As the year 2020 approached and then began there were many jokes as well as honest declarations for this year to represent clear sight. We wanted 2020 vision. Quite quickly it was revealed that the clear sight of 2020 did not bring the comfort and success that was expected. It did bring opportunity to see anew, think differently, and then put into practice new action. Today I am going to discuss a few scriptures I have been meditating on this year that fit these themes.
When Jesus was born, an angel announced to shepherds that the Messiah had come. Other angels joined in the chorus of good news, proclaiming, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” The shepherds went and found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The shepherds told them all that the angels shared with them. Mary pondered on these things. Instead of ponder another translation says “Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” Mary was given great information to see clearly that miraculously born Jesus was the Messiah. And she thought on this new way of seeing her world.
At the beginning of this year I was planning on having a lot of time to connect with friends and family this year. I planned to have get-togethers and grow closer to people on a personal level. And then stay at home orders were declared to mitigate the spread of a novel virus. I was forced to be by myself in my apartment for months. And I did a lot of thinking during that time. I felt like Mary, pondering all that was going on and all that I wanted. I had originally wanted to do more, but I was forced to think about why and uncover some things that I need to work on in myself. I was able to clarify who I am, what my values are, and how I connect with God, which then informs how I connect with friends and family. I was presented with the opportunity to see more clearly and then let it have a deeper transformational effect in me
I was reminded of something in the Bible that always confused me. Here are two examples of Jesus healing and then wanting the healed person to be quiet:
Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him. Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly! Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news.”
When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?” The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”
Jesus healed a deaf and mute man. Then, Jesus healed a blind man. Jesus told the newly healed people to avoid talking about these miracles. I have always thought it weird that Jesus insists on silence here about something so miraculous. I used to think Jesus told them not to tell to secretly encourage them to do the opposite, to actually tell and spread the message. But now I wonder if Jesus wanted the healing to become real to the healed before they shared it with others. Yes, they were healed. They had a new revelation of truth. What would their life and their interactions with their community look like now that they were changed? Would the change be deeper than just a new lease on life but also a new way in relating to others? Would these two men allow a deeper healing? What would these men choose to hear, to say, to see now that Jesus had allowed them too?
This is a silly example from my life of being able to see and having the choice to really understand. In grade school I was reading a book in school that had the word “concur” in a sentence. I didn’t know what it meant. I could have looked up the definition in a dictionary, but I chose to use context clues. Well, I determined that to concur means to disagree. That is literally the opposite of what concur means, but it took me years to learn that. So I missed the meaning of what was going on in the book and misunderstood people for years whenever I heard someone say, “I concur.” The funny thing is that even though I know now that to concur means to agree, I always initially think it means to disagree every time I see or hear it. I believed a particular way for so long that I have an association. But I now know better. If you tell me that you concur, I am now accustomed to remembering that what I chose to believe previously was not correct, and I can then remember the correct meaning so we can understand each other. I believe the new sight, thought, and action must have some time to settle within self to determine what truth God has revealed.
Jesus gave physical healing to the deaf, the mute, and the blind. And Jesus also discussed a greater healing in how we relate to God, self, and one another. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. I cannot know love for my neighbor if I am not able to accept the love for myself. Once the truth God reveals changes my view of self and of God, then I can change my view of community and my world, and know how to have right relationship with the members of my community. This year 2020 has not only shown how I relate to myself and to God incorrectly, but has also revealed truths about how our society and our world relates to one another in broken ways.
In The Message translation 1 John 4:17-21 reads:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
I do not believe I consciously hate myself or my neighbor. But in December I started seeing a therapist. I started therapy because I felt lost. At the beginning of 2019 I was not sure what direction I wanted to go into with life, and I decided that to strengthen my career goals I would go to graduate school to get a Master’s degree and be more accomplished. Those classes started in August of 2019 and I quickly realized that I disliked it. But I thought this was what I was “supposed” to do so I kept going in spite of the many complaints I made. I got to the point where I had to ask myself what I really wanted, and I did not know. When I sought out counseling, I learned that even though I had many positive thoughts about who I am and what I am capable of, I had feelings and beliefs at my core that were extremely negative and preventing me from moving forward. I did not realize these beliefs were influencing or were even present until I started working with someone who could see more clearly what questions I could ask and actions I could take to heal from the unloving things I had not realized were clouding my vision.
