.17–24) Such knowledge can be overwhelming and lead to despair unless we keep our eyes fixed on the Holy One.

This morning I am conscious of the fact that all the world’s pain and its tragedies has a human face. I happened to be at Didcot Parkway yesterday when a middle-aged woman threw herself in front of a freight train and was killed.* It was terrible for the rail staff, the paramedics, the police, everyone involved on the outside, so to say, but most terrible of all for the person on the inside, the woman herself. It is impossible for anyone who has not experienced it to know the loneliness and hopelessness she must have felt. Was it a sudden impulse, a moment of blind panic and desperation, or something wrestled with for ages to which she at last succumbed? Who knows, and what does it matter, anyway? Someone has died, a unique and irreplaceable human being and, whether we know it or not, we are all the poorer for her loss. This morning I trust we can all pray that her blindness will soon be lifted and she will gaze on the face of Christ in all its beauty. Let us pray also for those who mourn, for whom the darkness has just become a little bleaker, a little more profound.

  • The woman has not yet been formally identified although the police believe her to be Deborah Yalcin who went missing yesterday morning. Her death is still being investigated although it is being treated as not suspicious.
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Spiritual Blindness

Most of us suffer from it most of the time, and those who claim that they don’t are probably deceiving themselves. Spiritual blindness is a fact of life. It makes me think of Coleridge’s ‘owlet atheism . . . hooting at the glorious sun in heaven’ and crying out, ‘where is it?’ We fail to see what is right in front of our noses: the beauty and holiness of God. We capture glimpses of it, or think we do, when we encounter a beautiful building or painting, or are moved by beautiful words or music. But capturing glimpses of it in failure, in ugliness or whatever is contrary to our wishes or ideas, that is more difficult.

Today’s Mass readings, from Isaiah 29 and Matthew 9. 27–31 are about being cured of blindness. What we may fail to take on board is that being cured of blindness doesn’t change the world, only our perception of it. We may recoil from what we think of as being somehow ‘contrary to God’ (by which we usually mean our ideas of God) but that is to perpetuate a kind of blindness, a refusal to see things as they truly are. It is especially dangerous when it concerns the way in which we see other people, because we can choose to see a distorted and distorting version of them. There is a part of the eye called the fovea where we see clearly, without any distortion. That is how God sees us and how, this Advent, we are invited to see him and all that he has created.

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