Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Way closing: I was blind, but now I see...

Still working on the blind man regaining his sight. Bartimaeus has been, it seems, sitting in my office for the past three days. He is, alternately rising up from his curbside perch to shout the name of Jesus in the face of those who would have him keep quiet, and making witness to me and any else who would listen how when once he could not see-now has his sight and in his travels continues to preach the Gospel of Jesus. "I was blind, but now I see..." are words that had to wait until the late 18th century to find voice through John Newton; but they are his original testimony.

Jesus, hearing the cries of a man who has, literally, nothing to lose, rounds on him with the challenge: "What do you want me to do for you?"

I spent time yesterday working myself over as I imagined having Jesus say the same to me. What would I say? What would I ask for? Wisdom? Strength? Faith? Hope? Safety? Strength? Grace? Big words...meta-level issues we all face. What would my intimate wish be, that thing I whisper only to myself-that thing that Jesus is turning to me in the midst of the crowd-is the thing I need to offer up like Bartimaeus did. "I want to see again," was his plea. Mine?

I hesitate. Why?

Part of the clarity around my hesitancy to answer comes from the preaparations I have been doing for a book study. We are getting ready to talk about Parker Palmer's "Let Your Life Speak." In it, he talks about discerning vocation in life. What is it that "I" am called to do, to take up and to take on in this life? As a Quaker, he offers up that this pursuit takes years-a lifetime, really-and the willingness to allow your life to be laid open before you, your neighbor and God. Vocation is born of attaining balance between those things for which we exhibit strength, and those limitations that inform us of what we really need to give over to others. Vocational discernment is achieved when each of us is willing to look honestly at life, at ourselves and then embrace what God would have us do through the offering up of our strengths and limitations to God's purpose for creation.

High words and thoughts. But Parker is honest and willing to look into darker places where those commitments to discernment grow horns, teeth and claws. He shares with us the many times in his life when he felt doors of opportunity or success slam shut in his face. One point of illumination came after a conversation with a friend, Ruth. A very senior Quaker friend, she shares that while life for Quakers is about discerning "way opening" in life...she sees her life from another polarity. Clarity about vocation, she offers, has come to her from observing "way closing" behind her.

What truth. I look back on life and see where what I have gone through (abject success or failure) and can honestly say that each time I have experienced "way closing" I have seen my life take turns, unexpected, that transform and brighten my walk with God and my neighbor. As one door closes, so goes the old saying, another opens. Palmer takes that aphorism on and challenges us to allow way to close. Let those moments where we experience the valley of the shadow of death inform our knowledge of the Light, of Grace. There is both salvation and serenity in those words.

I see it as Bartimaeus' gift to us. Think about it for a moment. Bartimaeus' whole world is defined by the reality that he can't see. He is unable to work, to participate in public life and to pursue anything other than the few shekels and denarii he is able to glean from passers-by on the road near Jericho. In one moment, he hears that Jesus is passing and seizes on the chance to be healed. Finding himself before Jesus, he has the guts to say that he wants to see again...and is given his sight.

He can't go back. He can't not see now. There will be no more begging as a blind man by the roadside. His whole reality, his whole life will be different now.

Way has closed behind him. "I was blind, but now I see."

For Newton, the man who penned the poem "Amazing Grace," the restoration of sight came with the realization that trafficking in human cargo-and the whole institution of slavery-was a morally abhorrent practice. His whole being was converted, and he saw the "trade" he practiced for the evil it truly is. And then, with that new sight...way closed behind him. He would no longer EVER be able to turn back, because that sort of sight, once embraced, won't fade. It will in fact grow, achingly and inexorably, clearer as we embrace it-and the Christ who offers it as gift.

Palmer's challenge is simple. When way closes, when we feel the door slam closed behind us in a way that cuts us off from being able to "be back there," the the one thing we can do that is faithful to our Creator is to turn around and see the world that is opening up before us on our path forward in God-in Jesus. This new reality is not "good," "bad," "better" or "worse" than the one we just left...but now we get a chance to see. We get a chance to see "way closing" and we get a chance to see "way opening."

The only way to be blind again, really, it to reject it outright....to keep our faces to the closed door-sometimes even insisting that way is still open to us. It isn't.

Life, choosing life, means being willing to turn around. Turn around to God. Turn around into sight and clear vision.

Be willing to answer Jesus when he asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" and then accept what follows. I'm still working up the guts to do that. I ask your prayers, and I will pray for you as you discern your own way closing...and way opening....

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