'To see the world in a grain of sand'
Angelus News March 20, 2015
Each morning we awake to an astounding world of color, shape and texture that is pure gift. We recognize the sacred at the heart of all reality and we bring to mind the words of the poet William Blake:
To see the world in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.
The invitation is to open wide not only our physical eyes, but the eyes of the heart, the eyes of memory. But somewhere along the way, this wide-eyed openness, this sheer delight in what surrounds us wanes; wonder dissipates. We become shortsighted and settle for a life of routine through which we often sleepwalk. And so our Congress refrain invites us to really see… “to raise our eyes and look about” (Isaiah 60) … to behold signs of God’s presence in the ordinary.
The theme flows from the story of the blind man’s extraordinary encounter in John 9:1-41. Reflecting on this amazing scenario, our imaginations are stretched, we are drawn to see beneath the surface and discover the paradox; the so-called blind one is the one who really sees, while the seeing ones are entombed in their own darkness.
The man who was previously blind not only received the gift of sight, he also came to know the Sightgiver. He cries out, “Lord, I believe.” He now has light and sight while the Pharisees still persist in darkness.
Spiritual blindness is at the heart of the exchange and the challenge for all is to see with the heart, as suggested in the following dialog:
“Why is everyone here, so happy except me?” asked the disciple.
“Because they have learned to see good and beauty everywhere,” said the master.
“Why don’t I see goodness and beauty everywhere?”
“Because you can’t fail outside of you what you fail to see inside.”
If we wish to see God, life, others as they really are, then we must attend to what is going on within us. When we watch the news at night we must admit that we are often bling to the fact that the callous behavior that we see played out in the world is to some extent, merely a magnification of what may be happening inside of our hearts and among our relationships.
Too many of us are blind to our blessings.
The weeds of a disturbing world can stifle and block our vision.
We lose a sense of wonder, and without wonder, our energies for living get well diminished.
It is all too easy for us to hold onto images of other things that are puny, and not grant them the possibility of turning toward goodness/wholeness.
The stereotypes that we create serve to build walls between us. We refuse to imagine that people can grow, and become a new creation. Ann Sexton writes, “I would like to bury these heartless eyes under the sand somewhere.”
It is grace that halts us on our tracks and invites us to bury these damaging images. To tear down walls, to step out of our narrow confines so that we may see the sun rise again.
To have that curiosity of spirit that John O’Donohue speaks about. He writes, “When we look into the heart, may our eyes have the kindness and reverence of candlelight.”
The prophets of our tradition have something to tell us about the process of seeing and imagining the new. They saw the world situation — the social, political, and spiritual environment and called for something different; called for a world of justice and harmony; a world that places the God of life, the true God, at its center.
Standing in the new with all of its uncertainties, its regrets, they held on to God’s faithful pledge in covenant. Strengthened and encouraged, they drew wisdom from the promise which prompted them to imagine miracles of grace. Think about the vision recounted in the prophet Isaiah: “Opposites will be reconciled. Light will be poured out. The sightless will see again.”
Jesus fulfilled this hope; gave witness to a different way, the way of Love … a welcoming and inclusion of everyone into an experience of peace, mercy, light for all.
And so we ask:
What does God want us to see?
When we think of people who cannot get adequate healthcare or lose everything because they cannot afford to meet their daily needs … do we see a challenge for justice and compassion?
When we encounter the homeless, the trafficked, the constant tears of the poor, do we see the face of the suffering Christ and call for advocacy?
It is one thing to desire a better future, but it is another thing to recognize what’s lacking in the present so that we may direct our energies to building the kind of future that is God’s dream; the fullness of Christ’s reign here on earth. Jesus invites us as he invited the first disciples. “Come and see.” Come and see who this Jesus really is: A peacemaker. A voice for the voiceless, full of truth-telling and merciful to the offences of others. Come taste this grace.
And we wonder … what can people hope to see in us? Grateful witnesses? Reconcilers, steady in times of trouble?
