March 8, 2015
Be Now My Vision
My third week here I got a phone call from one of our church leaders saying, “Julia, just so you know, I thought I found a bag of oregeno in the church bathroom, it looked liked a dried herb in little nuggets, and when I smelled it, it smelled like a skunk not oregano, so it was, um, something else, and I called the police, and right now, there is a bag of this in the church safe. You don’t need to worry about this, but I just wanted to let you know.”
Week three. I thought this was pretty funny actually, and I don’t have a ton of judgment around it- other than it is still illegal here, and minors shouldn’t do it because their judgment is already screwy, or to put it differently, their frontal lobe’s aren’t totally developed or connected.
Although not a hallucinogenic, vision inducing substances have long been used to enhance religious experience; the peace pipe, peyote and ayahuasca, the hippie love movements in the 60s and 70s. I know a lot of you were around for that.
There was a fascinating article in the New Yorker recently, which I recommend, called Trip Treatement, tracing the scientific research of hallucinogenics on people like cancer patients and divinity school students since the 70s. Test subjects reported things like, “We are all one,” and “there is nothing else but love.”
The shadow side of this is what we have been seeing at Wesleyan during the last couple weeks. Students hospitalized for overdosing, now being arresting.
As religious neighbors, our role is a concerned and prayerful one. At a place like Wesleyan, than I’d claim probably fancies itself too evolved for religion, the student body is still seeking transformative spiritual experiences.
We have a deep yearning for seeing the world with new eyes. For new vision. And sometimes drugs serve as a pathway to that.
And perhaps this doesn’t surprise you, but I believe religion, the spiritual path, is the most direct, pure, line to new vision. For having shifting transformative experiences. For having encounters that shake us up and make us see one another differently. Experiences that I interpret as bringing us closer to God, even if we don’t name it as such. Augustine calls this desire in humans the “arrow of infinite longing,” that will be restless until it rests in God. And you don’t need drugs for that.
The Bible has many examples of vision as spiritual experience, whether literally seeing things and interpreting them as encounter’s with God, or fearing seeing God because it could mean death.
In our gospel lesson today, we have a story of Jesus healing a blind man, but first getting it wrong, where the blind man confuses men with trees. As the first recorded Gospel, Mark became a source for Matthew, Luke and John when they were written, and we have quite a few repeat stories. But this one didn’t make it past Mark. Because it is an example of Jesus not getting it right the first time, or of healing taking longer, or being a little sloppy.
Mark’s portrait of Jesus is known for being a little more gritty and a little more human than the other gospels would like. This blind man was brought to Jesus, and he spits on his hands and puts it on his eyes.
Saliva was thought to have healing properties in the ancient world, and one commentator argues that applying the saliva to the man’s eyes was, “no more than to awaken expectation in the blind man that something was about to be done for him.”
Expectations were crucial when it came to the blind boy named Daniel , that David described this morning. Daniel was blind, and remained “blind,” but was eventually able to see, making the commentators on the Invisibilia podcast shout from the rooftops, “you don’t need eyes to see!”
He learned to orient himself in space through clicking noises, and when studying his brain, we find that the parts of the brain that light up for peripheral vision in sighted people light up when this man clicks to understand where he is in space.
He climbs trees, goes hiking, and feels defensive about his ability to do things as a blind person. He teaches us there can be vision without sight. He teaches us that blindness is partially a social construction, that our expectations about those who are blind being helpless, actually limits their ability to function in the world.
Daniel’s mother had an abusive relationship, and she vowed to herself to never let fear rule her life again. So she let her son ride his bike, and do it again, even when he crashed it into a pole. She did not put the expectations of helplessness onto her son, instead she put fearlessness and faith into her son.
Perhaps it was the expectations Jesus had for the people he was healing; perhaps Jesus has true faith in the power and divinity of each human being, and was going around awakening this within people.
We yearn to see God, to have visions, we long for sight, clarity, answers to our short sightedness or blind-spots.
More than anything, as we long for vision, surely it comes differently to each of us. Have you seen this ridiculous reporting on this dress, that in photos looks blue and black, or white and gold, and depending on who you are it looks very differently. The things people cover to distract us from what is really happening in the world. Salvation Army has turned it into an add promoting awareness around domestic violence. Because what is black and blue always under our nose, but we can never see it because it is hidden?
I’ve encountered a lot of people this week who, because of trials or hardships, arguments or fears, needed a shift in perspective. Needed a broader vision.
Sometimes getting vision on a situation means to look really closely. Sometimes it means taking a few steps back, a birds eye view. Sometimes it is good to be the hawk, flying from above, discerning about where to land, where to strike. And sometimes it is good to be the worm, in the dirt, feeling and just being in it.
When seeking answers by meditating, or praying, distraction always arises. Sometimes the distraction, is a call to action. Be the hawk. Act, Choose differently. Do it now. But sometimes it is a call to heal. Feel that feeling, be the worm and just let yourself feel it.
Divine experience can seem to give us new eyes- new way of looking at the world. God comes to us in accidents, through trials, shakes up our status quo so that we can see things differently. Any trial can be an opportunity to grow.
Lent is a great time to examine our lives. To look at what is working and what is not. To determine what is clouding our vision, what is preventing us from connecting to God, however we understand God. To borrow language from the 12 step program of Lent can be a time to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
David Foster mentioned to me this week as we were discussing blindness, “God’s relationship to us is like a parent who buys a blind kid a bicycle for Christmas. It’s not because God doesn’t feel pain when we smash our faces (God does), and it’s not even because God feels joy when we go whizzing down a hill with huge smiles on our faces (although God does that too) – it’s because when used for their greatest good, our “bicycles” (i.e., our talents, gifts, opportunities, etc.) can help us teach our other blind friends how to see, and help the rest of the world to see them differently.”
In our next hymn, I ask us to sing from our hearts, as we ask God to be our vision. Not our fears, our doubts, our egos, or someone else’s vision. But God’s vision for ourselves and for our community. May God give us all, blind and sighted, blurry and clear, seeing trees as men, or men as trees, may God give us visions, that are safe, healing, legal, and transformative. Amen.