Sacred Seeing: Healing the Man Born Blind

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

Healing the Man Born Blind

HealingManBornBlind
Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What immediately strikes you when you look at this image?
How would you describe what is happening?

Read the Scripture: John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”[e]36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord,[g] I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
The fresco depicts the moment when Jesus anointed the eyes of the man born blind. In some other miracles of healing, Jesus simply spoke and the healing took place. Why did he use clay (mud, really) in this case, made from his own saliva and the dirt on the ground?

Even after he was anointed by Jesus, the man could not yet see. What do you think is the significance of his going and washing in the pool of Siloam?

How does this fresco depict Jesus as “the light of the world”? (John 9:5)

In addition to Jesus and the blind man, two other sets of figures appear in the fresco — in the foreground are four close witnesses to the miracle, while in the background there is another group gathered just inside the city gate. What is the difference between these two groups? What do you think is happening? Which group are you in?

Imagine for a moment what might be going on in the minds of the four “witnesses.” If they were to start speaking to one another, what would they be saying?

If you look carefully,  you can see that the city street is strewn with rocks. Do you think that there is a reason why the artist included these in the image? What might it be?

Prayer
Jesus, you said that this man’s blindness had nothing to do with either his own sin or his parents’ sin. His disability was no one’s “fault.” Instead, his suffering was always meant to be redemptive, to be the occasion when God’s work could be revealed. (One can almost imagine your speaking as you pressed clay into his eyes: “Let there be light.”) Given my propensity for placing blame — on others, on myself, even on God — this is a strange thought. I ask about causes — “How did this happen?” — and you speak of purposes —”I make all things new.” Is it possible that the deepest purpose of this man’s life was contained in these extraordinary moments with you? And where do I best find the purpose of my life? Much as I would like to find it in the “strong” moments of success or accomplishment, I think that it appears clearest in the things that bring me to my knees before you, and in the things that bring your healing touch to my life.

O God:
You said at the beginning: “Let there be light,”
and the darkness fled.
Remake my bind eyes, Lord,
so that I may come to see things as you see them,
so that each of my blind spots
may be the occasion for your wondrous work to be done,
again and again.

A Word from the Tradition
The reason for Jesus’ mixing clay with the saliva and smearing it on the eyes of the blind man was to remind you that he who restored the man to health by anointing his eyes with clay is the very one who fashioned the first man out of clay, and this this clay that is our flesh can receive the light of eternal life through baptism. You, too, should come to Siloam, that is, to him who was sent by the Father…. Let Christ wash you, and then you will see.
— Ambrose of Milan (c. 340–397) 

Image: ©2005 Healing the Man Born Blind by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: Feeding the Multitude

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

Feeding the Multitude

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is happening here? What do you notice?
Take some time to consider each of the following: the crowd; the disciples; the children; Jesus.

Read the Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
This is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry that is recorded in all four Gospels. Why would it be so significant?

The Gospel account is specific about the time of day being evening. What does that mean to you?

What do you see when you look at the people depicted in each of the groups listed above? If each group were speaking, what might they be saying? Why are they saying these things? What is happening with them?

Look at Jesus. Look at his hands, his face, his eyes, even his dress. What is he doing? What do you notice? Why is he depicted this way?

Jesus could have fed the crowd in any number of ways. Why do you think he chose for the disciples to distribute the bread?

Prayer
I give to God the fragments of my life. He takes them, holds them up before heaven, gives thanks for them and then, to my chagrin, he breaks them into even smaller pieces. Then, he gives them away, to others—to friends and family, to brothesr and sisters, and to strangers I don’t even know. From the largest pieces to the tiniest crumbs, he wants to give it all away. Then, he hands me back what is left over…and I find in my arms a basket full, to overflowing, more than enough to satisfy. Not a single crumb has been lost.

As one of the crowd
Lord, I didn’t even know I was hungry until you told me to stop and site down at your feet. You have always provided for me, sometimes in very surprising ways. Remember when you…? But now I am wondering again how you can bring anything satisfying out of this wilderness. So, while I wait in need, you stretch out your arms toward heaven, and then you stretch them toward me. I want whatever you are offering, Lord. I need whatever you want to give me. My hands are now open, Lord…and so is my heart.

As one of the disciples
Lord, you have asked me to do many things, but this time what you are asking seems too much. Look at my empty hands—I have nothing to give. These aren’t just words. This is the truth. You want me to feed without food?…and you say it as if you are certain that I can be of help to you. You have the power to do whatever you want; you could do this without me. Nevertheless Lord here is what I can give to you right now. Help me trust you to do the rest.

