What Are You Praying for? Vision 3-26-17

March 26, 2017

What Are You Praying for? Vision

Any one of us can be blind sometimes. Just last week, for instance, while I was visiting my mother, I walked down the hall, and a woman stopped me, smiled, and said “How’s your mother, Mr Tatgenhorst?” I looked at her, -she looked familiar – but I couldn’t place her. I answered her question, and then, kind of cautiously asked, “Tell me your name again.” She said, “I’m China!” She had just cut my hair just 3 or 4 days earlier.

I was embarrassed. I told myself that I didn’t place her because it was out of context – I only know China when she was in the beauty salon and now she had her hat on and whatever. I didn’t want to admit that I could be blind to who she was because she’s black. But there it was. I immediately forgave myself. I imagine she did too. Later, I kicked myself, because I know this happens to people of color all the time, (it’s sometimes call micro-aggression) but sometimes we’re blind, and all we can do is pray for God to give us vision.

Sometimes some people are invisible to us. That’s another way of saying we are blind to them. People ask me all the time what Kiara’s name is. Which is fine. It’s not that hard a name, though. And she’s been her beautiful self here for 2 years now. Sometimes we are blind. Notice how in this story we just read, the people of the village say they don’t recognize the blind man after Jesus healed him. They only know him as that blind guy at the corner that they try not to pay any attention to. This story works on a lot of different levels you see.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. The man that Jesus healed had been blind from birth. That’s an experience that may not be easy for us to relate to at first. In a world centered on visual cues, I have read that from 40% to 2/3 of our brains are devoted to or involved in vision. That’s a lot of brain to be devoted to something else!

This man had been blind from birth. We cannot fully enter the passage until we put ourselves into that place, and understand the power of this conversion from never seeing to sight. [Anna Carter Florence, p. 119, Feasting on the Word] Being blind in this passage is not a moral deficit – it is a state of being. They may have had the idea back then that being blind had elements of an ethical shortfall, but Jesus did not go there and we don’t need to either, even to feel better than folks back then.

The important thing to get here in our attempt to pray for vision is how dramatic a change that is from being born into an experience of a world that will never change. “What is it like to live and move among other people whose experience of the world is so radically different? What is it like to try to understand their world, and describe yours to them?” [Anna Carter Florence, p. 119, Feasting on the Word] Blindness here is first meant to be understood here as a state of being rather than a metaphor for unbelief.

When we get that, we are ready to hear this passage – to pray within this passage for a healing of our own blindness, for a conversion in our own heart, a conversion in that place where we say “that’s just who I am. that’s just the way things are.” We can only pray that prayer when we admit that we are blind – that some people are invisible to us, that we cannot understand other people’s reality. Only then can we live into this passage and ask for Jesus’ healing, hope for Jesus’ touch, pray for God’s conversion of our hearts, messy as that may be.

Our conversion may not involve mud or wet clay on our eyes, but learning to see, can be messy. It feels kind of messy today for me to talk about my blindness last week, but that’s part of the conversion. We have to be able to admit we are blind.

You know, I thought I would go a different direction with my sermon today. I wanted to just talk about how wonderful it was to be with my mother in this vulnerable time. I wanted to talk about reading The Little Prince to her and almost crying my eyes out. If you’ve read it, you might recognize relevant lines.

The story is about being tamed, a fox who teaches the little prince to tame him, and then the author who claims to be tamed by the little prince when his plane breaks down in the desert. At the end of the story, when the little prince is getting ready to let the snake bite him so that he can be transported back to his home planet, (you have to read the book, trying to summarize just makes it sound weird) bottom line is, when the little prince is going to leave after having become close with the author who is stranded in the dessert, after having “tamed” him, the fox, tells the author a secret, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Trust me that it was deeply poignant for me to read her that story about saying goodbye to The Little Prince and it felt strongly connected to all the passages in John that we are reading and to the theme of prayer. And it seems to me that John and Jesus are pointing to this same truth – that it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, that what is essential is invisible to the eye, that God knows our name even when we forget each other, even when we misplace each other, God never forgets us. We sing about it when we sing this song we’re going to sing, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.”

It is when the eyes of our heart are opened that we can confess our blindness, and be open to a real conversion. We open ourselves to God’s grace, and to each other’s forgiveness. We open ourselves to being given the gift of sight.

Responsive Hymn 3008 Open the Eyes of My Heart