Remember the story of the man who was born blind? Jesus spit in the dirt, made mud and then applied it to the man’s eyes. When he washed off the mud the man could see. When I was told this story as a child I thought, “Eww!”
But I went right out in the backyard, mixed some spit and dirt, took off my blue glasses and carefully applied the mud to my eyes. I waited a moment then groped around for the garden hose. I carefully washed off all the dirt, my face wet and dripping. I blinked and then blinked again. I could see!
It didn’t last. I later realized the water had acted like lenses on my eyes and that’s why I could momentarily see.
Spit and dirt would not have been my first choice to restore vision. Why couldn’t Jesus have rubbed a precious oil or pressed some flowers on the man’s eyes or waved a feather around his head? Why did he have to use something dirty and gross?
I wonder if this COVID-19 pandemic is like spit and dirt. It seems that already COVID has forced us to see the inequalities in our world; how we are destroying the earth; how we are destroying on another. Why did it take a deadly virus to open our eyes?
Couldn’t we have been sent a gorgeous shower of shooting stars visible all over the world? Or perhaps a new species of beautiful bird that appeared in every country? Would we wake up then? Probably not.
Do beautiful, pleasurable experiences ever help us grow? Not usually. Richard Rohr reminds us that growth is possible only through prayer and suffering. And it’s usually suffering that takes us there. Damn.
I had a conversation this week with a man in heart failure.* He was fairly young, in his fifties. He had been very successful in school, in athletics, in his career. He admitted that he was aggressive, selfish, and sometimes unethical. In other words: heartless.
It was not lost on either of us that he is now waiting for a new heart.
“I was pretty much a jerk,” he said. “I think it took something as serious as heart failure to open my eyes.” He is determined to change, to become a more loving, compassionate person. Post traumatic growth. It is possible.
Why does it take the most extreme, sometimes horrifying experiences to open our eyes? Is this the point of COVID-19? Can we make it the point?
It goes back once again to what we decide our experience means. As followers of Jesus, what can we make this mean? It has forced us to look outward and see the mess our world is in. It has also forced a lot of us to look inward and see where we are there. What kind of action will we take?
The disciples asked Jesus why this man was born blind. Jesus answered, “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
I think that the works of God—miracles of love, compassion and courage—are already being shown. My hope and prayer is that we continue to display these miracles, both outwardly and inwardly. May our sight remain permanently clear, not like watery lens of my childhood.
*Any time I write about a patient I will always change identifying characteristics.