As one of the children
What are you going to do this time, Lord? I can’t wait to see how you are going to solve this one. You have told me that there is nothing to worry about, so that must mean that you have the perfect answer to everything. What little bit I have in my hands—in my heart and soul—it is all yours. Here, I am giving it to you. Now, Lord, what will you do with it?

A Word from the Tradition

The wonder of the miracle of Jesus feeding the five-thousand surpasses human understanding. What is most amazing, however, is what this miracle teaches us about the compassion and grace of God in Christ. Just as the loaves and fish never seem to end, so our Lord’s mercy more than covers our need, more than comforts us in distress. God’s forgiveness more than exceeds whatever sin we may have done. God’s compassion is greater than our greatest tribulation. Our heart’s desire, the needs of our body and soul, our Jesus meets—and then some.
—Hilary of Poitiers (c.300–c.368)

Image: ©2006 Feeding the Multitude by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Turning towards heaven

by Faithful Finch
This year I had the opportunity to live with and care for one of our Community members as she was dying. As she turned her face more and more towards heaven, I saw some simple but profound changes in her and am realizing as I process this experience that I have much to learn from her.
I noticed three big changes, and I think they are interrelated. The first change is that she became so grateful for the smallest things. There was a sincere “thank you” for any kindness or help that was shown. The second change is she found beauty in the ordinary. Obviously, there is beauty everywhere if we take the time to find it, and appreciate it. It was overwhelming to listen and look when she found beauty in the blue of the sky or in a fish jumping in a lake.
The third change was most incredible. I watched her change from a woman of apprehension and concerns into someone at peace who trusted God and those caring for her. She knew God’s love.
I believe as I turn my face towards His heavenly light, I can make the choices of being grateful and finding beauty, so in turn, I can trust Him in His love.
Belle's rose marks her seat in chapter order in the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

To be light

Lord Christ,
Help us to have the courage and humility to name our burdens
and lay them down
so that we are light to walk across the water
to where you beckon us. . . .
The memory of hurts and insults,
driving us to last out,
to strike back
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .

Our antagonism against those
whose actions, differences, presence,
threaten our comfort or security
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .

We do not need these burdens,
but we have grown used to carrying them,
have forgotten what it is like to be light.
Beckon us to lightness of being,
for you show us it is not unbearable.
Only so we can close the distance.
Only so we can walk upon the water.
Blessed are you, Lord Christ, who makes heavy burdens light.

Kathy Galloway, Iona Community

walkonwater

Mary and Martha in Chicago

By Sunset Septuagint

Have you seen the painting “The Scream”? I am currently on a trip to Chicago which began by travel on a full airplane which was late in landing. On arrival everyone immediately stood up, jamming the aisles while the passengers who had close connecting flights were fighting to get through to the front… What mayhem! Too bad there was no announcement for those not in a hurry to wait until the others got off.

Then I got in line to get a taxi…..there was a break in the barricade so wheelchairs could get through but behind the wheelchair others were cramming forward to get to the head of the line. Others ran to the end of the line behind the people waiting so they could hop into the cabs first without having to wait in line.

I am a very impatient person myself but this time I had no deadline so I started a conversation with a woman beside me in line and wound up telling her I was in Chicago for a doctor’s appointment. She asked the name of the doctor and when I told her, she said her father had the same surgeon and she told me how wonderful he was! Suddenly a weight of anxiety was miraculously lifted from my shoulders.

I thought of the Mary/Martha sermon last Sunday in church. It wasn’t the work that Martha was doing that was the problem but her anxiety and worry. By the grace of God alone for that moment in the taxi line, I was able to choose the better part to have a friendly chat with another person, and Jesus used the conversation with that woman to calm my fears!

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Farewell to a Fellow Traveler

by Sunset Septuagint 

Yesterday was the funeral celebration of one of our Clergy whose family had moved to the community 40 years ago.

Ed was a farmer at heart and he loved taking care of the vegetables, flowers (roses were his specialty), and all the animals. One of the hymns sung during the liturgy, “In the Garden” (based on the scripture Genesis 3:8), says it all for Ed: “And they heard the voice of the Lord walking in the garden….”

One of the post-funeral traditions we hold dear is going to the cemetery after the funeral, to place our loved one in the ground. Each person takes a shovel full of dirt to lay on the coffin. The Community family takes care of the body from the moment of death — keeping vigil by the coffin — to the laying of the sod over the coffin when the last shovel full of earth has been laid.

Another custom, while we are filling the grave, is to share any remembrances of our loved one. All ages enter in — from the 10-year-old who remembered Uncle Ed always giving the children lollipops every Sunday, to a landscaping manager who got his first love of landscaping from Ed, to the fellow community member who remembered when he was struggling spiritually being told by Ed, “Come into my office (which was under a shade tree) and let’s talk.”

