It is late Sunday afternoon and I just came in from the garden. The weekend is given to projects—today clearing a pathway from overzealous and tenacious rugosa roses. While single-minded with my loppers, I was pondering the possibilities for a Sabbath Moment story. Trouble is, nothing came to mind. Except to wonder why planting rugosa roses seemed like such a good idea at the time. I’m home now, for an extended stretch. Truth is, I needed the rest. (Yes, some of you were kind enough—email and letters—to tell me so. Well, the actually wording, “Hey, shouldn’t you take your own advice?”)
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating an adventure. Food fell off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled onto the tablecloth.
It didn’t take long for the son and daughter-in-law to become irritated with the mess. “We must do something,” the son decided. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.” So, the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed their dinners together.
Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. The only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a piece of silverware, or spilled his food.
The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son sitting on the floor, playing with a piece of wood. He asked his son sweetly, “What are you making?” Brightly, the boy responded, “Oh Daddy, I am making a bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in, when you get old.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.
The next night, Grandfather joined them at the family table.
I once was blind, but now I see.
This is the familiar text from the Gospel of John. (It is an avowal made famous by John Newton, former slave trader, and author of the world’s most recognized song: Amazing Grace.)
Whenever I preach this story, I tell the congregation that this is not a case study, or cerebral exercise, or illustration. At some point, this is personal. “I am the man in that gospel story,” I tell the congregation, “And we need to decide whether or not we are playing church.
Either we believe in real transformation or we do not.
Either we believe in grace or we do not.
Either we believe in hope or we do not.
This transformation cannot be orchestrated or coerced or predicated on shame. It can however, be embraced, and celebrated, and shared.”
I woke up very early Saturday and poured a strong cup of coffee. There was something going on inside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle that I wanted to watch on TV. And I wasn’t the only one.
And it did my heart good. Because during a Royal Wedding, a “Say Amen” church service broke out… Lord have mercy it was good.
For a day, I needed not be undone by the headwinds of dispiriting news.
In his homily, Bishop Michael Curry (presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church) quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”
“I’m talking about some power. Real power,” Bishop Curry continued. “Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way: They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It’s one that says there is a balm in Gilead, a healing balm — something that can make things right. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”
Yes. Either there is real transformation, or there is not. The power to surrender the constraint that comes with wooden bowls and small tables in the corner.
“Think and imagine a world when love is the way,” Curry goes on. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine governments and nations when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired, old world when love is the way. When love is the way—unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive—then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there is plenty of good room for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.”
Let the choir sing…
And yet. There are cracks in our psyche. In our relationships. In our world. We try to hide or run from them or keep them contained, or find a wooden bowl in order to not be embarrassed. Perhaps you can relate.
Seeing only the cracks, our blindness may not be complete darkness, but scotoma (selective blindness). Because vulnerability unnerves me so, I often prefer to live with my blindness. (Of course, it’s always for a good reason. After all, it seems to serve me well.) Regardless, it is a way of not-seeing, and in the end, a way of not-living. And in our increasingly polarized world, this blindness prevents us from being present. Or aware. Or compassionate. Whether it is to those close to me, or to injustice, or to joy, or to passion; when we are blind, we hide behind self-righteousness, narrow-mindedness, an unfair life, self-doubt, and fear.
Here’s what I find heartening about both the Gospel story and the story of the wooden bowl. The transformation comes, when we recognize that sight—this new way TO BE in the world—is a GIFT. It doesn’t happen because we try harder. Or have more faith.
What difference does this make?
If we give up our blindness, we accept our vulnerability and embrace responsibility. Because Grace give us sight. And sight connects us. (I love the greeting in the movie Avatar, “I see you.” I acknowledge you.) And this kind of love has the power to change the world.
I don’t have three steps to compassionate living. However, here’s the deal; if we are open to it, grace—the power of love—changes our life. And that change spills to everyone around us.
Even if we can’t explain it.
“All I know,” said the man, “is that once I was blind and now I see.”
I’m in Englewood Beach (on Florida’s west coast on Manasota Key), where I return every May to spend a few days with some old friends. It’s a ritual. We enjoy the days with its endowment of gifts, taking great delight in the little things. This year, we spent time in the water dancing with a few manatees, just to feel the giddiness of a child still within, and the incredulity of nature.
It is Pentecost Sunday, the time to be made new. This morning I joined the good people at Venice United Church of Christ. And I just came in from watching the sunset with my friends, which is church of another sort. When the sun dissolves on the horizon, and the water turns the color of spewed lava, we raise our glasses and toast life and these moments of grace.
Quotes for your week…
One of the reasons we don’t have peace in this world is that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. Mother Teresa
If humanity ever captured the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Photo credit — Patti Suler
POEMS AND PRAYERS
If only you could sense how important you are to the lives
of those you meet; how important you can be to people
you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself
that you leave at every meeting with another person.
Our Hearts Should Do This More
I sit in the streets with the homeless
My clothes stained with the wine
From the vineyards the saints tend.
Light has painted all acts
The same color
So I sit around and laugh all day
With my friends.
At night if I feel a divine loneliness
I tear the doors off Love’s mansion
And wrestle God onto the floor.
He becomes so pleased with Hafiz
“Our hearts should do this more.”
We need to carve time
for dwelling in the quiet places,
to discover our own inner landscape
and the landscape of God.
We must also pay attention
in the ‘cracks’ of our life
to see the ‘gracelets,’
the moments of meaning in the mundane.
Celeste Snowber, Embodied Prayer