Pope Francis reminds us that the world is hungering for the light of faith, a dazzling light that helps us to see at a deeper level.
We are called today to greet the lantern within; to affirm the light that we carry, and open our eyes to God’s dreams unfolding through the incredible power of the spirit as Jesus walks among us.
If only like the blind one, we cried out as a community of faithful, “Jesus, we want to see.”
If only we discern how we can more effectively proclaim the love and generosity of Jesus and recognize God’s voice among the many voices that claim our attention.
If only we five witness to the transformation that the spark of Jesus effects in us by the way we live in a world that has changed to rapidly and continues to change?
Spreading the good news in today’s world is difficult — we encounter many challenges and we must respect the complexity.
But we take heart in the counsel of Maya Angelou: “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us in our darkest and more dreaded moments can see possibility.”
What and how we see shapes our ministry. The eyes of faith and the heart of a disciple sees Jesus longing to be begged for the sight that bathes the world in the brightness of God.
Poet Mary Oliver reminds us that we too “have come into the world, to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
To be filled with life and shine, to be wide-eyed, prophetic and visionary.
A story told by Father Pedro Arrupe of his encounter with the very poor, tells of this wide-eyed openness to see beauty. He says, “I was in Latin America and had just celebrated Mass for a group of very, very poor people in the mountains. One of the poor men came to me and said, ‘Father, I would like to give you a gift after Mass. Would you come with me?’ I answered ‘Of course.’
“We walked up a little road and kept walking and walking, until we came to his place. His home was a hovel nearly on the point of collapsing. It was just dusk and then he gently said, ‘Please stand here, Father.’
“We stood in silence for several minutes. Within seconds, there was the most beautifully dazzling sunset I had ever seen. The man went on to say, ‘I didn’t know how to thank you for all that you have done for us. I am a very poor man. This is my gift. For you to see this magnificent sunset.’”
Not only do we see God in beauty, but Wilfred Owen writes, “I, too, saw God through mud.” When we encounter difficulties, weaknesses, disappointments in ourselves and others, we wrestle with the ugly, the not so beautiful, and we can to our own amazement, find God in the pain, in the weakness, in the struggle. We are surprised by grace; we acknowledge that God hides in the depth of it all.
In a letter that Kayla Mueller (a young aid worker who was held hostage in Syria and killed Feb. 6 of this year) wrote to her parents, she challenges us to see the good.
She says, “I have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I have come to see that there is good in every situation. Sometimes you just have to look for it.” In the end there is only God.
Etty Hillesum, a Jewish prisoner in one of Hitler’s concentration camps, saw goodness and graciousness in her German guards. That is the ability and willingness to see as God sees — that does not make the situation right. It does not minimize the difficulty and the pain, but it does and can change the fabric, the texture of the heart.
All of us live in various shades of darkness and subscribe to common shadows. “They have eyes to see but see not,” was the complaint of Ezekiel.
Indeed we need one another.
It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus. We come from others, we belong to others and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others.
There is the story of Jacob the Baker: A neighbor of Jacob’s needed to start on a journey, but it was the middle of the night. Afraid to begin, afraid not to begin, he came to Jacob. “There is no light on the path,” he complained. “Take someone with you,” counseled Jacob.
“Jacob, what do you mean? If I do that, there will be two blind people.” “You are wrong,” said Jacob. “If two people discover each other’s blindness, it is already growing a light.”
Wherever we are today in our journey, let us remember that Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes and then he saw clearly. May we be catechetical leaders who will lead others in this Lenten season to see the light of the world, and remember that Lent cleanses the lens of our lives so that we can see and be open to the surprise of God who comes, comes, ever comes.
And I invite you as I conclude, to pray this blessing given to us by our Irish poet John O’Donohue, who calls us to see beyond the view of the regular eye:
May you know that encouragement of the appreciative gazeMay you have a mind that loves frontiersSo that you can evoke the bright fieldsThat lie beyond the view of the regular eye.