What a wonderful way to say goodbye to a fellow traveler on the road to our eternal home!

GardenEdGardenZinsGardenToms

Thorny Weather

By Sr. Nun Other

Sometimes I clear my thought collection by writing poetry. I un-jumble the jumbled mess by sorting, eliminating, and re-arranging words on paper. Recently, I captured the words thistle thorns and placed them in my reject section. However, they persisted and insisted on space in my poem.

I’m of Scottish descent and somewhere in Scotland, there’s a clan chief and a run-down castle that bears my name. Enter the lowly thistle, scorned by gardeners, despised by children in bare feet, and just below dandelion on the least wanted list. It also happens to be Scotland’s oldest recorded National Flower. A 13th century legend tells of Viking invaders, who hoped to capture the Scots as they slept. Their plan failed when a barefooted soldier tromped on a thistle, cried out in pain, and woke the sleeping Scots. If I’m any example, Scots are not morning people, and the Vikings were quickly overcome by enraged clansmen.

The thistle is a symbol of tenacity. It’s both a humble weed and a complex entity composed of soft downy flower and sharp thorns. Its roots reach deep, it keeps a stubborn grip on the land, and flourishes in adversity. I’m aware that God hands me flowers with thorns now and then. The beauty of the flower is a blessing, but it’s the thorns that make me strong.

thistle

Motion Devotion

By Sr. Nun Other

During this morning’s exercise class, I considered the phrase full range of motion, pretty certain I didn’t have it. It’s medical definition is “the full movement potential of a joint, usually its range of flexion and extension.” I discovered that flexibility is the key – and most neglected – component for general good health, injury prevention, and outstanding sports performance. In my case, that would be ping pong.  As I stared at the ceiling, rotating my left ankle, I had this thought:what about full range of emotion? Isn’t that equally important? Emotions are a persistent companion, closer than the air we breathe. They help define and provide commentary on life around us. And we need them flexible and healthy as well.

I’m convinced God isn’t anti-emotion. In fact, I printed seven pages listing 190 emotions mentioned in the Bible. Here are some of them:  affection, anger, arrogance, bitterness, compassion, confusion, cruelty, defiance, delight, disappointment, eagerness, embarrassment, enthusiasm, exaltation, greed, impatience, kindness, laughter, loneliness, and optimism.  Though sometimes fickle, misinformed, and prone to jump to conclusions, emotions are the color and substance of who we are. They join the clay of body, mind, and spirit in God’s patient hands.

Snowdrops

Meant to soar

A month ago today Yoshio Inomata, one of our vowed brothers, entered the paradise chapter of his life. Yoshio is from Japan, so in addition to the usual monastic traditions around the liturgies and proceedings, we knew there would be special touches – flowers in the church, food at the reception – from his homeland. At the graveside, we always have a special time of telling stories and placing flowers as we fill the grave. In the middle of December flowers are rare to be found, so some of us had the idea of having the kids make paper cranes for Yoshio. They did a beautiful job, and we had baskets full of the brightly colored birds they passed around to all of us gathered there. As I watched everyone place their birds in the earth with Yoshio, the antithesis struck me: Yoshio’s soul and spirit were flying to heaven even as his body was placed in the earth, and these birds—meant to soar—buried there with him. I suddenly remembered this poem that another of our members had written years ago. Requiescat in pace, Yoshio!

With hollow bones a bird learns how to fly
Not once despising frame all delicate,
But pushed without the nest his wings to try,
Fast finds the air till flight’s inveterate –
And pauses not to ponder nor to care
How fragile are his limbs amidst his flight,
But boldly lifts his wings against the air
And mounts the wind all ignorant of fright.
And so each day, until he dies, he lives.
He soars aloft, aloud, and all replete,
Content with gifts that his Creator gives,
His weakness making all his life complete.
                Who curses frailty wisdom needs implore,
                For only those whose bones are hollow soar.

Peace Cranes for Yoshio

Tools of the Trade

By Sr. Nun Other

I have great admiration for those who fix broken things. Carrying a metal box filled with mysterious objects, they arrive prepared for any task. The Psalmist speaks of a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, sacrifices that God finds acceptable. We’re also assured the Lord is near the broken hearted and delivers those who are discouraged (some translations say “crushed in spirit.”) So then, what’s in His tool box? I suggest the following:

Hymns of recollection and hope
Scriptures that inspire
A small prayer answered
Visual beauty
A moment of solitude
A friendly interaction
A change in direction

We’re surrounded by God’s intervention. He’s in the repair business, eager to make us whole, and waits for us to recognize His presence.

The Community of Jesus