Similarly, this year has revealed how our society has insidious ideas built into it that replicate harm to our neighbors, even if we do not realize it or intend it. The jobs so many in our society thought were unskilled and disposable jobs – grocery store clerks, sanitary workers, restaurant and fast food staff, factory workers, field laborers, and so many more—are now viewed as essential during this global pandemic. We have so many people who have been struggling to make a livable wage on the front lines to provide sustenance for our country. We call them heroes when needed, but will we go back to viewing and treating them as disposable when covid19 is no longer a threat?
For centuries black people on the soil of our country have had to say such things as: “I am a man.” “Ain’t I a woman?” “I am human.” “Black is beautiful.” “Black lives matter.” We have been calling out the systemic racism baked into a culture that built around the idea that we were not fully human. We call out the need for change in how we have been treated by society from every day indignities we endure to more overt examples of racism. We have had so many people presume that we are now a post-race society despite these echoed cries for just treatment. And 2020 has allowed time for us to ponder the status quo in our society so that when George Floyd was killed, eyes were opened and voices heard more clearly that systemic injustice is rampant in our society, making those who are oppressed feel unloved even as those previously or even currently unable to witness deny the sight and voice of those who are not blind and not voiceless.
I am not the person to develop a plan to solve these issues. There are more learned people already presenting what we can put in practice. And I am learning from them. What I am proposing is that God has already shown a practice for us to engage in as we study and learn so that we can continually ask to have eyes and ears more like God’s, to notice when I am unable to be loving to myself and to others. And then I have the power through Jesus to mediate on my belovedness and the belovedness of my neighbor so that I can continue doing the work of a follower of Jesus: sharing that love even as I am learning of that love for myself. And I am seeing it as a continual process. Because we see through a glass dimly. I have always thought that was an interesting image, and found a translation that made it plainer.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 in The Message Bible says:
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Things will not be completely seen as God sees for some time. Until then we are working on ways to build our trust, our hope, and our love.
For me in particular, that work looks like the everyday loving of God, myself, and others in how I live my life and my job. But my view of the Gospel is rooted in a line from the Lord’s prayer: “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I know the full kingdom coming is not in my control. But I want to be a co-conspirator, co-creator with God in seeing this current world more resemble God’s kingdom. So, I also want to do the work to continually ask how can I see more clearly? Where are my blindspots? Am I hearing the voices of my neighbors to know what they need to be loved? How can I act so that the more of the kingdom where there is no more pain, no more crying anymore is here on earth?
In his book “Spiritual Direction” writer and theologian Henri Nouwen described ministry this way:
When you know yourself to be the beloved, and when you have friends around you with whom you live in community, you can do anything. You’re not afraid anymore to knock on the door while someone is dying. You’re not afraid to open a discussion with a person who beneath the glitter is much in need of ministry. Knowing that you are loved allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. Not by our might or by our power but by our simple presence in the midst of suffering, we show our love and gratitude for others. This is the mystery of ministry. (136-137)
Nouwen learned much of this not just through theological study. After being a professor and being sought out for his books, he spent years living at a community serving disabled people. He learned that he was not superior to the ones he was serving. He was not teaching without learning to hear from them. He learned of his own handicaps, his own shortcomings, and was given “guidance, support, and love” from the people he was doing life with (144). This way of living and viewing ministry is summed up in his words from “Spiritual Direction” like this: “We are called to be wounded healers who look after our own wounds and at the same time prepare to heal the wounds of others” (129).
We must always be aware that we have our own healing, our own issues that blind us or prevent us from speaking. And we must be humble in how we interact with God and with others. That way we can ask if we are seeing clearly and if those we are connected to or even those we do not want to be connected to but can learn from can give us new ways to see.
This is a practice. My concern as I was thinking through all of this is if the continual asking of where I fall short can become practice of condemnation. I think it can become so if it fuels our fears and makes us isolated and controlling. But it does not have to be that way as long as we do surround ourselves with of reminders of love and compassion. We are not wounded healers so we can stay to ourselves in shame or judge others from our lofty height. We are wounded healers doing the healing work together to see the flourishing and life of God’s kingdom come here on earth. We are wounded healers who have learned of our beloved-ness and are learning to see others as beloved too. It will not be complete until God says it is complete, so I will still have my wounds of suffering in this world. But the journey will be filled with songs and actions of a community committed to the transforming love of God. We will do the work as representative of Christ’s kingdom so that every now and then there is a glimmer through the fog that shines as bright as heaven’s love.
Our God in heaven, hallowed be your name.
May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
For yours is the kingdom, power, and glory forever.